Reuters was up front about it, headlining their obituary this way: “Last Soviet leader Gorbachev, who ended Cold War and won Nobel prize, dies aged 91.” CNN lamented that “Mikhail Gorbachev’s tragedy is that he outlived the thaw in the Cold War between Moscow and the US, after doing more than anyone to engineer it.” The same alleged news network headlined another story on their fallen hero: “Mikhail Gorbachev, former Soviet president who took down the Iron Curtain, dies.” The BBC was just a trifle more circumspect, going with the headline: “Mikhail Gorbachev: The Soviet leader who helped end the Cold War.” Gorbachev did indeed help end the Cold War, but chiefly by doing something that Reuters, CNN and the Beeb don’t deign to mention: Gorbachev helped end the Cold War by losing it.
The Leftist intelligentsia that runs the propaganda organs known as CNN, the BBC and Reuters, along with the rest of the establishment media, will never admit it, but the man who actually ended the Cold War was Ronald Reagan. As Rating America’s Presidents explains, Reagan became president in the era of détente, when it was generally agreed that the best way to deal with the Soviet Union and global Communism in general was to play down differences, turn a blind eye to the human rights abuses endemic to socialist states, seek accords that would ease tensions, prevent the use of nuclear weapons, and allow the two sides to continue in much the same way indefinitely. The détente era reached its apex on June 18, 1979, when Jimmy Carter and Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev signed the SALT II Treaty, and then, as the world watched agog, Carter embraced and kissed the Communist despot.
President Reagan set a different tone. He was a public critic of détente as disadvantageous to American interests. On June 8, 1982, in a speech before the British House of Commons, he contradicted the conventional wisdom that the Soviet Union was here to stay and boldly predicted its demise. Reagan said, “The march of freedom and democracy…will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history, as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people.”
He went even further on March 8, 1983, in a speech to Christian leaders, when he called the Soviet Union what it was, an “evil empire.” He warned them against the temptation to “simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.” The international media, as well as many foreign policy “experts” within the Reagan administration, were aghast, charging that Reagan’s rhetoric was reckless, destroyed the possibility for further détente accords with the Soviets, and greatly increased the possibility of nuclear war.
In calling the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” however, Reagan rejected the moral equivalency that had become fashionable during the era of détente and restored the idea of the Cold War as not just a jockeying for interests between two superpowers but a just and necessary moral crusade against a monstrous regime that victimized its own people. This heartened and emboldened Soviet dissidents and residents of Soviet satellites who had been dismayed to see the leading nation in the free world begin to treat the Soviet Union as if it were anything but a cruel totalitarian state.
At the same time, Reagan began a massive military buildup, again to the consternation of the foreign policy establishment, which repeated its warning that he was risking a nuclear war. But Reagan’s remark that Marxism-Leninism would be relegated to the “ash-heap of history” was not just a rhetorical flourish; Reagan discerned what the establishment analysts missed: détente was allowing the Soviet economy breathing room, and the Soviets would not be able to keep up with the new arms race. Reagan calculated that the strain of trying to do so would weaken the Soviet economy, and that would lead to the end of the Soviet Union as a Communist superpower.
Reagan also directly challenged Soviet propaganda, which often found echoes in the Western media, claiming that the Soviet bloc was working for peace against a warmongering, imperialist United States. On June 12, 1987, at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin, Reagan addressed Gorbachev: “There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
Two years later, the Communists could contain their peoples’ desire for freedom no longer. On November 9, 1989, East German authorities, under immense pressure, announced that their borders were open; hundreds of thousands of East Germans massed at the Wall, vastly outnumbering the guards, who ultimately let them through. The Berlin Wall, where so many people had been gunned down making a desperate rush for freedom, soon afterward began to be torn down. The Soviet Union dissolved in 1991.
Reagan is seldom given credit today for ending the Cold War, which was clearly in America’s best interests in removing its biggest adversary of the time from the world stage. Leftist analysts, hating the conservative patriot Reagan, prefer to give the credit to Gorbachev for relaxing the restrictions on Soviet citizens, and to Pope John Paul II for inspiring and encouraging Polish shipyard workers to resist the Communist government’s iron fist. But Gorbachev’s liberalization was a response to the tremendous economic pressure that the Soviets were experiencing as a result of Reagan’s arms buildup, and if the Pope’s words played a role in inspiring resistance to Communism, so did Reagan’s when he dared to cast the Cold War as a struggle of freedom versus slavery and good versus evil. President Reagan deserves immense credit for the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the end of the Cold War.
The world’s most notable Pizza Hut pitchman was merely reacting to the events Reagan set in motion. If history is written by free men, Gorbachev will be remembered as a man who opened the door to freedom quite reluctantly, and when he had no other choice.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of 25 books including many bestsellers, such as The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), The Truth About Muhammad and The History of Jihad. His latest book is The Critical Qur’an. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.