Chapter 8 – Setting the New Cold War Strategy: The First Term - Statements and Decisions

none of the old Soviet leaders of Reagan’s first term (Leonid Brezhnev, Alexei Andropov, and Konstantin Chernenko) could escape Soviet history and were accustomed to 1970s U.S. détente accommodations and trade and financial bailouts. They could not understand how fundamentally Reagan’s assertions of America’s freedom principles and strengths challenged the foundations of Soviet Union’s ossified totalitarian ideology, regime and empire. As Reagan completed his first term, the Cold War was at a turning point with superpower momentum clearly shifting away from the Soviet Union toward the United States and its democratic allies and their cause of peace and freedom.

1. Reagan Sets His New Strategy

Ronald Reagan’s leadership strengths included his unwavering faith in America’s exceptional providential blessings, experience, and responsibilities in expanding the sphere of human freedom. His love of America and his life-long study of American history gave him exceptional confidence about what was best in America, what still needed to be achieved, and why it was so critical to get an early start on a new strategy to “secure the blessings of liberty” for posterity.

Providence, History, and Hope. Reagan’s faith in the high cause of freedom and peaceful progress that he wished to secure combined with his knowledge of Cold War history helped him shape a policy that accounted for both the threats and vulnerabilities of America’s super-power antagonist, the Soviet Union. Reagan was well aware of America’s shortcomings, especially as evidenced in the 1970s period of domestic conflict and broken confidence, but he believed in America and freedom’s future. America was a good nation; the American Dream was robust and real. America could again be the United States as a beacon of progress, hope, and unbreakable strength in a threatened world.

Reagan understood far better than his political rivals and the many “politically-correct,” often cynical, opponents he confronted that the pivotal concept and importance of the word “still” in Martin Luther King’s “I Still Have a Dream” Speech at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 in Washington, D.C. King began the famous sentences of the speech by presenting his prophetic hope with the words: “I still have a dream.” In his Sermon on “How Should a Christian View Communism?” in 1962, King at length sharply contrasted his own faith with that of Soviet ideology, condemning the latter’s anti-humanistic totalitarianism. Like Martin Luther King before him, Reagan still believed America had a great faith, heart, and future.

Leadership. Reagan’s strengths included his executive experience as leader of a free labor union and governor of America’s most populous and prosperous state, California. At the state and national levels, his spirited political leadership demonstrated rare strengths in rallying and gaining votes from a broad bipartisan coalition of Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life. The Reagan coalition was noted for its bipartisan basis, especially in the millions of individual “Reagan Democrats” who were disillusioned with their party’s leftward turn in the 1970s. Reagan attracted new bipartisan organizations in areas like defense, foreign and domestic policies, who sought alternatives to the confusion, crises, and leadership malaise of the Carter presidency.

Reagan’s strengths enabled him to prepare for the work of his presidency fully confident in the foundation and future development of his new policies and strategies. This Reagan Revolution is illuminated in this book through Reagan’s own words and documents in the context of decades of Cold War. The Reagan Revolution promoted what was best for America and her democratic allies in the Free World. Thus morally armed, Reagan rebuilt America’s neglected instruments of strength and statecraft, took on the Soviet totalitarians and changed history to win victory for the forces of freedom.

Taking Charge. After his election on November 4, 1980, Reagan moved quickly to change the key Cold War assumptions and policies of Jimmy Carter, the incumbent president he had defeated, and to direct his team to set new foundations of a revolutionary Cold War strategy rooted in America’s and his own life experiences and outlined during his presidential campaign. Mindful of the crises and threats America faced that he inherited, he did not delay to organize his team and to speak out publicly on a new beginning, as he did in his Inaugural Address. Throughout the transition period from election to inauguration and in the days and weeks before his inauguration, Reagan conferred often about the revolutionary policy changes to come with his circle of senior staff, advisors, cabinet nominees, and sub-cabinet officials.

[Book pg. 170]