Monday, June 11

God Still Needs Historians

James Mann,"Ronald Reagan Did Not End the Cold War. So Naturally, the People Who Are Most Mistaken About This Are the Ones Who Believe Ronald Reagan Did Not End the Cold War." New York Times, June 10

OKAY, that's unfair; Mann actually seems to think both sides are equally off the mark about Reagan's Berlin Wall speech:
In the historical disputes over Ronald Reagan and his presidency, the Berlin Wall speech lies at the center. In the ensuing years, two fundamentally different perspectives have emerged. In one, the speech was the event that led to the end of the cold war. In the other, the speech was mere showmanship, without substance.

I'll say this, when it comes to faux-balanced op-ed pieces this one at least manages to unfairly characterize both sides, albeit in slightly different ways. I've read a lot of people who claim Reagan ended the Cold War, but I don't remember any saying he did it with four words. The argument closely resembles a debate over the relative economic accomplishments of Your Guy vs. My Guy: many people involved are more than willing to exaggerate in both directions at once. Those ardent Reaganauts who remain, however tenuously, tethered to the Mother Ship do not not imagine that Reagan ended the cold war on his own, let alone via teleprompter. That just scores points in a very tiresome debate. He's credited with spending the Soviets into a form of military bankruptcy. (The yet-more-anchored among his adoring throngs are forced to add "quicker than they would have".) This is already a double-edged sword with a missing hilt; Reagan's military spending was profligate to the point of incontinence, focused on Big Tickets and Bright Shiny Objects instead of nuts and bolts. The damage to our own economy from, for example, building and maintaining one aircraft carrier for each Congressional district in the country is not inconsiderable. But it is the military damage, on view first as his successor's (and his Party's) struggles to find new excuses for keeping the brass in golf courses and highly destructive playthings, later as that successor's idiot son struggling to wade ashore for the start of what he (and his Party) variously described as WWIII, IV, or V while wearing a 450-ton pack. Somebody usually gets around to asking Who Really Won a particular war as the unintended consequences become clear over time. That process hasn't really begun with Reagan and the Cold War yet--you can still catch that "Tear down this wall!" on occasion as a History Channel promo, complete with patriotic bunting and John Williams score--but the evidence is beginning to mount up big time.

But let's stop to ask ourselves, "Granted that it's absurd to imagine a speech ended the Cold War, what substance of the speech has been missed on the way to this different perspective?" Or, better, let's ask Mr. Mann:
But those who dismiss the speech as insignificant miss the point, too. They fail to see its role in helping the president line up public support for his foreign policy.

In the months leading up to his speech, Mr. Reagan had been under attack in the United States for having been beguiled by Mr. Gorbachev. Conservatives were particularly outraged. In September 1986, after the K.G.B. had seized Nicholas Daniloff, a journalist for U.S. News & World Report, in retaliation for the arrest of a Soviet agent in the United States, Mr. Reagan hadn’t taken a hard line, but had instead negotiated an exchange.

Later that fall, hawks in the national-security establishment were upset that at the Reykjavik summit meeting, Mr. Reagan had talked about the possibility of abolishing nuclear weapons.

So the value of Reagan's speech was that it got that segment of his party which some would call "hard-liners", and others "clinically insane", behind the idea of Glasnost? Does that even address the issue? It was 1987. Reagan's popularity had crested, he wouldn't face re-election again, the hard-liners in his own administration would go on to bedevil his vice-president's, before finally gaining enough power to achieve their dream of screwing things up royally for as many succeeding generations as possible seven awful years ago. Reagan didn't need them; they needed him. Further, it's Fiscal Year 1988. Reagan's supposed Crazy As A Fox military budgets were already through Washington like a cow goes through a boa constrictor.

Unless, of course, we don't really believe that shit about his planning to spend the Soviets into bankruptcy.

We are certainly free to ask why no story is preferable to a real one, or why the Op-Ed pages of the Times should host a fifteen-hundred word birthday party for that speech. The Solidarity joke current at the time ran "The Soviet system is superior to all other systems because it solves problems the others don't even have." Say the same about us and the Cold War: we thwarted the world domination plans we furnished the Commies in the first place. Not to be a party-pooper, but in historical context it's pure flummery to discuss "winning" the Cold War without acknowledging what a long line of Cold Warriors in the White House have wrought, from the Truman Doctrine and US intervention on behalf of a military dictatorship in Greece through Korea, Vietnam, and on to Reagan's glory-hogging spending spree. The past four years and counting should certainly lead us to ask whether we're better off for having loosened the fetters of so-called neocon (in reality, just admirers of vintage Truman) lust for empire. Arthur Vandenberg told Harry S he'd have to sell his anti-Comie interventionalism on Fear, not logic. And it still is news.


poicephalus said...

Once upon a time, I read a smackdown of Nooner that you did that suggested we act like experienced woodsmen and backtrack until we found out where we went wrong.
I loved it.
Now you tie in, how taking the Reagan "philosophy" to it's logical conclusion has led us to being chin-deep in scat.
I guess having a woodsman doesn't help if everyone ignores him and traipses of the cliff.
But at least the woodsman has a lonely chuckle.

M. Bouffant said...

"Somebody usually gets around to asking Who Really Won a particular war as the unintended consequences become clear over time."

I know WWII was pretty clearly won by the Nazis, as they finally crushed Bolshevism under Reagan, and then installed G. W(orst) Bush as president @ the turn of the century.

Donna said...

What's so sad is that the vast majority of Americas bought the Reagan fiction then and now they're more wistful for it than a bunch of Princess Di fetishists. Iran contra and countless other scandals were ignored then and are completely forgotten now. In place is this comic book version of who he was. Americans, in general, look for comic book heroes to be president not actual thinking inteligent humans.

sakthi said...

I believe most of the people are little harsh about Reagan,perhaps it because of he'd been an actor by career..But it doesn't mean actors should be a fool,actually most of the times born politicians are...
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