As we conservatives celebrate the centennial of Reagan’s birth, we should be careful to explain and defend his decisive role in bringing about the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.
I say this because there’s been a lot of revisionist history to the effect that Reagan was just one of many presidents, beginning with Democrat Harry Truman, who worked to defeat the Soviets.
This is misleading; and it ignores a fundamental difference between Reagan and his predecessors: Whereas they were intent on accommodating and containing the Soviets, Reagan was determined to defeat and destroy them.
Indeed, “we win; they lose,” is how he summed up his strategy. That sounds uncontroversial today, in the light of historical hindsight. But at the time, Reagan’s winning strategy was extremely contentious and controversial.
In fact, most of the leading liberal intellectuals — and even many Republican foreign policy “realists” — thought Reagan was dangerous and delusional
Dinesh D’Souza captured the thinking of these “wise men,” and the contempt they had for Reagan, in his fine study, Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader.
Strobe Talbott, a senior correspondent at Time and later an official in the Clinton State Department, faulted officials in the Reagan administration for espousing “the early fifties goal of rolling back Soviet domination of Eastern Europe,” an objective he considered misguided and unrealistic.
“Reagan is counting on American technological and economic predominance to prevail in the end,” Talbott scoffed, adding that if the Soviet economy was in a crisis of any kind, “it is a permanent, institutionalized crisis with which the U.S.S.R. has learned to live.”
Equally scornful was Sovietologist Stephen Cohen of Princeton University, who wrote in 1983: “All evidence indicates that the Reagan administration has abandoned both containment and détente for a very different objective: destroying the Soviet Union as a world power and possibly even its Communist system.”
Cohen was absolutely right: The Reagan presidency did effect a fundamental departure from past American foreign policy, and thank goodness for that.
Reagan’s offensive-minded strategy to beat the Soviets is something we conservatives should remember today as we grapple with a new, and in some ways more dangerous, foreign policy challenge in the threat of radical Islam.
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