Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Reagan Cold War Myth

By Cernig

Martin Walker, senior director of the Global Business Policy Council and a former editor of UPI, reviews two books on nuclear proliferation in the NY Times today and in the process tilts at one of the greatest conservative myths - one so iconic that most Americans seem to have bought it: that Reagan won the Cold War for the United States won the cold war and the Soviet Union lost it.
This misreading of history led, in turn, to the perception that American wealth and technology, along with the righteousness of its motives and the self-evident truths of the founding fathers, could cut through any strategic tangles and dilemmas. Iraq has been the result.

According to both Schell and Rhodes, the cold war ended not because Reagan stood firm at Reykjavik but because Gorbachev and his supporters had already decided to stop waging it, or as Gorbachev’s adviser Giorgy Arbatov once put it to this reviewer in Moscow, “to take your enemy away.” Gorbachev understood that the arms race was ruining his country. And then he learned that the radiation fallout from Chernobyl was the equivalent of a single 12-megaton bomb.

It was a wondrous accident of history that saw Gorbachev, the determined reformer of a sclerotic Soviet system, coincide with Reagan, the anti-Communist conservative who nonetheless dreamed of a world without nuclear weapons. After Reagan came the first president Bush, whose initial caution about Gorbachev gave way to such enthusiasm that he unilaterally scrapped America’s vast arsenal of land- and sea-based tactical nuclear weapons. Between them, the three men put an end to the first nuclear age.
Outwith the U.S., I think, more people have an appreciation of just how much Gorby risked and accomplished. He was in many ways the real hero of the story.

But the Reagan won mythtique is what has fuelled the neoconservative push for all war all the time - "Reagan didn't blink and neither should we." It has led to the U.S. under Bush and pushed by Cheney instigating, as Walker notes, "a historic revolution in nuclear affairs, embracing a first-strike policy to combat proliferation, and pursuing new generations of nuclear weapons" and thus making a deliberate shift from "a strategy based broadly on consent and law to one based on force and pre-emption". It is the primary reason the current crop of Republican presidential hopefuls have been so keen to don the mantle of Reagan-as-tough-guy. It even lies behind attempts by Democratic candidates to leave 'all options' - even the most unthinkable of all, it seems - 'on the table'.

Walker writes:
Nuclear war is back in vogue among planners at the Pentagon, which helps to explain why Russia under Vladimir Putin is building new missiles and deploying its nuclear bombers again. one looks at the current leadership in Washington, Moscow, Pyongyang and Tehran, it’s hard to avoid the queasy feeling that this time we may not be so lucky.

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