The Magazine

Richard Pipes's Cold War

The eminent historian reflects on his life and times.

Oct 6, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 04 • By ARNOLD BEICHMAN
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Memoirs of a Non-Belonger

by Richard Pipes

Yale University Press, 304 pp., $30

RICHARD PIPES is one of our most eminent historians. His books on Russian and Soviet history have been among the most influential and (at least as far as the academic left and Russian nationalists like Alexander Solzhenitsyn are concerned) among the most controversial. But his new autobiography--"Vixi," Latin for "I lived" --is of interest not just for his academic work but also for his service as a White House adviser. The book is also an informal history of the last days of the Cold War, documented in dramatic fashion by someone who was most assuredly not a belonger in official Washington.

Pipes came to America in 1939 as a sixteen-year-old refugee from Poland. A Warsaw-born predecessor in the White House, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was already in Canada with his family when World War II broke out--and one wonders what the Kremlin thought when two anti-Communist Poles became White House foreign-policy advisers: Brzezinski as national-security adviser to a waffling Jimmy Carter, and Pipes as a national-security desk officer to Ronald Reagan. Moving from his longtime Harvard to Washington during the first two years of Reagan's presidency, Pipes was able to apply his knowledge and sense of strategy to the formulation of policies that helped bring down the Soviet Union.

He had had some earlier experience with Washington as a member of the Committee on the Present Danger and later as head of an official group that audited the CIA's analyses of the Soviet economy--and found the CIA work to be woefully inadequate. Unfortunately, this experience didn't prepare him for the kind of stealth needed to win Washington's battles.

Nevertheless, Pipes's appointment (thanks to Richard V. Allen, head of the National Security Council and himself a leading anti-Soviet strategist) was felicitous: a president who believed that the Soviet Union was not here to stay, a national-security chief who shared that view, and a Polish-American intellectual who agreed wholeheartedly. And they were all blessed with such superb speechwriters as Tony Dolan and Peter Robinson, and their successors who shared their clients' anti-Sovietism. That was why Reagan made his "evil empire" and Westminster speeches, and why later in 1987, over the hysterical objections of the State Department, he spoke at the Brandenburg Gate, with the Berlin Wall behind him, to utter his dramatic apostrophe to the Soviet Union: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."

One thing is clear from "Vixi": Pipes simply didn't or wouldn't understand the principles of a town where a bureau chief frequently has more power than his cabinet-secretary superior. As Pipes, the Harvard professor, describes it: "Such vanity as I possess was and remains that of an intellectual who wants to influence the way people think and feel rather than one who enjoys power over them or craves the status of a celebrity."

But the only sure way to achieve that influence is through political power. Henry Kissinger wrote a number of highly influential foreign-policy books as a Harvard professor. His influence, however, only became measurable when he went to work for President Nixon as national security adviser, a post from which he made his great leap forward to become secretary of state.

Pipes's complaint about mistreatment by Allen--who, he says, looked upon Pipes "as a potential rival and hence kept me in the background"--is unattractive. Far more significant is Pipes's assertion that Nancy Reagan and Michael Deaver took a dim view of Allen "since they were determined to tame Reagan's anti-communism and draw him closer to the mainstream," the mainstream being the anti-anti-communism which, I assume, they favored. Mrs. Reagan, he says, "was troubled by her husband's reputation as a primitive cold warrior." Anti-Communists like Allen and Pipes did not fit into the Nancy Reagan-Deaver world. Deaver and James Baker, says Pipes, "seemed to treat [Reagan] like a grandfather whom one humors but does not take seriously."

The man against whom Pipes directs a good deal of his fire is Secretary of State Alexander Haig, whose behavior he compares to that of "a harried animal" and whose "principal concern was not with the substance of the country's foreign policy but with his personal control of it." Haig didn't last. His oft-proffered resignation was offered once too often, and after Haig had served for a year and a half, Reagan finally accepted it. That very day Reagan appointed George Shultz, about whom Pipes comments drily that he "knew less about foreign affairs than Haig but had a steadier personality." That's an undeserved putdown for a man who had been secretary of labor, director of OMB, secretary of the Treasury--three major posts--and dean of the University of Chicago's graduate school of business.