Saturday, May 31, 2014

Lost Weekend

A couple new books extolling the virtues of Ronald Reagan, but Reagan at Reykjavik caught my eye.  The author, Ken Adelman, was part of Reagan's administration at the time so he provides what would seem a valuable insider's account of the long weekend, which in many ways ended up being a lost weekend.  It seems that Reagan's precious SDI was so important to him that he would rather keep it than entertain Gorbacev's call for complete nuclear disarmament.

Of course, the Reagan administration was skeptical of the package deal that Gorby offered, and had reason to be, but if the premier was willing to give up his nuclear arsenal then what reason was there for a Strategic Defense Initiative?  After all, the whole reason behind "Star Wars" was to shoot Soviet nuclear warheads out of the sky.

Still, Adelman finds a way to turn the weekend summit into a victory for Reagan and America, perpetuating the myth that Reagan's arms build-up is what broke the Soviet Union in the waning years of the 80s.  David Hoffman noted in his review of the book that  the Soviet Union was crumbling from within and it was only a matter of time before it fell apart.

For some reason, the collapse of the Berlin Wall still caught Americans off guard even if the writing was on the wall.  The Solidarity movement, which the Reagan administration supported, should have been the first sign that something was up behind the Iron Curtain and there was no turning back.

Maybe Gorbacev sensed this and he was looking to hold onto the Soviet Union by offering a deal he felt the Americans couldn't refuse.  Gorbacev had no intention of dismantling the state.  His books called for an openness and reconciliation that he hoped would bring the Soviet republics closer together, not drive them further apart.  But, he had unleashed a Pandora's box of emotions.  In actual fact, the United States helped Gorbacev suppress these rebellious states by providing Moscow badly needed aid packages.  It was easier to deal with a singular entity than it was 13 separate independent republics.

It seems that neither the Reagan nor Bush administration was ready to see the map rewritten just yet.  After all, Pere Bush had an unruly Iraq to contend with and didn't pay much attention to events going on in Lithuania, which had actually declared its independence in the Spring of 1990, not the winter of 1991.   It's Sajudis movement went back to 1989, inspired by events in neighboring Poland.  Other Soviet republics similarly sought to secede from the USSR, but found little support for their independence efforts.  Even after the Lithuanians stood down the Soviet tanks in January 1991, it wasn't until September that the US recognized the country's independence, long after other countries had done so.

But, this doesn't fit the Reagan myth, so Adelman presents this crucial weekend in October 1986 as an example of Reagan's resolve and his ability to see beyond Gorbacev's tempting offer.

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