Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Memo That Won the Cold War

The Cold War ended so quickly that we didn't have much chance to savor the moment. The Washington Times has an excerpt of the State Department memorandum from the Reagan administration that laid out the strategy for ending the former Soviet Union and the Cold War.

Coincidentally, that controversial memo, known as NSDD-75, was written 25 years ago this week, primarily by Bill Clark and Richard Pipes.

Reagan's genius with respect to the Soviets was his rejection of detente and the policy of "containment" that Soviet Studies expert George Kennan had made the cornerstone of U.S.-Soviet relations since 1946. Containment, at its core, assumed that America could not win the Cold War, and should be grateful for anything short of nuclear annihilation.

Reagan was not content to "peacefully coexist" with the Soviets; he insisted that we could apply external pressure to change the very nature of the U.S.S.R..

His ability -- and courage -- to challenge the fundamental premises of American policy is what made Reagan one of our greatest presidents. It is also the characteristic that caused his rivals and enemies to dismiss him as a dim-witted actor.

The most critical portion of the Reagan NSC memo was also the most controversial. Indeed, the State Department wanted to drop it from the memo altogether:

the opening to NSDD-75 established two core "U.S. tasks:" First, "To contain and over time reverse Soviet expansionism ... . This will remain the primary focus of U.S. policy toward the U.S.S.R." And, second, "To promote, within the narrow limits available to us, the process of change in the Soviet Union toward a more pluralistic political and economic system in which the power of the privileged ruling elite is gradually reduced."

Fortunately, Reagan agreed with the National Security Council and the language remained. But it did not remain secret:

The directive resonated through the Soviet media. A piece by Grigori Dadyants in Sotsialisticheskaya Industriya stated, "Directive 75 speaks of changing the Soviet Union's domestic policy. In other words, the powers that be in Washington are threatening the course of world history, neither more nor less." Mr. Dadyants confidently assured his comrades that the grandiose "ideas of Reagan and Pipes" were "staggeringly naive."

Reagan was called "grandiose" and "staggeringly naive" by the Soviet press, but the New York Times and other U.S. intelligentsia said even worse. The New York Times, for example, called Reagan a "simpleton," and regularly complained about his refusal to agree to a nuclear freeze.

We know how this story ended, of course. Reagan did not just "threaten" to change the course of history; he changed it. And in the process Americans became safer and Russians became more free.

This is more than a history lesson, however. It's a reminder of what we need in a president, particularly when there are those who threaten America's very existence. Their tactics and philosophy differ, but the Islamofascists want us dead every bit as much as did the Politburo.

We need a president bold enough to revisit, challenge and if necessary reject the assumptions that have guided U.S. policy, just as Reagan jettisoned detente and containment. And we need a president who will not be dissuaded by the "conventional wisdom" at the New York Times. We need a president who is honest enough to acknowledge that we have enemies, and who will position America for a checkmate, even when the intelligentsia says, "we can't win; accept a draw."

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