Chapter 9 – The Strategy Gains Force: The Second Term

Our mission is to nourish and defend freedom and democracy and to communicate these ideals everywhere we can. America’s economic success is freedom’s success; it can be repeated a hundred times in a hundred different nations. Many countries in east Asia and the Pacific have few resources other than the enterprise of their own people. But through low tax rates and free markets they’ve soared ahead of centralized economies. . . . We cannot play innocents abroad in a world that’s not innocent; nor can we be passive when freedom is under siege. . . . We must stand by all our democratic allies. . . . Support for freedom fighters is self-defense. . . .

History is asking us once again to be a force for good in the world. Let us begin in unity, with justice, and love. . . . God bless you. (headings added)3

2. Reagan Remains Reagan, Soviet Leadership Changes, Mikhail Gorbachev’s Rise, Leninist Faith, and Fall

The success of Reagan’s revolutionary Cold War strategy of “peace through strength” and “peace with freedom” depended largely, but not solely, on Reagan’s resolve and the support of the American people, their Free World allies, and others resisting Soviet imperialism abroad. It also required Soviet leaders to yield to the pressure for radical change in the Soviet Union’s Marxist-Leninist rigid ideological assumptions and regime practices. With Reagan’s first-term momentum, these possibilities grew substantially in Reagan’s second term, especially with the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev.

The Soviet Leadership Roller Coaster in Reagan’s First Term. Before Mikhail Gorbachev became the Soviet leader during Reagan’s second term, the three Soviet leaders encountered by Reagan during his first term offered no serious leadership initiatives or responses to his initiatives on summit meetings, Soviet human rights, U.S.-Soviet arms control, Poland, Afghanistan, the Caribbean and other key U.S.-Soviet issues. Not having ever benefited from democratic dialogue, competition or elections in their closed political system, Communist Party General Secretaries Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, and Konstantin Chernenko were aging and ill Communist Party apparatchiks, appointed through secret Politburo decisions and barely credible internationally as legitimate leaders. None proved capable of handling the severe Soviet domestic and imperial problems that had been aggravated by Reagan’s revolutionary change from 1970s U.S. Cold War détente strategies that had too often tolerated Soviet treaty violations, unprecedented arms build-ups, and imperial aggression. None proved fit to have a summit meeting with Reagan (who, among senior Soviet officials, had met only Foreign Minister Anatoly Dobrynin, in February 1983). It is likely that the Soviet leaders’ physical and mental short-comings and decline were brought to the breaking point by Reagan’s relentless pressure on the key issues of U.S.-Soviet relations.

Brezhnev. The first Soviet leader during Reagan’s first term was Leonid Brezhnev, appointed on October 14, 1964 when the Communist Party Politburo forced the involuntary “retirement” of the bombastic Nikita Khrushchev. Brezhnev’s brutal record included ordering the crackdown on the popular “Prague Spring” reform movement in Czechoslovakia in August 1968 and his declaration of the Brezhnev Doctrine to justify similar Soviet actions against anti-Communist dissent throughout the Kremlin’s “Socialist Camp.” The Brezhnev record further included: the signing and violation of arms control agreements made with Presidents Nixon and Ford in the early 1970s; the increased aggressive use of Soviet military and intelligence forces in Latin America, Afghanistan and Africa; severe pressure on Poland; and diplomatic support of the anti-democratic, anti-Western radical Islamic revolution in Iran. By the late 1970s, and until his death two years into Reagan’s term, Brezhnev was increasingly ill, a leader quite unprepared for the vigorous new U.S. Cold War strategy and leadership capabilities demonstrated from the very start of Reagan’s presidency in January 1981.

Andropov and Chernenko. Following Brezhnev’s death on November 10, 1982, Yuri Andropov was named the new Soviet leader on November 12, 1982. He was well known in the West as the “Butcher of Budapest” for his role as Soviet ambassador in urging the ruthless Soviet suppression of the anti-Communist national uprising in Hungary in 1956. That he was no reformer was also indicated by his subsequent role as head of the Soviet KGB, conducting espionage, subversion, and “active measures” intelligence operations against dissidents at home and against democratic organizations and countries abroad. In spite of this dark history, however, leading Western media and Reagan political opponents touted Andropov as a reformist hope, an illusion that, in any case, ended when Andropov soon became sick and later died on February 9, 1984. He was replaced on February 14, 1984 by Konstantin Chernenko, who also fell ill and died soon after on March 10, 1985.

[Book pg. 191]