Mercury Rising 鳯女

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Who Ended the Cold War? Russia and East Germany. (Sorry, Reagan Fetishists.)

Posted by Phoenix Woman on February 6, 2011

The Politico, one of the many vectors for creating and maintaining conservative dominance of the media and cultural conversations in the US, has its obligatory puff piece on Mister Death Squadder this morning:

Bently Elliott, Reagan’s top speechwriter in his first term, recalled an interview his old boss gave at the end of his time in the White House.

“He didn’t say he wanted to be remembered as the president who turned around the economy or the president who brought down the Evil Empire,” Elliott recalled. “He said he wanted to be remembered as ‘the president who made the American people believe in themselves again.’”

Except he did neither.

Contrary to conservative myth, Ronald Reagan didn’t do jack to bring down Russia or East Germany; they were falling apart all by themselves. Even the aid given to the mujahideen in Afghanistan — aid that helped sustain them during the long war of attrition that sapped Russia’s strength and was the final blow to the régime — was not essential to the mujahideen’s success; the Saudis, conservative Sunnis similar to the mujahideen, were already funding them quite extensively, as were Pakistan, China, and various other nations and entities, and would have given them even more aid had we not done so.

In fact, not only did Reagan not bring down Russia, it is a well-documented fact that neither he nor his CIA knew what was going to happen until it was already happening. Just as the CIA of today was caught totally off-guard by the lightning-fast spreading of revolutionary fervor in various Middle Eastern dictatorships, they were caught totally off guard by the equally-rapid collapse of the Soviet bloc, as former CIA official Mel Goodman relates:

The collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union created an entirely new international setting and totally surprised U.S. policymakers, the Central Intelligence Agency providing no strategic warning. President George Bush stated that he had no idea that the Berlin Wall was coming down and was surprised by the coup attempt against Mikhail Gorbachev in
1991.[1] His national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, could not recall receiving any CIA warning about the Soviet demise. President Ronald Reagan’s last national security adviser and Bush’s chairman of the joint chiefs, General Colin Powell, recorded in his memoirs that CIA specialists “could no longer anticipate events much better than a
layman watching television.”[2].

Former CIA Director Admiral Stansfield Turner recorded that the agency’s “corporate view missed by a mile” and that it “should not gloss over the enormity of the failure to forcecast the magnitude of the Soviet crisis.”[3]

The memoirs of former Secretary of State George Shultz offer the best evidence of CIA’s failure to track the Soviet decline and the revolutionary impact of Gorbachev’s leadership. Shultz believed that “CIA analysis was distorted by strong views about
policy” and accused CIA director William Casey with providing “bum dope” to the president. He told national security adviser Frank Carlucci in 1987 that, even “when it became evident that the Soviet Union was in fact changing”, the CIA line was
that the changes wouldn’t really make a difference. [4]

Shultz had “no confidence” in the CIA and warned the White House that the agency was “unable to perceive that change was coming in the Soviet Union.”[5].

He accused acting CIA director Robert Gates with trying to “manipulate me” and reminded him that the CIA was “usually wrong” about Moscow and had dismissed Gorbachev as “just talk, just another Soviet attempt to deceive us.”[6]. Shultz,
Turmoil and Triumph, p. p. 864.

CIA’s failure to recognize the weakness of the Soviet Union and the importance of Gorbachev had serious implications for U.S. interests. The Reagan administration unnecessarily increased defense spending, dragged its feet on arms control, and missed opportunities to resolve regional confrontations. The tab for CIA funding and support for Islamic militants in order to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan now includes the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York and attacks on U.S. bases in Saudi Arabia.

Oh, yes: The brave mujahideen the CIA helped fund? Osama bin Laden was one of them, as were the persons who would go on to become the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan. Ironically enough, Condoleeza Rice, as an alleged specialist on the subject of Soviet Russia, has tried to engage in some classic neocon revisionism by claiming that she and her PNAC buddies knew all along that the Soviet involvement in Afghanistan was what would weaken and eventually bring down the USSR, all the while not recognizing that Osama bin Laden was and is using that very same game plan against us by keeping us bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan. (As Mel Goodman points out, she too was totally taken by surprise by the 9/11 attacks, attacks even the CIA saw coming and about which they had tried in vain to warn Bush and his neocon friends.) And make no mistake, we’re still in deep up to our hips in Iraq, except it’s through the use of “private security firms” (aka privateers or mercenaries) like Blackwater (now Xe), whose troop levels are harder to ascertain than those of the Army, Marines, Air Force or Navy.

Bin Laden knew he could easily provoke the Reagan-Bush PNAC crowd into an armed response to a terrorist attack (as opposed to the far more sensible and effective response by Bill Clinton to an earlier attack on the World Trade Center, a response that actually collared the perpetrators and didn’t inflame the Middle East against us). He knew he could easily lure them into a ruinous two-front war even as Bush’s tax cuts for the rich were wrecking America’s ability to sustain the expense of these wars. It’s almost as if PNAC and the George W. Bush administration were run by Al Qaeda sleeper cell agents, so closely did they follow bin Laden’s plans for their behavior.

(Crossposted at Renaissance Post.


10 Responses to “Who Ended the Cold War? Russia and East Germany. (Sorry, Reagan Fetishists.)”

  1. Exposing Liberal Myths said

    It’s amazing the bedtime stories leftists tell themselves because they cannot see or admit that they were wrong about both Reagan and the Soviets. In their simplistic view, as partially espoused above, Reagan bumbled his way through the 80’s needlessly building up arms, needlessly trashing the Soviet Union actually extending the Cold War, meanwhile itching to start a nuke war, until Comrade Gorbachev took it upon himself to end the Soviet Union and save the US from itself.

    The truth is far to nuanced for the left to understand so I will explain it (Liberals are not nearly the intellectuals they think they are).
    Sure Reagan built up arms, but only to force the Soviets into an honest arms reduction negotiation. Reagan and his staff new the Soviets could not keep up economically with such an arms buildup and thus would be forced to negotiate honestly w/the US, ending up with the START treaty which actually reduced nuclear weapons, good for President Obama for standing up to congress and renewing this important treaty. Remember, however, no Reagan no treaty. Leftists at the time were insistent on continuing the MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction)doctrine, anyone with half a brain can see how dangerous that was-again questionable leftist intellect.
    Arms buildup, however, is only a small part of the story. Reagan did far more, He rescinded the dangerous Soviet wheat sale ban instituted by Carter, that was one of his first acts, done as a gesture of good faith, he was constantly trying to get a dialog going with every Soviet leader until he finally was able to reach out to Gorbachev, he boosted support for Radio Free Europe and other western media sources to the Soviet Union, He overtly and covertly supported solidarity in Poland, he covertly provided funding to revolutionary groups in Czechoslovakia. He wreaked havoc for the Soviets in Central and South America, ridding the Nicaraguans of the Sandinistas among other things. He supported Gorbachev’s efforts to reform the Soviet Union while pressuring him to tear down the Berlin wall and free his people. These and numerous other policies instituted by the Reagan administration hastened the end of the Soviet Union. Not a single leftist at the time for saw these events (although they all say they did now, after the fact), virtually all were extremely critical of Reagan, saying he was dangerous, saying the Soviet Union was with us permanently (Strode Talbot and Noam Chomsky among others) and we need to tread carefully.
    Reagan, and Reagan alone saw the world without the Soviets and did his’ best to bring that vision to reality.
    Deal with it and stop making up stories!

    • Charles II said

      It’s always fascinating to me how conservatives respond to an opinion piece containing numerous links and citations with their own opinion, which is somehow, magically, supposed to prove that their opponents are idiots, fools, liars, etc. The basic attitude is, “Who are you going to believe–experts in history, political science, and foreign policy, or me?”

      Once one gets outside the circle jerk of Reaganauts and the sycophantic think tanks that employ them, most historians think that the credit for ending the Cold War goes to Mikhail Gorbachev. Indeed, Reagan himself said so:

      Asked at a press conference in Moscow in 1988, his last year in office, about the role he played in the great drama of the late 20th century, he described himself essentially as a supporting actor. “Mr. Gorbachev,” he said, “deserves most of the credit, as the leader of this country.

      This quotation was much cited at the time as an example of Reagan’s graciousness, tact and self-deprecation. But Matlock’s book bears out his former boss’s judgment.”

      I’m always interested in seeing a good argument supporting some idea that I don’t happen to hold. But alas, ELM, you haven’t supplied one. You’ve just demonstrated why liberals think conservatives are self-important a–holes.

  2. Exposing Liberal Myths said

    I am a liar and a fool! That makes me the most important person in my head, which is the entire universe!

    So there!

    [ed: slightly edited by siteowner for veracity.]

  3. Exposing Liberal Myths said

    How dare you not genuflect before my superior trolling!

    I will be forced to withhold my superior wisdom from you!

    [ed: comment edited for simplicity by siteowner.]

    • Charles II said

      Yeah, well, like the saying goes, don’t let the door hit you where the good Lord split you.

      My family includes lots of conservatives and Republicans. We get along fine. They learn from me. I learn from them. They are also sincere people, and expect me to be honest–even politely blunt–with them.

      You, on the other hand, came in here dripping with contempt, you refuse to actually engage the debate by acknowledging that there are facts that don’t support your point of view, and you insult everyone’s intelligence by calling an entire book by Reagan’s top USSR aide and later ambassador to Moscow “an anecdotal quote”… and you expect to be treated with deference.

      Today’s sermon was on praying for the people who use one despitefully. Your personal eternal future got a great deal of personal prayer time, undoubtedly more than it deserves.

      • Thanks, Charles. :-)

      • Charles II said

        I should charge babysitting fees, PW.

        I have to say: if these people would just display a few manners, we could have had a pleasant conversation. But, of course, without the insolence natural to a class that views itself as superior to the rest of humanity, they might do a little reading and find out that there’s more than one well-considered opinion on a number of issues.

        Of the entire Reagan legacy, his handling of the USSR was the least disastrous. Perhaps that was by chance, but if Reagan had any good quality, it was that he was lucky. Historians have revised up his handling of the Cold War, and one can certainly say that the fact that he finally engaged the Soviet Union and Mikhail Gorbachev was a good thing. I think you’d be interested in Matthew Dallek’s 2009 article here. Here’s an excerpt:

        By putting the end of the Cold War into its larger geopolitical context, [Stephen] Kotkin [see here] suggests that Reagan was an important, if not always crucial, factor in this much bigger story [in bringing about the dissolution of the USSR]. Reagan wisely negotiated a series of arms-reduction agreements, which led to a thawing in the Cold War. Reagan succeeded by departing from the almost single-minded anticommunism that had defined him throughout his political life.

        Kotkin also asserts that the explanation for the end of the Cold War is too often “Reagan-centric.” The idea that Reagan “won” the Cold War reduces the story to the myth of a lone cowboy riding to the rescue when the world was on the eve of nuclear annihilation. “Too many analysts credit President Reagan with having helped bring down the evil empire,” Kotkin writes, “by building up America’s military and bankrupting the Soviets (who were forced to respond in kind).” But Kotkin points out that the Soviets had increased military spending to “astronomical levels in the 1970s,” before Reagan took office, and that by the 1980s they had determined that his missile defense system “would never work.” Kotkin suggests that, to understand the collapse of communism, we must look “to the wider world.” The most damaging competition to the Soviet Union came, he says, not simply from Reagan’s rhetoric but also from the material and intellectual appeal of post–World War II U.S. and Western capitalism. “Affordable Levittown homes, ubiquitous department stores overflowing with inexpensive consumer goods, expanded health and retirement benefits, and democratic institutions” effectively challenged the Soviet Union in ways that ultimately forced “Gorbachev’s fatal reform effort” to the fore, Kotkin says.

        I really think that identifies the key factor in this: the Soviets were suffering from a poor standard of living, exacerbated by their neglect of social problems in favor of military spending. The burden of so many disillusioned, wounded, drug-addicted, and psychologically battered veterans from Afghanistan, like our experience after Vietnam, further weighed down society. Meanwhile, they looked at the false prosperity of the Reagan years, purchased at the cost of trillions in debt and were misled into thinking that it was real, that we were having a great time while they were facing a future of scarcity. And, perhaps through luck, Reagan had one man in his cabinet, George Schultz, who was not entirely crippled by conservative ideology. When the opportunity to deal arose, there was someone to answer the phone.

        I am quite willing to concede that Reagan may have had something to do with the early demise of the USSR… just not what the right imagines. I actually can give a little inside dish on the “Star Wars” thing: I talked to a number of qualified scientists at that time, and they uniformly said it was ridiculous. That didn’t prevent them from lining up for grants to fund their pet research into lasers, computers, and so on, but they had complete contempt for Reagan’s PR transparent stunt.

  4. Stormcrow said


    If anybody can take the lion’s share of the credit for ending the Cold War, it’d have to be Leonid Brezhnev.

    He was the guy who put his stamp of approval (which, by that time, was a necessary condition) on the change in strategic direction which was directly responsible for the collapse 20 years later.

    Afghanistan, Reagan, and all the rest were at best accelerators. The critical damage was done by Brezhnev and his people, while Lyndon Johnson was still in the White House.

    • Charles II said

      Could you expand on that, Stormcrow? Are you referring to the military buildup that damaged the underlying economy?

      • Stormcrow said


        The decision to maintain a conventional armed force sufficient to win a ground war in Central/Western Europe was taken in the two years immediately following Khrushchev’s ouster.

        Nikita Khrushchev didn’t have the best bullshit detector out there (“Virgin Lands Campaign”, T. D. Lysenko, etc.), but he did have a decent grasp of what a standing army of about 200 divisions could do to the Soviet economy.

        Under Leonid Brezhnev and his immediate successors, the cost of that armed force started to crush the civilian Soviet infrastructure fairly quickly. “Inverse quality of life” indicators, such as infant morality and alcoholism rate, started their decades-long rise right around 1965.

        By the time Victor Gorbachev took power, there wasn’t much left. And the later total collapse wasn’t a matter of “if”, it was a matter of “when”.

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