Reagan’s “Dogged Support for Human Rights” Helped Advance Freedom and Peace

(p. C7) Reagan’s confidence that the Cold War could be won made him unusual. At the time, both Republicans and Democrats believed that America was in decline. Communism was on the march in Afghanistan, Africa, Central America and the Caribbean. Then, in 1980, President Jimmy Carter seemed hapless and ineffectual after he failed to rescue U.S. hostages in Iran. The CIA mistakenly believed that the Soviet economy was growing. The policies of arms control and détente —or direct negotiations—were ascendant.

William Inboden’s masterly diplomatic history “The Peacemaker: Ronald Reagan, the Cold War, and the World on the Brink” reveals the qualities that made Reagan an extraordinary president who established the conditions for the collapse of Soviet communism. . . .

At almost every juncture, Reagan rejected the advice of former president Richard Nixon, whose realist worldview privileged China over Japan, geopolitics over economics, equilibrium over victory, and stability over human rights. Reagan envisioned a future where high technology, a universal commitment to freedom and dignity, and a willingness to risk confrontation with the enemy resulted in a global democratic revolution and the eventual abolition of nuclear weapons.

. . .

Reagan’s horror of nuclear war led him to envision a world where nuclear weapons would be obsolete. Woven into Mr. Inboden’s story are the many times that Reagan saw the potential for nuclear catastrophe. In 1979 the commander of the North American Air Defense Command, or NORAD, told him that the U.S. had no defense against a Soviet missile strike. In 1981 he took a flight on a special Air Force One called the “Doomsday Plane” that had been made to withstand nuclear fallout. In 1982 he became the first president to participate in a continuity-of-government exercise, codenamed “Ivy League.” Reagan watched helplessly as a simulated nuclear exchange destroyed his beloved country.

The following spring Reagan proposed the development of technology that could intercept nuclear missiles before they hit their targets. Both his secretaries of defense and state were against his plans for a Strategic Defense Initiative. They were not alone. The many critics of Reagan’s antiballistic missile shield followed Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in calling it “Star Wars.”

Scientists said SDI wouldn’t work. Arms controllers said it would increase the chances of nuclear escalation. None of them understood that Reagan had redefined the arms race to America’s advantage. “It put the Soviets on the defensive,” writes Mr. Inboden, “fueling the Kremlin’s perennial fear of America’s technological prowess.”

. . .

Reagan’s opponents said that his dogged support for human rights and missile defense was both counterproductive and a distraction from good relations with the Soviets. Rather than conform to the accepted interpretation of reality, he sought to establish new facts on the ground that favored the expansion of freedom.

For the full review, see:

Matthew Continetti. “We Win and They Lose.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022): C7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 25, 2022, and has the title “‘The Peacemaker’ Review: Ronald Reagan’s Cold War.”)

The book under review is:

Inboden, William. The Peacemaker: Ronald Reagan, the Cold War, and the World on the Brink. New York: Dutton, 2022.

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