By Dinesh D'Souza
In October 1987 Ronald Reagan stood at
the Brandenburg Gate and said, “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek
prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek
liberalization…tear down this wall.”
Two years later, in what may be the most spectacular political event of
our lifetimes, the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, the Soviet empire
collapsed, and the world entered a new period of relative peace and
But how and why did the wall come
tumbling down? I want to argue that it was Reagan’s statesmanship that
made possible this epochal event. Reagan didn’t, of course, do it
alone. But without him it probably wouldn’t have happened.
As early as 1981, when virtually everyone
considered the Soviet empire a permanent fixture of the international
landscape, Reagan spoke at the University of Notre Dame where he
predicted that “the West won’t contain communism; it will transcend
communism. It will dismiss it as a bizarre chapter in human history
whose last pages are even now being written.” The next year Reagan told
the British Parliament that freedom and democracy would “leave
Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history.”
When Reagan made these forecasts the wise
men in the media and academia scoffed. Today these same pundits
maintain that the Soviet Union collapsed by itself due to economic
failure, or that Mikhail Gorbachev was responsible. Reagan, they
insist, merely presided over an event that his policies did little to
This analysis makes no sense at
all. Sure, the Soviet Union had economic problems on account of its
socialist system. But the Soviet economy had been ailing for most of
the century. Never in history has a great empire imploded due to poor
economic performance alone. The Roman and Ottoman empires survived
internal corrosion and domestic strains for generations before each was
destroyed by military force.
Like many empires suffering from domestic
strains, the Soviets during the 1970s compensated for these by pursuing
an aggressive foreign policy. Between 1974 and 1980, while the U.S.
wallowed in post-Vietnam angst, 10 countries fell into the Soviet orbit:
South Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, South Yemen, Angola, Mozambique,
Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Grenada and Afghanistan. The Soviet nuclear
arsenal surpassed that of the United States, and the Soviets deployed a
new generation of intermediate-range missiles targeted at Western
Europe. Far from being on the verge of collapse, the Soviet Union in
1980 seemed to be in the vanguard of history.
It is no less problematic to attribute
the Soviet collapse to Gorbachev. He was undoubtedly a reformer and a
new type of Soviet general secretary, but why did the Politburo in 1985
feel the need to turn over leadership to this man? Certainly the
communist bosses did not wish him to lead the party, and the regime,
over the precipice.
Nor did Gorbachev see this as his role.
On the contrary, he insisted throughout the second half of the 1980s
that he sought to strengthen the Soviet economy in order to strengthen
the Soviet military. The Politburo supported Gorbachev’s reforms
because he promised “regained confidence in the Party.” In his 1987
book Perestroika Gorbachev presented himself as the preserver,
not the destroyer, of socialism. No one was more surprised than
Gorbachev when the Soviet regime disintegrated, and when he was swept
out of power.
only man who foresaw the Soviet collapse and implemented policies to
bring it about was Ronald Reagan. During his first term Reagan pursued
tough anti-Soviet policies aimed at curtailing the Soviet nuclear
threat and stopping Soviet advances around the world. Calling the
Soviets an “evil empire,” Reagan initiated a massive defense buildup.
He deployed Pershing and Cruise missiles in Europe. He sent weapons and
other assistance to anticommunist guerrillas fighting for
self-determination in Soviet satellites like Afghanistan, Angola and
Nicaragua. He announced a new program of missile defenses that would
eventually “make nuclear weapons obsolete.”
These measures were fiercely resisted by
liberal leaders, who decried Reagan’s policies as confrontational and
likely to make nuclear war more likely. Historian Barbara Tuchman
spoke for many liberals when she urged that the West ingratiate itself
with the Soviet Union by pursuing “the stuffed-goose option—that is,
providing them with all the grain and consumer goods they need.” If
Reagan had taken this advice when it was offered in 1982, the Soviet
empire would probably be around today.
Reagan’s military buildup and his missile
defense program threatened the Soviets with an arms race they could ill
afford. The Reagan doctrine of aid to anticommunist guerrillas halted
Soviet advances in the Third World: between 1980 and 1985 not an inch of
real estate fell into Moscow’s hands and one small country, Grenada,
reverted into the democratic camp. Thanks to Stinger missiles supplied
by the United States, Afghanistan rapidly became what the Soviets
themselves would later call a “bleeding wound.”
Clearly the Politburo saw that the
momentum in the cold war had dramatically shifted. After 1985, the
Soviets seem to have decided on a new course. It was Reagan, in other
words, who was responsible for thwarting Soviet gains and introducing a
loss of nerve that contributed to the elevation of Gorbachev to power.
Gorbachev’s policies were responses to circumstances created not by him
but by Reagan. No wonder that Ilya Zaslavsky, who served in the
Congress of People’s Deputies, said later that the true originator of glasnost and perestroika was not Gorbachev but Reagan.
Reagan immediately recognized Gorbachev
as a new breed of Soviet leader. He supported Gorbachev’s reforms and
arms control initiatives during his second term, when many conservatives
criticized him for being naïve and credulous. William F. Buckley, Jr.
warned that Reagan’s new stance was “on the order of changing our entire
position toward Adolf Hitler.” Columnist George Will mourned that
Reagan had “accelerated the moral disarmament of the West by elevating
wishful thinking to the status of political philosophy.”
These criticisms missed the larger
current of events that Reagan alone appears to have understood. In
attempting to reform communism, Gorbachev was destroying the system.
Reagan encouraged him every step of the way; as Gorbachev himself joked,
Reagan induce him to take the Soviet Union to the edge of the abyss and
then take “one step forward.”
The tears of joy with which millions
greeted the collapse of the Soviet empire proved that Reagan was
entirely justified in calling it an “evil empire.” Even some of who
were previously skeptical of Reagan were compelled to admit that they
had been wrong and Reagan’s approach had been thoroughly vindicated.
Reflecting on Reagan’s complex strategy of initial toughness toward the
Soviet Union—in the face of denunciation from liberals—and later support
for Gorbachev—in the face of criticism from conservatives—Henry
Kissinger called it “the most stunning diplomatic achievement of the
Margaret Thatcher composed Reagan’s
epitaph when she said that “he won the cold war without firing a
shot.” That’s how history will remember him. On the anniversary of
the Berlin Wall’s collapse, we should do Reagan the honor of recognizing
his prescient leadership that helped to produce that marvelous event.
Dinesh D’Souza is the author of several bestselling books. His latest, The Roots of Obama's Rage was released in September 2010. He is a frequent speaker on college campuses for Young America’s Foundation.