How Reagan Won the Cold War
By Dinesh D'Souza
The man who got things right from the start was, at first glance, an unlikely statesman. When he became the leader of the free world he had no experience in foreign policy. Some people thought he was a dangerous warmonger; others considered him a nice fellow, but a bit of a bungler. Nevertheless, this California lightweight turned out to have as deep an understanding of Communism as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. This rank amateur developed a complex, often counter-intuitive strategy for dealing with the Soviet Union which hardly anyone on his staff fully endorsed or even understood. Through a combination of vision, tenacity, patience, and improvisational skill, he produced what Henry Kissinger terms ``the most stunning diplomatic feat of the modern era.'' Or as Margaret Thatcher put it, ``Ronald Reagan won the Cold War without firing a shot.''
REAGAN had a much more skeptical view of the power of Soviet Communism than either the hawks or the doves. In 1981 he told an audience at the University of Notre Dame, ``The West won't contain Communism. It will transcend Communism. It will dismiss it as some bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages are even now being written.'' The next year, speaking to the British Parliament, Reagan predicted that if the Western alliance remained strong it would produce a ``march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism - Leninism on the ash-heap of history.''
These prophetic assertions -- dismissed as wishful rhetoric at the time -- raise the question: How did Reagan know that Soviet Communism faced impending collapse when the most perceptive minds of his time had no inkling of what was to come? To answer this question, the best approach is to begin with Reagan's jokes. Over the years he had developed an extensive collection of stories which he attributed to the Soviet people themselves. One of these involves a man who goes up to a store clerk in Moscow and asks for a kilogram of beef, half a kilogram of butter, and a quarter kilogram of coffee. ``We're all out,'' the clerk says, and the man leaves. Another man, observing this incident, says to the clerk, ``That old man must be crazy.'' The clerk replies, ``Yeah, but what a memory!''
Another favorite anecdote concerns a man who goes to the Soviet bureau of transportation to order an automobile. He is informed that he will have to put down his money now, but there is a ten-year wait. So he fills out all the various forms, has them processed through the various agencies, and finally gets to the last agency. He pays them his money and they say, ``Come back in ten years and get your car.'' He asks, ``Morning or afternoon?'' The man in the agency says, ``We're talking about ten years from now. What difference does it make?'' He replies, ``The plumber is coming in the morning.''
Reagan could go on in this vein for hours. What is striking, however, is that Reagan's jokes are not about the evil of Communism but about its incompetence. Reagan agreed with the hawks that the Soviet experiment which sought to create a ``new man'' was immoral. At the same time, he saw that it was also basically stupid. Reagan did not need a PhD in economics to recognize that any economy based upon centralized planners' dictating how much factories should produce, how much people should consume, and how social rewards should be distributed was doomed to disastrous failure. For Reagan the Soviet Union was a ``sick bear,'' and the question was not whether it would collapse, but when.
Yet while the Soviet Union had a faltering economy, it had a highly advanced military. No one doubted that Soviet missiles, if fired at American targets, would cause enormous destruction. But Reagan also knew that the evil empire was spending at least 20 per cent of its gross national product on defense. (The actual proportion turned out to be even higher.) Thus Reagan formulated the notion that the West could use the superior economic resources of a free society to outspend Moscow in the arms race, placing intolerable strains on the Soviet regime.
Reagan outlined his ``sick bear'' theory as early as May 1982 in a commencement address at his alma mater, Eureka College. He said, ``The Soviet empire is faltering because rigid centralized control has destroyed incentives for innovation, efficiency, and individual achievement. But in the midst of social and economic problems, the Soviet dictatorship has forged the largest armed force in the world. It has done so by pre-empting the human needs of its people and, in the end, this course will undermine the foundations of the Soviet system.''
Sick bears, however, can be very dangerous -- they tend to lash out. Moreover, since in fact we are discussing not animals but people, there is the question of pride. The leaders of an internally weak empire are not likely to acquiesce in an erosion of their power. They typically turn to their primary source of strength: the military.
Appeasement, Reagan was convinced, would only increase the bear's appetite and invite further aggression. Thus he agreed with the anti-Communist strategy of dealing firmly with the Soviets. But he was more confident than most hawks that Americans were up to the challenge. ``We must realize,'' he said in his first inaugural address, ``that no weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women.'' What was most visionary about Reagan's view was that it rejected the assumption of Soviet immutability. At a time when no one else could, Reagan dared to imagine a world in which the Communist regime in the Soviet Union did not exist.
The entire article: