Reagan, not Gorbachev, is the real man of peace

November 16, 1990|By Robert G. Kaufman

WILL THE gushing over Mikhail Gorbachev ever stop?

Gorbachev has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize allegedly for "bringing about an end to the Cold War." He did not deserve it. Ronald Reagan did. By restoring America's confidence in itself and in the eyes of the world community, President Reagan contributed mightily to making glasnost and perestroika a begrudging necessity for Gorbachev.

Reagan rightly considered U.S. military strength "a prerequisite of peace." His politically bold military buildup persuaded Gorbachev that the Soviets could no longer out-build or bully the United States they had done during the Nixon, Ford and Carter administrations.

Reagan's policy of peace through strength led to the INF Treaty with the Soviets, which eliminated an entire category of nuclear weapons. Also, thanks largely to the Strategic Defense Initiative, the Soviets agreed in principle to deep cuts in their strategic-nuclear and conventional weapons arsenals cuts they routinely rejected when President Jimmy Carter proposed them.

More important, Reagan restored our moral confidence in the principles of democracy and freedom. Reagan recognized that the Cold War was a moral as well as a geopolitical struggle, in which the United States was on the right side of history. He stressed relentlessly that "freedom must be stronger than totalitarianism and that good must be stronger than evil." Furthermore, he believed that ultimately the Cold War would be "a trial of spiritual resolve," a profound insight that even Gorbachev acknowledged by the end of the 1980s.

Domestically, Reagan restored faith in the vitality and moral superiority of market-economies over state-controlled economies. Astonishing his critics, Reagan checked the rate of inflation, slowed the growth of government, cut taxes, and thus unleashed eight consecutive years of economic growth. He also articulated clearly what many only dimly recognized: No system of government has so revolutionized our expectations ` by lengthening the life span, making thinkable the elimination of famine and poverty, and enlarging the range of human choice as has democratic capitalism.

Granted, Gorbachev began the long-overdue process of dismantling the brutal totalitarian police state that murdered millions and menaced everyone. His domestic reforms also unwittingly unleashed the breathtaking collapse of communism throughout Eastern Europe in 1989. For all this, he deserves our gratitude.

Remember, however, that Gorbachev is no democrat. Until recently, he had dismissed a multiparty system as "irrelevant." Gorbachev's domestic reforms occurred only under intense pressure as the system began to implode. Neither is the outcome certain: Most of Gorbachev's initiatives are reversible, as he has done little to institutionalize reform.

Meanwhile, the Soviet people especially in the Baltic Republics, the Ukraine and Russia regard Gorbachev as an obstacle to the sweeping changes on which genuine freedom depends. Both Tass, once the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party, and Russian Republic leader Boris Yeltsin, have denounced Gorbachev bitterly for his opposition to the "500 days" market reform plan a plan which promises genuine political and economic freedom.

A glance at the 1980s reveals a decade of fulfilled prophecy by Ronald Reagan. In 1981, he called the Soviet Union the "Evil Empire," while his critics scoffed. Now, everyone accepts that judgment: Earlier this year, Gorbachev himself condemned the "evil hand" of the Soviet secret police. In 1982, Reagan predicted confidently that "the march of democracy will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history." In 1989, we witnessed a startling confirmation of that vision in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, East Germany and Romania.

Ironically, Ronald Reagan, the prophet, has found little honor among the elite in the media, academia, or government, where many continue to confuse his simplicity for simple-mindedness. Those who have suffered under tyranny and aspire for freedom know better. As scholar Arch Puddington recently noted, for example, Reagan's reputation in Eastern Europe remains what he truly is a staunch defender of freedom at a watershed in history. This is why Ronald Reagan, not Mikhail Gorbachev, should have won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Robert Kaufman, an assistant professor of political science on leave from Colgate University, is a Bradley resident scholar with B the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.


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