How Reagan Won the Cold War

, Spencer Irvine, 3 Comments

reagan gorbachev photoRonald Reagan’s legacy, long after his passing, continues to be distorted by the leftist academic community, one professor noted at a panel discussion held at the Heritage Foundation. Francis Marlo, an associate professor of International Relations at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, said that the Left does not like giving Ronald Reagan credit for ending the Cold War.

The panel discussion centered around the recently published book, “The Grand Strategy that Won the Cold War,” and Marlo’s remarks centered around correcting the record on Ronald Reagan’s Cold War exploits. Marlo stated, “The intent of this book is to address those flaws, highlight those flaws” and to correct the narrative.

He said that at one point, one observer called Reagan “an amiable dunce” who wandered around the White House during his two terms, which is a common opinion of his detractors. However, “that has largely been discredited,” Marlo said. He pointed out that there are books that parrot this viewpoint even now, such as a book by Francis Fitzgerald, called Way Out in the Blue. Marlo continued, “There’s been a gradual change now; unfortunately, the story is only slightly better.”

“Ronald Reagan,” Marlo said, “gets credit, but gets credit for changing” during the Cold War. He added that academics perpetuate the narrative that Reagan shifted to “becoming a strong believer in détente” between 1984-1985. “This is the Reagan reversal story,” Marlo noted, and the narrative is of Reagan “becoming a moderate [then] the Cold War ends.”

Continuing the narrative, “Gorbachev gets most of the credit” for the end of the Cold War because academics believed “Reagan sees the light and sees the Cold War is pointless…and it ends.” In Marlo’s words, “That is accepted academic wisdom” today and “that account is horribly flawed.” In fact, he said, “The Reagan administration…did more to worsen the Soviet problems” in the 1980s and Marlo pointed out, “That doesn’t get noticed by academics writing about the administration today.”

To strengthen his point, Marlo cited a government strategic document known as NSDD 75, which was Reagan’s national security strategy directive. This directive pointed out the internal problems that the Soviets were having, and as Marlo said, “[It] was never overwritten, it was never changed” by following administrations. Marlo continued, “This reads like a hardline document” and there is “no evidence to suggest” that Reagan went soft in the mid-1980s.

Today, “the current academics treat it as something that suddenly happened,” referring to the struggling Soviet economy in the 1980s, and the Left believed “Reagan happened to be there” to see its collapse. However, Marlo said, academics don’t realize “Reagan never changed” his approach to the Soviet Union and the Cold War. “It’s just not true” that Reagan reversed course halfway through his presidency, said Marlo, because “he never dismissed the idea” of negotiation. Marlo added, “The idea that he didn’t endorse it is just wrong [because] he never changed his mind toward it.”

Reagan “didn’t change his views overnight because Mikhail Gorbachev showed up,” Marlo noted, “Ronald Reagan was a very good politician and had dealt with a lot of smooth politicians.” He continued, “Just because the media swooned over Gorbachev” does not mean Reagan did so and there was little evidence to suggest it.

What set Ronald Reagan apart? “He understood the stakes of the Cold War, that communism and freedom couldn’t coexist,” Marlo said. He told the story of Ronald Reagan’s tenure as president of the Screen Actors’ Guild, known as SAG. There, Reagan saw communism first-hand when dealing with a “communist-backed union” which leveled threats against his life. Marlo pointed out, “[Reagan] winds up sleeping with a gun under his pillow for fear that he will become a target.” This was Reagan’s “first taste of what communism is about.”

Whittaker Chambers’ book, “Witness,” could have influenced Reagan’s approach toward communism because to Chambers, it was a fervent ideology. Marlo said, “The portrayal Chambers gives as a sort of rival faith, deeply affects Ronald Reagan [because] it was ugly and it was nasty.” Whittaker’s phrase that described communism, “the focus of the concentrated evil of our time” was echoed in some of Reagan’s own anti-communism and pro-freedom speeches.

Photo by The Official CTBTO Photostream

Photo by The Official CTBTO Photostream