Friday, May 18, 2007

Is Reagan all that and more?

Does Regan get too much credit for bringing down the Wall? Sometimes I think he does. Its a fair question to ask from a historical perspective. There were other significant anti Soviet actors that strode the world stage in the build up to 1989. Maggie Thatcher, John Paul II and Lech Walesa being the three most important. In addition Reagan was helped by having a somewhat kindred spirit in Gorbachev on the inside to help with tearing down the wall of the corrupt and bankrupt Soviet system. What are your thoughts?


Blogger Ravee said...

I am not a huge Reagan fan, but he and Thatcher had one thing in common which was much needed at that time in history. The strength and belief in their firm conviction that Soviet communism was an evil that had to be confronted head-on and brought down. They recognized very early that the "detente" was just another way for the Soviet Union to continue to suppress not only its own people, but those of its client states in Eastern Europe as well.

The reasons for the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union are very complex and inter-dependent in many ways. I think it boils down to the reality that the collective system of concentrating all means of production in the hands of the state, and reducing all individual accomplishment to the service of the state does not create a sustainable way of life. This is especially true in a country that does not have the ability to feed itself from an agricultural perspective, has no warm water ports, and is basically a collection of poorly integrated acquisitions, held together by a totalitarian system of secret police powers, and the absence of virtually all individual rights.

What Reagan and Thatcher did was confront this anachronism at virtually every turn, in virtually every sphere of engagement: foreign policy, economic policy, defense policy, etc... until it collapsed of its own accord as it attempted to keep up with the West.

Reagan and Thatcher really have 3 main accomplishments:

(1) confronting the Soviet Union during the Cold War and winning

(2) revitalizing the economic conditions (Reagan); and the fundamental economic infrastructure (Thatcher) of their respective countries

(3) restoring a strong sense of pride in their respective countries - "It is Morning Again in America" - Reagan; and the complete re-awakening of Britain from the disastrous socialist experiments of the 1970s, including the 3-day work week - Thatcher

Personally I don't think people like Lech Walesa or the Pope would have succeeded on their own without a serious foreign policy commitment by people like Reagan and Thatcher to confront communism on the emptiness of its moral core.

On the issue of Gorbachev, here is a summary of my opinion based on what I have read about that era. We lived through it as college students, so I am not sure we could appreciate the totality of what the world experienced between 1986 and 1991, and which culminated in the utter collapse of the Soviet Union in basically one year.

A lot of people tend to romanticize Gorbachev's accomplishments without understanding that the man was actually trying to save the Soviet state and all of its attendant contradictions. His motives were entirely to keep everything together but in a more permissive and liberal environment. What he did not understand was that once he tugged at one of the strings in the knot, the entire enterprise was going to collapse. But he did not introduce glasnost or perestroika with any intention of fundamentally creating a "free and open democratic society" modeled on the West. In hindsight of course, he can attribute almost anything to his motives at the time, but this was a party apparatchik who rose to the top of the Supreme Soviet - he had no intention of living out his days as a pensioner of the State - which is virtually what he has become these days...

The contrast to Gorby's approach is what the Peoples' Deputies in China have managed to achieve, which is the wholesale transformation of that country into a capitalist society, without any of the "irritating" trappings of a free society. The big lesson that the Chinese party elders took away from 1989 was that if you let the people decide, you lose the state. Hence the brutal crackdown at Tiananmen Square that same year...this is an admittedly simplistic explanation I realize, but it does lend credence to the idea that you can achieve an economically liberal state before you achieve a politically liberal one (the definition of "liberal" in both cases being the traditional definition of "open" - not "lefty").

And on the issue of hagiographies, I still think Churchill was a racist, cynical imperialist, who truly believed that all that he fought for in World War 2 against the Nazis was in aid of a continued imperial role for Britain, and that the liberties and freedoms he named in all of speeches were basically for "white folks". While I can appreciate what he meant to the Western Alliance, I question all of his underlying motives...and I think fundamentally that both FDR and Truman distrusted him on that basis...Say what you will about America, but it has always been a very reluctant colonial power, and the American foreign policy establishment did see the overthrow of "colonialism" as generally a good thing - until it ran smack dab into communism as the alternative to western rule - then they intervened - Vietnam being the case book example.

3:09 PM  

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