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Remembering the Cold War:

Today's Washington Times has stories that remind us of how much the world has changed in the past 20 years.

This week marks the 20th Anniversary of Ronald Reagan's famous Brandenburg Gate speech where he implored Gorbachev to "tear down this wall." My friend and Dartmouth board colleague Peter Robinson penned that speech, and the Times recounts the story behind it here:

His 1987 speech at the Brandenburg Gate, invoking the name of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, was destined to become his most famous. A little more than two years later, in November 1989, the Berlin Wall was torn down -- not by Mr. Gorbachev, but by the German people -- dramatically symbolizing the collapse of communism. Yet the speech's most famous phrase nearly didn't make it into the final draft. Mr. Robinson, then a 31-year-old in his first full-time job, had been inspired by an earlier visit to West Berlin. There, he met with a group of residents, including Ingeborg Elz, who spoke bitterly of Mr. Gorbachev's promises of "glasnost," or openness, and "perestroika," or reform. "If this man Gorbachev is serious with his talk of glasnost and perestroika, he can prove it," Mrs. Elz told Mr. Robinson. "He can get rid of this wall." As he recalled in his 2003 book, "How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life," Mr. Robinson decided to include that demand in the Berlin speech Mr. Reagan was due to deliver in June. The president liked the idea. The State Department and the NSC, however, disapproved. Among those who urged Mr. Robinson to omit "tear down this wall" from the speech were Secretary of State George Schultz, White House Chief of Staff Howard Baker, and Colin L. Powell, who was deputy national security adviser at the time. But Mr. Robinson argued in favor of keeping the phrase, and Mr. Reagan agreed.

Peter recounts the full story and Reagan's determination to keep it in, finally asking the diplomats, "I'm the President, right?" After receiving an affirmative answer he declared, "Ok, it stays in." By the way, I recommend Peter's book highly--fun, insightful, and of course, marvelously written.

A video of the speech is available here.

In somewhat related news, the Times reports that the French Communist Party is on the verge of bankruptcy after being massacred in the recent presidential elections, receiving less than 2% of the votes and expecting to retain only 4 of its 21 seats in the parliament in yesterday's elections. Au revoir.

Twenty years ago I would've never predicted such a thorough rout of Communism.

rarango (mail):
"Twenty years ago I would've never predicted such a thorough rout of Communism. Nor would I. We would have been in good company, though, as I am not aware of any significant of the beltway "wise men" who believed communism would be routed. What does that say about the "conventional wisdom?"
6.11.2007 4:52pm
whackjobbbb:
Reagan saw it though, that "dumb B-rate actor". He envisioned the collapse of communism, and ee saw the new lay of the land with Gorbachev, and responded to it swiftly. I remember how the idiot media was ecstatic with Gorby, couldn't go far enough telling us how far things had changed on his watch... Gorbymania was just the greatest thing ever... as the Soviets sought to further their empire.

But there were some subtle changes, as Reagan noted in that speech, but not enough to amount to real change. And after the idiot media made Gorby "Time Magazine Man of the Year", Reagan sped to that Brandenburg gate to deliver that call. He seized that momentum and used it to his own purpose. That guy was frickin brilliant.
6.11.2007 4:59pm
liberty (mail) (www):
When Gorbachev was in power, the conventional wisdom among the media and intelligentsia was that communism was becoming a more democratic socialism and was or would become equal or better than capitalism in economic matters, egalitarianism, civil rights and matters of democracy.

When the wall fell, it was common knowledge among the media and intelligentsia that communism had been at the breaking point econiomically and politically and that Gorbachev helped to open it up, reintroduce the market and aid its fall - Reagan did nothing because it was on its way down already.
6.11.2007 5:07pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Reagan saw it though, that "dumb B-rate actor". He envisioned the collapse of communism, and ee saw the new lay of the land with Gorbachev, and responded to it swiftly.

No he didn't, and don't pretend he did. The people who did see it are those who saw the Soviet Union for what it was, a hollow empire on the verge of collapse, not an existential threat to the west that warranted a budget busting increase in defense spending (and don't claim Reagan's defense buildup hastened the end of the Soviet Union because they were forced to keep up--that simply isn't true) and wasting billions of dollars on "Star Wars", which never worked and twenty years later, still doesn't, even though we continue to throw money at missile defense. When the wall came down, the U.S. intelligence agencies and the U.S. government, who after all had a vested interest in painting the Soviet Union as a threat to the U.S., were taken completely by surprise.

The truth is we had precious little to do with it. When liberals like me advocated the way to defang the Soviet Union was through trade and openness and that it was on the verge of collapse, we were accused of being naive and ignoring the obvious threat. Yet we were the ones who turned out to be right, not the cold warriors.
6.11.2007 5:09pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
When Gorbachev was in power, the conventional wisdom among the media and intelligentsia was that communism was becoming a more democratic socialism and was or would become equal or better than capitalism in economic matters, egalitarianism, civil rights and matters of democracy.

And who were the advocates of this conventional wisdom?
6.11.2007 5:10pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Gorbachev helped to open it up, reintroduce the market and aid its fall

Well that would be silly. It fell because the Soviets, weakened by Afghanistan, did not intervene in Poland and Hungary when they liberalized. But of course the fatal blow came in the summer of '89 when Hungary opened its border and thousands of East Germans fled through Hungary to West Germany. Once that faucet had been opened it could not be turned off. The collapse was more a series of political miscalculations (and in the case of Germany, miscommunications) than people discovering Pepsi.
6.11.2007 5:18pm
Dick King:
Are we not counting China?

-dk
6.11.2007 5:20pm
whackjobbbb:
Thomas, it's over, man. You can give it up now. You lost the argument, and the Soviets lost the Cold War, much as you may have wanted them not o. Gorby is nobody... Reagan is a hero.

Good Lord, man, read what the commies themselves say about Star Wars, and the role of the defense spending race in the collapse of their empire.

They're probably building a new statue for Reagan somewhere in eastern Europe, even as I type this post. And they're not building statues over there to any of you McGovernites, I assure you.
6.11.2007 5:26pm
Steve H (mail):
Yeah, I'd like to see links to some of the many articles claiming that the Soviet Union, in which people waited in line to buy toilet paper and were still in danger of being sent to the gulags, would become "equal or better than" capitalism in economic matters, egalitarianism, civil rights, AND democracy?
6.11.2007 5:28pm
whackjobbbb:

It fell because the Soviets, weakened by Afghanistan, did not intervene in Poland and Hungary when they liberalized.


Precisely, and thank you for making my point. The Soviets had not the military strength to intervene militarily, which had long been the basis for the maintenance and expansion of their empire (See the previous Soviet military incursions into most/all of those eastern European countries, when they ever attempted any separation from the Soviets).

The bill got too big for them, they could no longer afford it, and they were forced to fold their hand.

Reagan knew this day would come, as did some others of us, although you're right, US "intelligence" then was likely no more "intelligent" than they are today about "intelligence".
6.11.2007 5:33pm
AppSocRes (mail):
J.F. Thomas:

You are so full of it, that I suspect you are lampooning the left. If not then you are exercising some sort of weird, new-left double-think. Prove you ever publicly said or wrote anything like what you claim to have said at any time before 1985. You, I, and the rest of the world know you can't.

One woman economist -- I believe she was at Wellesley -- was analyzing official Soviet economic data and concluding that the Soviets were in deep economic trouble. Essentially, no one accepted her analysis.

The conventional wisdom -- particularly on the left -- was that the USSR was an economic and military powerhouse. Leftists like you, wanted to placate the supposedly unbeatable enemy. A perfect example was Bertrand Russell, whose pacifism was based on the notion that since the West was doomed anyway it might as well go down without a bloody fight.

Cite me any articles, books, whatever, written prior to 1986 from a leftist perspective, suggesting that the Soviet Union was about to topple and all we had to do was wait a few years for this to happen. I suspect we'll be waiting years for your cites.

Even Regan and other optimistic conservatives like me believed that the fundamental weakness of the USSR, like all totalitarian regimes, was a sociopathic indifference to basic human needs and that this more likely than the economy would be the ultimate cause of systemic failure. In fact, the still ongoing dissolution of communism in China essentially began from causes like this rather than economic breakdown.
6.11.2007 5:35pm
rarango (mail):
Damn, JF--I didnt realize you were a visionary.

Read Brzezinski, Marshall Schulman, Bill Odom, the NYT Editorial board, and the other "wise men" on both sides of the political spectrum. These folks were opposed to Theater Nuclear Forces, star wars, and all the other military initiatives that even the Soviet General Staff cite as the reasons for their collapse. We simply outspent them, and didn't cave into the european and american appeasers who had pre-ordained that we were destined to be locked as Paul Nitze once said: apes on a treadmill. Most of the chattering classes believed the soviets to be ten feet tall. Your take on reasons for non-intervention overlook the very basic fact that the soviet military was a hollow army, they were outgunned, and out missiled. They were a conscript army, lacking in junior leaders, whose equipment was substandard. They knew they couldnt fight, even if we didnt.
6.11.2007 6:11pm
BGates (www):
JF Thomas,
let me know who wins the argument between the guy who said "the way to defang the Soviet Union was through trade" and the guy who said "the collapse was more a series of political miscalculations ...than people discovering Pepsi."
6.11.2007 6:25pm
Steve:
All the wise historians in this thread have somehow written out of the history books the legions of right-wingers who decried Reagan as weak for having the audacity to sit down and talk with Gorbachev. Reagan had the good sense to ignore them, but even today, these same dead-enders claim that we mustn't talk with Iran, we mustn't talk with Syria, we mustn't have dialogues with any bad guys, anywhere. They never learn; Reagan, as a long-standing veteran of the conservative movement, must have realized they never would.
6.11.2007 6:30pm
chris c:
JF, there is a reason the USSR had trouble in Afghanistan. . .

The weight of the evidence suggests that communism crumbled in Europe both because of measures favored by the right (the 80s defense buildup, aid to Afghan rebels, and other aggressive moves) and because of steps favored by the left (trade ties, the helsinki accords, and other efforts to reach the people of those nations despite their govts.)

it's not an either-or proposition.
6.11.2007 6:38pm
Randy R. (mail):
"Cite me any articles, books, whatever, written prior to 1986 from a leftist perspective, suggesting that the Soviet Union was about to topple and all we had to do was wait a few years for this to happen. I suspect we'll be waiting years for your cites."

Or better yet, cite my any articles, books, whatever, written prior to 1986 from a conservative perspective, suggesting that the SU was about to topple and all we would do is have to wait. Even Reagan didn't believe that, since the article quoted above showed the Reagan realized that the SU would NOT topple on it's own, and hence needed to be dealt with.

Left or right, everyone, including the CIA, insisted that regardless of the economic situation, the communist party in Russia would never give up power with a bloody fight, and therefore, they would never give it up. This was the entire philosophy behind such diverse people as Jeane Kirkpatrick and Phylis Schafly. Everyone cited Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland as examples that when threatened, the SU would mobilize to retake power no matter what the consequences.

The real decisive moment came when the people demanded reform and change in the eastern bloc, such as E. Germany, Romania and Hungary, and Gorbachev refused to give them any aid. This was as startling to those leaders as it was to ours. (He cut off all aid to Cuba as well). The reason he did so? No doubt many, but one was to conserve funds for Russia itself, and stop the bleeding of Russia to help all the other thugs.

Gorbachev himself stated later that he only intended to reform communism, not destroy it, but as we can look backward now, we all can agree that such a system was beyond any reforming. But at the time, they thought it would be a new way. Hence the themes of perestoika, and so on.

How much Reagan had to do with this? I don't know, but the article strikes a good balance between the hero worshipping of a few, and the dismissiveness of another few. Heck, even many in today's Bush's Administration are in the dismissive camp.
6.11.2007 6:41pm
Randy R. (mail):
And let us not forget that such intellectual heavy-weights such as Rush Limbaugh argued that the soviet collapse was just a fake news event to get the west to let it's guard down, and then they would swoop down and take over the world. and when the reactionaries struck at the Russian White House when Yeltsin was President in a failed coup attempt, he crowed about how he was proved right.

I hope we can all agree that he was the most wrong of them all.
6.11.2007 6:44pm
whackjobbbb:
While I recall some grumbling about Reagan's initiating START talks (and somebody HAS to play the dissenter's part in the foreign policy dance, make no mistake), I don't recall many "decrying" Reagan for "having the audacity to sit down and talk with Gorbachev."

And tell me, what was so "audacious" about a US president sitting down with a Soviet premier? Weren't there a few other presidents who did this? Oh yeah, that's right... they all did.

The key to talking with people is saying the right things to them, and having them listen and understand them... and maybe even accept them finally. Do that, and you might get called the Great Communicator.
6.11.2007 6:53pm
whackjobbbb:

Gorbachev himself stated later that he only intended to reform communism, not destroy it...


Heck, Randy, Gorby said that THEN as WELL as later. Remember "I am first and last and always a communist". (my paraphrase, but you get the point).

That's why Gorby is a footnote, and Reagan is Reagan.
6.11.2007 7:00pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
I don't suppose the number of lefties has dropped by a whole lot. But the lefties seem to have dropped communism.
Well, the left preceded communism and the USSR and will survive them, to our detriment.
6.11.2007 7:21pm
Michael B (mail):
"And who were the advocates of this conventional wisdom?" J.F. Thomas

Foregoing the Chomskys and Zinns, et al., also foregoing various Hollywood types and network talking heads and reporters) - and albeit variously, Albright, Thurow, Samuelson, Galbraith, Kerry, Kennedy, Church, Bundy, Dellums, Sheehan, Halberstam, sundry CIA analysts, Kennan and many, many, many others. Those come to mind more or less immediately.

You might have considered, for one, that many were under the thrall of the post-Vietnam "victory," that victory (for the Left, North Vietnam, the Soviets and China and others) where, after April 1975, approximately 65,000 South Vietnames were executed, many thousands of suicides, 250,000 died in "reeducation" camps, a million boat people, tens of thousands of which died at sea or at other points. There were an additional few hundred thousand - appx. 400,000 - South Vietnamese civilians killed by the Viet Cong and other North Vietnamese during the period c. 1954 - 1975. Still, the fall of Saigon, and often proudly, is considered a victory by the Left.

(Google "Farewell Dossier" for one, early Reagan era tale in this vein.)
6.11.2007 7:28pm
Randy R. (mail):
Whackjobb: "And tell me, what was so "audacious" about a US president sitting down with a Soviet premier? Weren't there a few other presidents who did this? Oh yeah, that's right... they all did.:

So true. And let's not forget that Jimmy Carter blasted the Soviets many times over their human rights abuses as well. Furthermore, he began the upward trend in military spending in 1978, two years before Reagan took office, reversing the decline that began with the Ford Administration. Carter wanted a strong military to deal with the communists. Shouldn't he get some credit for the toppling of the SU?
6.11.2007 8:14pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Steve, few conservatives say we should NEVER talk with Iran or Syria. Most say that we should not talk to them solely for the sake of talking with them, and that we must identify clearly the objectives we seek to gain from talking with them, what we can possibly concede, what concessions they might be willing to make (and actually keep). Reagan did not walk in and immediately start negotiations with the Soviets. He built up our arms first, THEN sat down with them. He made sure we were negotiating from a position of strength.
6.11.2007 8:26pm
whackjobbbb:
Randy,

Carter signed those defensive buildups, which the Congress initiated AFTER the Soviets barreled into Afghanistan, AFTER Brezhnev had taken a look at Carter and recognized him as the dunce that he was, and started planning his future expansions, including the deployment of intermediate missiles in Europe, which Reagan and others worked to counter with those Pershing II's as I recall (to much consternation by the Left, as Reagan references, and he's got the history right in that speech... watch it again).

And if I'm not mistaken, it was 1979 Jimmuh found religion on all this (a forced conversion I'd say), not 1978. Carter never advocated a "strong" military, IMO. He never set foot on a military reservation during his term, somebody claimed once, and he was thus sending a message as to what he truly believed. Brezhnev used Jimmuh as a useful idiot, which allowed him to push the hard line internally with the Kremlin thugs: "See? It works, comrades. It's like a reed, you push and it bends."

Jimmuh ain't no different today that he was then... he's the same buffoon, and nothing's changed. If you like him now, remember, he was no different 30 years ago.
6.11.2007 8:44pm
k parker (mail):
AppSocRes,

In a similar vein to your Wellesley economist, Possony, Pournelle, Kane in The Strategy of Techology deliberately published a smaller percentage-of-GDP for Soviet military spending than they actually thought, assuming that no one would accept their largest figure. They were criticized for the number they did publish anyway, but the actual numbers (as best we can tell) were if anything actually higher than their too-high-to-publish estimate.
6.11.2007 9:08pm
k parker (mail):
Oops, what good is preview if you misunderstand what you yourself wrote and make an incorrect correction??? Bah!

The end of the first sentence should read, "their larger figure".
6.11.2007 9:09pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Prove you ever publicly said or wrote anything like what you claim to have said at any time before 1985. You, I, and the rest of the world know you can't.

Unfortunately, my late night debates over many pitchers of Stroh's Dark at the Candlelight Inn while I assured my communist History major friends (I was a chemistry major) that the Soviet Union wouldn't make it to the end of the century the conversations I had when I visited my brother in England in the summer of '89 and the British news was covering the East Germans making their way from their summer vacations in Hungary to West Germany across the newly opened border were not recorded (something the U.S. news completely ignored). But I guess I was a goddamned visionary.

I also said star wars and missile defense would never work and was a waste of money. Twenty years later I still haven't been proven wrong on that one (no matter how much the Russians claim to be scared of it--heck even the vaunted Patriot and the PAC III are next to worthless).
6.11.2007 9:17pm
Randy R. (mail):
From an article in American Diplomacy: "Despite his early promises to cut defense spending, Carter responded to worries about growing Soviet military power, especially after the invasion of Afghanistan, and lobbied Congress and America's NATO partners for three-percent annual increases in real defense allocations over a five-year period. He justified a strategic modernization program by arguing that the United States needed to maintain essential equivalence with the Soviets as long as each nation possessed a sizeable strategic arsenal. To maintain a rough strategic balance, the President moved ahead with development of the MX missile, continued improvements on the accuracy of warheads, and began deploying Trident I SLBMs. He did cancel the B-1 bomber program but advocated cruise missiles as an alternative way to modernize the strategic air arm.

Ironically, Carter also sanctioned nuclear war-fighting measures to maintain deterrence. In 1980, he signed Presidential Directive 59, which codified a "countervailing" strategy to fight a nuclear war below the level of an all-out exchange. In addition, the Carter administration recommended a modest civil defense program to limit casualties in case deterrence failed. These actions helped deter the Soviets below the level of a general attack but enhanced American capabilities to fight a nuclear war, a stance far from the position of minimum deterrence that Carter endorsed when he first took office."

And still he gets no credit from anyone? This is hardly the behavior of someone who gets kicked around easily....
6.12.2007 2:29am
Michael B (mail):
"Despite his early promises to cut defense spending, Carter responded to worries about growing Soviet military power, especially after the invasion of Afghanistan, and lobbied Congress and America's NATO partners for three-percent annual increases in real defense allocations over a five-year period." Randy R.

Substantively wrong on virtually every particular.

Carter's weren't merely promises to cut defense, they were positively lobbied for and acted upon by Carter. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan took place late in Carter's presidency, after Xmas of 1979 and January of 1980, at the commencement of Carter's final year in office. The "three percent" referred to will be high-lighted below.

Firstly, compare. Iran, before vs. after Carter. Afghanistan, before vs. after Carter. Grenada. Nicaragua, including Nicaragua's funneling of Soviet and Cuban arms to El Salvador and other countries in Latin America. Carter's final aid budget to Central America was appx. $400 mil., an amount tripled by Reagan in his first year in office.

When Carter initially took office he stated his intention to withdraw all troops and weapons, including deterring nuclear weapons, from South Korea. He spoke of an "inordinate fear of Communism" and actively campaigned to stigmatize such a fear. He fought for cuts in defense. He sold advanced technology to China and barely mentioned human rights to the Chinese. There was huge military and technological theft committed by the KGB and Soviets against the U.S. and other western powers and Carter did virtually nothing to check that theft (again, google "Farewell Dossier" concerning some aspects of those thefts). Carter additionally negotiated arms treaties with the Soviets under the notion, according to Sec. Cyrus Vance, that "Leonid Brezhnev is a man who shares our dreams and aspirations." Carter stated his belief that the world could be managed via treaties, he abolished the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board - active since the Eisenhower administration - then reenacted by Reagan once the latter took office. After Afghanistan, in January of 1980, Carter complained that Brezhnev "had lied" to him.

Defense spending had been permitted, by 1979, to drop to its second lowest level during the entirety of the Cold War as a percent of GDP. (It wasn't until budget FY 1980 that the three percent (3%) increase in real spending was enacted, by the Democratic congress in response to public concerns, not by Carter.) For the first time since the 1950's, opinion polls revealed the American public was more worried about foreign policy than any other issue (even though inflation was more than 12% in both of the two final years of Carter's reign and other economic woes were likewise in a severe crisis mode).

Carter, literally one week prior to Reagan's inauguration in January 1981, submitted a more substantially increased military budget, a belated act that amounted to a mea culpa.

Re, The Fifty-Year Wound.
6.12.2007 5:02am
raj (mail):
Reagan had nothing to do with the tearing down of the Berliner Mauer. As I've written elsewhere:

I was attending German language lessons at the Goethe-Institut Boston in Nov. 1989 when this occurred. I had not heard of the incident beforehand, but was amazed when the instructor ran into the classroom shouting "Die Mauer ist gefallen! Die Mauer ist gefallen" I wondered, welche Mauer (which wall? there are a lot of walls, we have one around our property outside of Munich). It was, of course, the Berliner Mauer, the Berlin Wall. It took a while for her to explain it.

The interesting aspect of the story regarding the fall of the BW is that it was a mistake. An error. A total misunderstanding by the parties involved. This announcment occurred during a press conference by a leading member of the East German communist party presidium (Schabowski) that was being broadcast throughout East Germany. He was handed a slip of paper (which is now referred to as "Schabowsky's Zettel"--"Zettel" meaning slip of paper) which had on it talking points for the next days' presidium meeting. The Zettel had the liberalized transport regulations that essentially meant the "Fall" of the Berlin wall. It wasn't intended to be announced at the press conference, but, as the press conference was winding up, he was asked if he had any concluding remarks. He pulled the Zettel out and read the points thereon. When asked when the new regulations would go int effect, he said "ab sofort!" (immediately).

An accident of history that helped bring down the Soviet empire.


Republicans like to give credit for the "fall" of the Berliner Mauer in Nov. 1989, but it wasn't true.
6.12.2007 6:06am
PatHMV (mail) (www):
raj, that's an interesting story, but I'm not sure it means what you say it means. A similar miscommunication, made 10 years earlier, would not have caused thousands of people to start beating down the wall with sledgehammers and bulldozers. The liberalized transport regulations themselves were the result of the foreign policy changes of the Reagan-Thatcher era and the collapsing Soviet economy. The hope held by the thousands of Germans who began tearing down the wall existed in part because the United States stood up for them, refused to accept their continued servitude to the Soviet Union. Ten years earlier, the miscommunication you describe would not have led to the destruction of the wall, because those thousands of people would have been too scared of being shot, or arrested in the dead of night by the secret police, to actually go to the wall. But because of Reagan, and other factors, the climate had changed, there was some hope that such repression would no longer be tolerated, that these individual thousands of human beings might make a difference and change the world. And so the wall came down.
6.12.2007 12:38pm
whackjobbbb:
And let me take one final shot at the peanut farmer. The shenanigans of the Church committee weren't initiated by Carter, but he was a welcome cheerleader, and his appointees were poodles to those efforts. Our counterintelligence effort became non-existent, and our intelligence efforts only somewhat so. This begat Aldrich Ames and a host of others, and the Berlin Wall fell and Gorelick erected another, and 3,000 people died in their cubicles and airline seats one day.

Sure, you can't totally blame/credit any one person for great sweeps of history, but you can clearly identify those who attempted to lesd, when real leadership might have made a difference to those great sweeps. Jimmuh gives empty suits a bad name.
6.12.2007 12:47pm
Randy R. (mail):
Michael B. Surprisingly, most of what you said does not contradict anything in the post I quoted. The only disagreement was the 3% real increase, which you claim came at the end of the presidency, and the article I quoted claimed was half way through his presidency. Moreover, I know for a fact that Carter yelled loudly and extensively over human rights abuses in the Soviet Union because I distintly recall discussing it in my 11th grade history class, which was in 1977.

"He sold advanced technology to China and barely mentioned human rights to the Chinese." The same can be said of Reagan and both Bushes.

"Carter additionally negotiated arms treaties with the Soviets under the notion, according to Sec. Cyrus Vance, that "Leonid Brezhnev is a man who shares our dreams and aspirations." Yeah, sorta like saying that, upon one meeting with Putin, you can look into his soul and see he is a trustworthy man.
6.12.2007 3:18pm
ys:

He was handed a slip of paper (which is now referred to as "Schabowsky's Zettel"--"Zettel" meaning slip of paper) which had on it talking points for the next days' presidium meeting. The Zettel had the liberalized transport regulations that essentially meant the "Fall" of the Berlin wall. It wasn't intended to be announced at the press conference, but, as the press conference was winding up, he was asked if he had any concluding remarks. He pulled the Zettel out and read the points thereon. When asked when the new regulations would go int effect, he said "ab sofort!" (immediately).

An accident of history that helped bring down the Soviet empire.


Republicans like to give credit for the "fall" of the Berliner Mauer in Nov. 1989, but it wasn't true.

It does not seem too much of an accident if, as you say, the Zettel contained talking points for the next day's Presidium meeting. It's not like somebody just fished something out of a trash basket.
6.12.2007 5:14pm
markm (mail):
The conventional wisdom -- particularly on the left -- was that the USSR was an economic and military powerhouse.


That was pretty much the view of the right before Reagan, too, although they emphasized a lot more that so much of the economic power was being directed to the military that the people were left starving and without toilet paper. I recall plenty of cognitive dissonance on both sides. On the Left, they just had to keep their eyes tight shut through visits to the Motherland of redistributionist economics, and also ignore plentiful evidence of violent interventions in foreign countries, mass murder of Soviet subjects, etc. On the Right, they were compelled to simultaneously believe that the Soviets were bumbling incompetents with a failing economy and military/espionage masterminds with a frighteningly large array of shiny new war machines, all in perfect condition and ready to go. ("Espionage masterminds" turns out to have been all too close to the truth, but other than that, the far more accurate picture is of bumblers who could command thousands of tanks be built, and got them at a terrible cost to the workers, but could not keep them running.)

I've always been a staunch anticommunist, both before and after I came to understand what I was against. After I understood this, through most of the 60's and all of 70's, I wondered how the Soviets could really be that threatening as an external foe (rather than as support and inspiration for fifth columnists) if their system was as fouled up as it seemed to be, but I had to admit that there was a lot I didn't know on the subject. So to me, Reagan was the first anticommunist to actually have the courage of his convictions and believe that the Soviet system was so bad that, with a little encouragement to match us in an expensive arms race, they would go broke. Or maybe Reagan was just fortunate enough to be President at the right time...
6.12.2007 5:53pm
Michael B (mail):
Randy, you evidence a confused apprehension on several levels, in fact a great deal was contradicted.

For example, you confuse words with actions; if this current President ever bases critical aspects of policy upon his statement concerning Putin, then that would merit a comparison with Carter's statement vis-a-vis Leonid Brezhnev. But as a reflection of the wider problems incurred, when the American public (for the first and only time during the Cold War since the 1950's and the rise of proliferating nuclear arsenals) indicate they're more concerned about foreign policy than any other issue - and this during a set of severe economic crises - then that's a potent indicator of severe, systemic deterioration. What is striking about it is that it was incurred not as a result of a strategic crisis (a la Pearl Harbor or 9/11) but was incurred as a result of sustained naive assessments, as a result of a sustained credulous quality, in terms of Soviet global imperial designs.
6.12.2007 6:09pm
Randy R. (mail):
Michael B: "if this current President ever bases critical aspects of policy upon his statement concerning Putin, then that would merit a comparison with Carter's statement vis-a-vis Leonid Brezhnev."

And Bush's policy towards Russia has been to just leave it alone. Despite many human rights abuses, and backsliding on democracy, Bush has remained mostly silent. He has remained completely silent regarding the tortorous dictators of the former SU, which include Kazachstan, for instance.

"When the American public ... indicate they're more concerned about foreign policy than any other issue ...then that's a potent indicator of severe, systemic deterioration."

I have to laugh. I know it's a bit off topic, but isnt' this the situation today? The No. 1 issue for Americans today is Iraq, which is a foreign policy issue, and the economy is a very mixed bag around the country (great if you are a CEO, not so great if you aren't).

"What is striking about it is that it was incurred not as a result of a strategic crisis (a la Pearl Harbor or 9/11) but was incurred as a result of sustained naive assessments, as a result of a sustained credulous quality, in terms of US global imperial designs."

With one slight change, I couldln't agree more. So I guess Bush is, in your view, at least as bad a President as Carter. Most of the country agrees.
6.13.2007 6:23pm
Michael B (mail):
Yes, you do laugh. But you don't reply with much substance or continuity of thought, instead reflecting continued misapprehensions and misdirections - e.g., represented in your comments concerning Putin and Russia. Much has been said, even pointedly, by Rice, the President and others in the administration. But too, Putin's Russia, for all its faults, his hardly in a full bore imperialist mode a la the Soviet Union in the late 70's.

But you do laugh.
6.13.2007 7:03pm