TREAT ENEMIES LIKE ENEMIES AND FRIENDS LIKE FRIENDS
How Trump, Pompeo, Bolton and Mattis need to emulate Reagan’s example.
I remember when Jimmy Carter invoked “human rights” to criticize the Soviet Union, and Leonid Brezhnev, the dictator of the totalitarian USSR, was furious. He knew it was very dangerous to his rule, and he let Carter know that the Russians wanted it called off.
Time showed how right Brezhnev was. Carter toned down his campaign, but over the years, a new generation of Soviet dissidents and refuseniks carried the criticism much further. From Bukovsky and Sharansky to Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn, the evils of the Soviet Empire were exposed and attacked, until Reagan made the themes his own, and until Gorbachev in desperation launched his calls for glasnost and perestroika, hoping to preserve his Communist dictatorship despite its manifest failure.
It was clearly a triumph of American values over an anti-American enemy, and it succeeded because the Soviet peoples had been inspired by the leaders of the United States, and because the Soviet leaders had a failure of will. They could not bring themselves to crush the incipient revolution. They certainly had the power to do it, but they couldn’t bring themselves to give the orders. So the peoples of the empire changed the regimes, from Moscow to the captive nations. That was what Reagan wanted, and accomplished.
The most important part of Reagan’s success was the tireless critique he and his people unleashed on the Kremlin. It wasn’t just the well-known broadcasts from Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty; a lot came directly from the president, the secretary of state, and a plethora of senior officials. A lot of this campaign has been forgotten and denied. Reagan critics like to pretend, as is their wont, that the Soviet Empire fell because of its economic failure. As if the Communists hadn’t failed from the very beginning, and as if our practice of calling for the release of political prisoners were not crucial. But those of us who worked with the dissidents knew that Soviet Communism was doomed once the president had gone after its failed system. It would not have occurred to him to say we wanted a change in behavior, not a change in regime. I wish Messrs Trump, Pompeo, Bolton and Mattis would emulate Reagan’s example.