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A Well Researched Thesis
on March 10, 2009
I found the thesis of this book to ring true. The idea that Reagan on his own, came to conclusions at variance, with both his conservative base, and the "realist" school that included Nixon, Kissinger, and Snowcroft, has been repressed on both sides of the American political divide, for different reasons.
Some like to think of Ronald Reagan as either a rigid and narrow-minded, ideological Cold Warrior, in the school of Joe McCarthy...or, a conservative, neo-con, cowboy-saint, who single-handedly, won the Cold War by forcing the Soviets to capitulate in the face of our arms build-up, our Pershing missile deployment, and our moral vigor.
James Mann explodes both these misconceptions. His thesis is that eventually, Reagan saw in Mikhail Gorbachev...as good hearted man of flexible mind...and crucially, as man with whom he could negotiate. Reagan was aided in this effort by an extraordinary woman...a writer, with good contacts within the Soviet Union, and whom Reagan personally trusted to send and receive messages and overtures...as well as report her observations. In fact, he trusted this woman more than his conservative political base, and more than George Schultz and his own State Department.
It's an extraordinary story of the personal diplomacy of "trusting, but verifying". Mann documents that Reagan's real role was, in first understanding Gorbachev's internal political position, and responding to it in such as way as not to undermine the Kremlin politics that kept him on top. The fact that Reagan's arms build-up, in a way, actually helped to propel Gorbachev into power, is intriguing, for as Andropov's intelligence protege, he was trusted on security issues by the Soviet military and political establishment. This was particularly important for progress on the IMF treaty, so vehemently opposed by Reagan's right wing...the up-and-coming American neo-cons.
Mann sees Reagan deftly acting in ways to respect and support his "enemy"...who eventually became his colleague in ending the Cold War. I even see an element of Gandhi's non-violent opposition, in this highly counter-intuitive idea of supporting one's opponent.
I think Mann convinces the reader that, in the end, it was Gorbachev's central role, in desiring a European Russia...who ABANDONED the Cold War...not Reagan who FORCED its ending. But Mann is most clear that Reagan was quite instrumental in making it politically possible for him to do so. This was, without doubt, a HUGE contribution to the success of peace, and the nearly bloodless transformation and normalization of Europe.
Ronald Reagan deserves the credit he's accorded as a first class diplomat..but Mann's script for how he achieved this, is different from the usual dogma of either the American right, or the American left...or, for that matter, the genetically critical Euro left.
Mann's thesis is quite believable to me....and I think this well documented history should have nothing but a beneficial effect, upon the highly contentious partisanship we've seen in America, since Reagan and Gorbachev left the world stage.