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How Ronald Reagan Won The Cold War

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Message David Michael Green

Over the years, conservative America has transformed Ronald Reagan from president to icon to deity. You could see that in this year’s first Republican debate, in which everybody on the stage was desperately trying to out-Reagan the others, hardly mentioning the current conservative occupant of the White House, and never, of course, reminding viewers of Reagan’s divorce, his, er, rather early first-born child, his quadrupling of the national debt, his silence on AIDS, his debacle in Lebanon or the Iran-Contra affair.

To those omissions have been appended additions, as well, of equal veracity. The greatest of these, of course, is that Reagan defeated the Soviets and ended the Cold War. As we mark today the twentieth anniversary of the Gipper’s "tear down this wall" speech, a veritable Hollywood production of misty-eyed adulation is once again surfacing around this myth, on a scale Cecil B. DeMille would admire.

I’ve noticed in recent years that conservatives no longer seem to do facts much anymore. Particularly the inconvenient kind, which – from Iraq to record deficits to global warming to Katrina – seem to be the sort mostly showing up nowadays.

Such is apparently the case with the Reagan tale. You might think, for instance, that one superpower conceding a monumental half-century long struggle without either side firing a shot at each other would seem improbable. You might think that the costly Soviet blunder in Afghanistan, the USSR’s anemic economic system, the reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev, or even t he aborted coup against him might have had something to do with the demise of the Evil Empire.

But, as Reagan himself would have said, "There you go again!" with those pesky facts and that annoying logic.

Meanwhile, it turns out according to documents recently unearthed from a drawer in somebody’s desk at the Heritage Foundation, that it was indeed the case that Ronald Reagan not only spent the Soviet Union into defeat and submission, but even into their very demise – just as conservatives claim! We go now to a Soviet cabinet meeting in late 1991, as the fateful decision is being made.

President Mikhail Gorbachev: "Comrades, I’ve assembled you here today with grave news. As I see it, because of external pressures from the great cold warrior Reagan, we have to throw in the towel."

Entire Cabinet: Gasps. Mumbled expressions of bewilderment and exasperation.

Defense Minister Dmitri Yazov: "I think I speak for all of us here, Mikhail Sergeyevich, when I say that I do not understand how this can be. We are a strong country. We are a superpower!"

Gorbachev: "The problem is that Reagan has massively increased American defense spending. We simply cannot compete."

Prime Minister Vladimir Orlov: "But how does he pay for this absurdly expensive program?"

Gorbachev: "He is borrowing and spending like a drunken sailor."

Orlov: "Well, then Comrade President, whatever is the problem? Should we not hand this sailor another bottle of cheap vodka and stand by watching while he commits fiscal suicide?"

Gorbachev: "You are missing the point. With all this new military hardware, we can no longer compete with the Americans in the Third World."

Yazov: "Do I understand you to say that you want us to throw in the towel because we can no longer necessarily win a proxy war in Botswana?"

Gorbachev: "Don’t try to be clever, comrade, it doesn’t suit you. The situation is worse than that. We cannot even realistically defend Poland against an American attack."

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David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York.  He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles (dmg@regressiveantidote.net), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. His website is (more...)
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