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OUR FIRST HAGIOGRAPHY

11:00 PM, Mar 31, 1996 • By JOSHUA MURAVCHIK
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The second question is why Gorbachev chose the path he did, rather than some alternative means of getting the Soviet Union moving again. Why not, for example, sterner repression at home and moie dynamic adventures abroad? Indeed the anti-alcohol campaign and heightened military expenditure of Gorbachev's early tenure may have pointed in such a direction."

 

These two questions compel us to recognize that Gorbachev"s revolution, and before that the Politburo's choice of Gorbachev, must be interpreted in terms of their external as well as domestic context. And the signature on that external context was Ronald Reagan's. Had the Soviet economy reached the point of stagnation when America and the West were still beset by the self- doubt and tendency toward appeasement that marked the years before Reagan's presidency, perhaps the Kremlin would have sought salvation through new conquests or extortion. It was Reagan who led America in rediscovering its pride, who rebuilt our military machine, curtailed the transfer of military technology, and challenged the Soviets ideologically by his rhetoric and militarily by his sponsorship of anti-Communist guerrillas in the Third World.


Now, Jay Winik, a former official of the Coalition for a Democratic Majority and aide to Rep. Les Aspin and Sen. Chuck Robb, weighs into this debate with On the Brink: The Dramatic Saga of How the Reagan Administration Changed the Course of History and Won the Cold War (Simon and Schuster, 672 pages, $ 30). While, as the title makes clear, Winik's view is similar to my own, this book does not do much to prove our case. Such proof -- about the causes of the Soviet Union's suicidal behavior-necessarily must be found on the Soviet side, whereas Winik's book is focused on the American side. It provides a vigorous recounting of some of the key battles within the Reagan administration over Cold War policies, stressing the pivotal role of neoconservatives in what Winik calls Reagan's "new counter- establishment."


Indeed the book is organized around the activities of four of the Reagan administration's most prominent neocons: Jeane Kirkpatrick, Richard Perle, Max Kampelman, and Elliott Abrams. We see Perle waging bureaucratic war with the State Department's Richard Burt and arms negotiator Paul Nitze to defend his ultimately triumphant "zero option" for intermediate range nuclear weapons. We see Kirkpatrick battling Bush and Baker over policy toward Israel and Abrams wrestling with opaque CIA representatives and "the devious Ollie North to guide U.S. relations with the Nicaraguan contras.


Thus, Winik points at an argument within the argument about credit for Cold War victory. If Reagan won the Cold War, how much of the credit is owed to the distinctly neoconservative camp within his administration?


All four of Winik's main protagonists were, like Ronald Reagan, former liberal Democrats; indeed, some of them remained nominal Democrats when they entered Reagan's administration. (All four had been involved in the Coalition for a Democratic Majority, as Winik had been, and as had I.) The neocons brought at least two distinctive contributions. One was their taste for combat. In contrast to establishmentarian Republicans like Bush and Baker, they did not want merely to manage relations with the Soviet Union; they, like Reagan, wanted to fight and win the Cold War. The other was their penchant for philosophy. In contrast to some traditional conservatives who placed overwhelming stress on the legitimacy of self-interest, the neocons stressed the nexus between America's interests and the well-being of others or the upholding of general principles.


Thus, Abrams led the fight to reverse Al Haig's and Ernest Lefever's early efforts to have the Reagan administration eschew interest in human rights abroad. Thus, Perle and Kampelman made] themselves champions of Soviet dissidents. Thus, Kirkpatrick broke form with traditional diplomacy in her forceful espousal of democracy and the principles of the U.N. charter. All of this immeasurably strengthened America's hand.


It would be wrong, however, to say that these contributions belonged exclusively to neocons. Presidential speechwriter Tony Dolan, who crafted the president's most telling ideological sallies against the "evil empire," had a taste for philosophy but was no neocon. Neither was Bill Casey, who undoubtedly aimed to win the Cold War. (Casey gets surprisingly short shrift in Winik's account, including the puzzling assertion that on Central America " Bill Casey... was not in the direct policy loop.")