Political Hay

Instant Revisionists

Ronald Reagan has been gone only a few days, and already the left is trying to rewrite history.

By 6.9.04

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Ronald Reagan has been gone only a few days, and already the left is trying to rewrite history. They're going beyond trying to debate Reagan's role in ending the Cold War -- a legitimate topic of debate and one that historians will be sorting out for some time to come. Indeed, they're even going beyond denying that Reagan had any role at all. Now they are arguing that Reagan may have prolonged the Cold War.

Case in point is a piece by former Associated Press and Newsweek reporter Robert Parry at Consortiumnews. Witness the lead-in to his column:

The U.S. news media's reaction to Ronald Reagan's death is putting on display what has happened to American public debate in the years since Reagan's political rise in the late 1970s: a near-total collapse of serious analytical thinking at the national level.

The arrogance is staggering. Because America has become more conservative since the late 1970s, and many Americans admire Reagan, "serious analytical thinking" is "near total collapse" in this country. In other words, since many of you don't agree with the enlightened ideas of those who run Consortiumnews, you must be mindless, hayseed boobs.

After that exercise in condescension, Parry begins his revisionist romp:

If, for instance, the United States was already on the verge of victory over a foundering Soviet Union in the early-to-mid-1970s, as some analysts believe, then Reagan's true historic role may not have been "winning" the Cold War, but helping to extend it.

And what is Parry's evidence that we were already on the verge of a victory over the Soviet Union in the late 1970s? New revelations from those in the Carter administration? Interviews with former Soviet officials? Once secret KGB files?

Well, Parry doesn't have to present you with anything so substantial. After all, most of you are dimwits. No, the evidence is that the Soviet Union was in a "defensive posture trying to hold in line countries near its borders, such as Eastern Europe [sic] and Afghanistan." Furthermore, "The Helsinki Accords for human rights also were putting the Soviet Union under greater pressure as dissident movements, such as Poland's Solidarity, took shape within Moscow's sphere of influence." Funny, but if that's true then how does Parry's theory square with for the Berlin blockade and the Soviets crushing the Hungarian uprising in 1956 and the Prague Spring in 1968? If such actions are signs of being on the verge of collapse, then the Soviet Union should have imploded while Reagan was still governor of California.

Parry then uses some sleight-of-hand to misrepresent Reagan's beliefs about the Soviet Union:

If the Soviet Union was already in rapid decline, rather than in the ascendancy that Reagan believed, then the massive U.S. military build-up in the 1980s was not decisive; it was excessive.

Reagan did not believe that the Soviet Union was in ascendancy, especially not economically. In a June 1980 meeting with the editors of the Washington Post, Reagan stated that "The Soviets can't compete with us." But he did believe was that the Soviet Union was expanding its empire around the world and had to be stopped. He would make sure that expansion was economically unsustainable.

But according to Parry, the Soviet Union wasn't really militarily aggressive. Indeed, the policy of détente was the best method of softening up the communist behemoth:

[T]he 1970s was the time for the West to accept victory and begin transitioning the Soviet Union out of its failed economic model. Not only could that approach have hastened the emergence of a new generation of Russian reformers, it would have allowed world leaders to pull back from the edge of nuclear confrontation.

One wonders why, if the Soviet Union was so open to cooperating with the West, the Soviets expanded their support to regimes like Nicaragua, Ethiopia, Angola, Mozambique, and South Yemen during that time? Perhaps Brezhnev didn't get the memo that the Cold War was over?

Indeed, Parry argues, not only was the Soviet Union ready to make major changes in the late 1970s, it was also well known that it was in poor economic shape:

Nixon and Kissinger -- along with much of the U.S. intelligence community -- had recognized the systemic weaknesses of the Soviet system, which was falling desperately behind the West in technology and in the ability to produce consumer goods desired by the peoples of Eastern Europe.

Parry would do well to read the four pages of Dinesh D'Souza's biography of Reagan, where he chronicles the pronouncements of very smart men like Strobe Talbott, Paul Samuelson, Seweryn Bailer, and John Kenneth Galbraith on the economic viability of the Soviet Union. Surely if the U.S. intelligence community was aware of the Soviet Union's economic problems, then Reagan's opponents would have used that knowledge to argue that his military buildup was unnecessary because the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse anyway.

Furthermore, if economic decline would lead to collapse, then Parry needs to explain why the Soviet Union didn't waste away sooner. After all, the Soviet economy had been in much worse shape previously, such as the famines of the 1920s and the aftermath of World War II. Indeed, as history should teach us, a nation can be in economic decline for a very long time before it implodes.

Although I strongly believe that Reagan played a crucial role in the collapse of the Soviet Union, I realize that his actual role will be debated by historians and pundits for some time to come. And this nation should have that debate. But attempts to rewrite history so that the Soviet Union was ready for reform in the early 1980s if that cowboy Reagan hadn't interfered add little to it.

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About the Author

David Hogberg is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.  Follow David Hogberg on Twitter.