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June 6, 2004
Reason: He Was Right

In honor of Ronald Reagan's passing, Reason made available Glenn Garvin's review of Peter Schweizer's book, Reagan's War, which takes a narrow look at Reagan's career as an anti-communist. I have not read the book, but the review is outstanding. It explains what I wrote earlier about Reagan -- how he used defense spending as a weapon in the Cold War, and in fact as the ultimate weapon he knew would end it:

As early as 1963, Reagan argued that the arms race should be not reined in but accelerated. "If we truly believe that our way of life is best, arent the Russians more likely to recognize that fact and modify their stand if we let their economy come unhinged, so the contrast is apparent?" he asked in a speech that year. "In an all-out race our system is strong," said Reagan, "and eventually the enemy gives up the race as a hopeless cause."

He wanted to use American technology to leverage an arms race that would force Moscows wheezing command economy into a Hobsons choice between guns and butter. Either way, Reagan believed, the Soviets would lose: They could never keep up with the United States in an arms race, but abandoning it would be suicidal for a state that conducted all its business at gunpoint.

That doesn't quite jibe with the image of Reagan as an "amiable dunce," as Clark Clifford once called him. Garvin takes plenty of shots at people who publicly 'misunderestimated' Reagan. None among them are Reagan's former Soviet Bloc adversaries, who understood all too well his genius and his strategy, and how successful it would eventually become.

The primary weapon, Garvin makes clear, for destroying the Soviet Union was the Strategic Defense Initiative, scoffed at by the chattering classes here in the US and ridiculed as the "Star Wars Defense." The idea of a missile shield made leftists laugh, when they weren't complaining about its cost and all of the more useful tasks to which its funding could be dedicated. Far from fantasy, the idea of the weapon itself made the Soviets fear that their economy would be destroyed just in keeping up with American technology and they did all they could to stop it:

Whether SDI will ever work (20 years later, its still mostly theoretical) and whether, even if it does work, its a wise strategic choice in a world where Americas most implacable enemies are not superpowers with hundreds of ICBMs but terrorists with suitcases, are arguments for another time. But what has largely been overlooked in the debate is that the Soviets had no doubt whatsoever that it would work.

At arms summits, Gorbachev frantically offered increasingly gigantic cuts in strategic missiles -- first 50 percent, then all of them -- if Reagan would just abandon SDI. Schweizer, mining Soviet archives and memoirs still unpublished in the West, shows that Gorbachevs fears echoed throughout the Politburo. SDI "played a powerful psychological role," admitted KGB Gen. Nikolai Leonev. "It underlined still more our technological backwardness." Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko understood exactly what Reagan was up to: "Behind all this lies the clear calculation that the USSR will exhaust its material resources before the USA and therefore be forced to surrender." Most tellingly of all, the East German-backed terrorist group known as the Red Army Faction began systematically murdering executives of West German companies doing SDI research.

It's a terrific review and probably an excellent book, and if I didn't already have four books on my desk right now to read, I'd pick this one up in a heartbeat. Most striking are Garvin's inclusions of the dismissive (and in hindsight, idiotic) criticisms that Reagan's domestic oppostion gave at the time. Arthur Schlesinger, in particular, defied his intelligent image by stating that the Soviet Union was economically strong and very productive -- in 1982, seven short years before its complete collapse:

Arthur Schlesinger, just back from a trip to Moscow in 1982, said Reagan was delusional. "I found more goods in the shops, more food in the markets, more cars on the street -- more of almost everything," he said, adding his contempt for "those in the U.S. who think the Soviet Union is on the verge of economic and social collapse, ready with one small push to go over the brink."

Not only does Garvin's review, published six months before Reagan's death, reaffirm Reagan's genius for clarity on communism, but it also demonstrates how little the Left has changed its rhetoric or strategy in the twenty-plus years since. Once again, they paint a Republican executive as an idiot who couldn't tie his shoes without illustrated instructions, and again they argue for peaceful coexistence with an enemy who wants to not just crush our way of life this time but to kill as many of us as they can in the process. Make sure you read the whole thing.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 6, 2004 6:02 PM

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