TCS Daily

The Liberator

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - June 7, 2004 12:00 AM

In 1917, with the advent of the communism in Russia, Vladimir Lenin and his coterie of thugs, gangsters and murderers could perhaps have been forgiven for having thought that no earthly power would deny victory to the ideology of Marxism-Leninism. But if Lenin and his fellow revolutionaries had been blessed with the power of prophecy and foresight, they would have looked with interest in the little town of Tampico, Illinois. There lived a 6 year old boy, indistinguishable from others boys of his age. The boy's nickname was "Dutch."

The boy later grew up to be a radio sports announcer in Chicago, an actor in Hollywood, a Governor of California, and the 40th President of the United States. Ronald Wilson "Dutch" Reagan's greatest legacy will be that he grew to become the implacable enemy of everything Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin stood for, and the author of the destruction of the abhorrent and despicable ideology to which they paid homage. A description applied to Theodore Roosevelt could have also served to describe Reagan. He was "the man with the morning in his face," a happy warrior who brought an end to the dark night of communist tyranny.

The Persian king Cyrus the Great was history's first great liberator-leader, earning him the title of "the Lord's Annointed" in the Old Testament. Other leaders -- Lincoln, Roosevelt and Churchill -- followed Cyrus's example, and became themselves known for breaking the shackles of the oppressed and enslaved. Ronald Reagan was a liberator-leader who waged a war of ideas, and pitted his optimistic belief in human potential, individual liberty and mankind's righteous hatred of tyranny against the decrepit offerings of a failed statist ideology. Generations living and yet unborn will owe their freedom to him.

Today, Reagan's victory is taken for granted. And yet, in helping to finally win the Cold War, Reagan not only had to overcome the Soviets, but he also had to contend with the opposition and doubts of many who were in the Western camp.

Reagan was advised by many to continue the policy of d├ętente that had been practiced by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. But while most policymakers were content to push the ideas of yesterday, Reagan had already moved on to formulating the battle plans of tomorrow. He believed that the Soviet system was on the verge of collapse, and that he could bring the Cold War to a victorious end. In comments to his future National Security Advisor, Richard Allen, Reagan said, "My idea of American policy toward the Soviet Union is simple, and some would say simplistic. It is this: We win and they lose. What do you think of that?"

Many sophisticates didn't think much of Reagan's plans. Critics on the Left heaped scorn on his beliefs. Seweren Bayler said confidently that "The Soviet Union is not now nor will it be during the next decade in the throes of a true systemic crisis, for it boasts enormous unused reserves of political and social stability." Liberal historian Arthur Schlesinger said that "those in the United States who think the Soviet Union is on the verge of economic and social collapse" were "wishful thinkers who are only kidding themselves." And then there was MIT economist Lester Thurow: "Can economic command significantly . . . accelerate the growth process? The remarkable performance of the Soviet Union suggests that it can. . . . Today the Soviet Union is a country whose economic achievements bear comparison with those of the United States."

Reagan paid no heed to these bits of "wisdom." Instead, buoyed by intelligence reports showing that his suspicions about the fragility of the Soviet system were justified, Reagan plotted -- with remarkable skill and dedication -- the peaceful annihilation of the Soviet empire. Declaring the Soviet system in crisis, Reagan announced that he would work to lead a "march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people."

Reagan decided to engage the Soviets in an arms race, knowing that it could spell their downfall. And he was right. The Soviet economic command model that Thurow praised could not even hope to match the power of American capitalism. Reagan used the Strategic Defense Initiative -- maligned as "Star Wars" by domestic critics -- to further the bankrupting of the Soviet Union. The Soviets fully believed that SDI would work, and spent much time and capital trying to derail it. Instead, Reagan held on to SDI, won concessions on other weapons systems, continued to drain the Soviet economy out of what little resources it had, and used his bully pulpit to contrast the dark and forbidding Soviet system with the bright promise of American and Western liberal democracy. While the same Western sophisticates who derided Reagan's belief in victory, expressed horror at his branding of the Soviet Union as "an evil empire", Reagan's words and deeds gave hope to those enslaved behind the Iron Curtain. Refuseniks passed along copies of Reagan's statements on tattered paper to one another to buoy their hopes while suffering in the gulags. They loved the clarity of Reagan's rhetoric, and were right to. It helped liberate them.

Despite all of the doubts and derision, the Soviet system collapsed one year after Reagan left power. Revolution spread across Eastern Europe -- vaulting dissident playwright Vaclav Havel to the presidency of Czechoslovakia, eliminating the brutal and bloodstained Ceausescu regime, and unforgettably, tearing down the Berlin Wall and reuniting Germany -- just as Reagan had called for. With astonishing rapidity, the Soviet Union itself ceased to be.

Interestingly, many continue to try to deny Reagan credit for this remarkable achievement. But in doing so, they willingly play the fool, as Glenn Garvin makes clear:

"The general response among America's chattering classes has been that Reagan was the political equivalent of the millionth customer at Bloomingdale's. He was the guy lucky enough to walk through the door as the prize was handed out, as if everything was pre-ordained and would have happened the same way no matter whether the White House had been occupied by Michael Dukakis or George McGovern or Susan Sarandon. An alternative theory posits that Gorbachev was some sort of Jeffersonian kamikaze pilot, taking his whole nation over the cliff for the thrill of being proclaimed Time's Man of the Decade.

"Oddly, that's not the way the Russians see it. Says Genrikh Grofimenko, a former adviser to Leonid Brezhnev, 'Ninety-nine percent of the Russian people believe that you won the Cold War because of your president's insistence on SDI,' the Strategic Defense Initiative, as Star Wars was formally called. Grofimenko marvels that the Nobel Peace Prize went to 'the greatest flimflam man of all time,' Mikhail Gorbachev, while Western intellectuals ignore Reagan -- who, he says, 'was tackling world gangsters of the first order of magnitude.'

No doubt, the flimflam will continue in some quarters, and on some levels. But while so many of his contemporaries preached accommodation and containment, Reagan saw the opportunity for victory, and seized it. In doing so, he became one of the greatest agents for human liberty the world has ever seen.

I write this article on the 60th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy. Two decades ago, President Reagan himself went to Normandy to commemorate the landing and salute the soldiers who fought to free Europe. The President praised those soldiers, who "listen[ed] in the darkness for the promise God made to Joshua: 'I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.'"

Ronald Reagan was no god. But he understood that however mortal he was, he was, for eight years, the President of the United States. People the world over believed that as President, Reagan held near godlike powers over life, death and freedom. With the greatest humility but with a sense of destiny and responsibility, Reagan promised to safeguard the liberty of Americans and American allies, and to win the liberty of captive people suffering under the jackboot of communist tyranny. Those who derided -- and still deride -- his cause stand rightfully excoriated. Reagan himself stands vindicated.

Ronald Reagan kept his promise. He didn't fail us. He didn't forsake us. History will forever venerate him for that. May Heaven do so as well.


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