How Reagan and Bush Overcame Skepticism to Collaborate with Gorbachev

WASHINGTON – Former President Ronald Reagan struggled to form any kind of relationship with his Soviet counterpart during his first four years in office. “They kept dying on me,” he later explained. Vice President George H.W. Bush will attend the funeral. “You die and I fly” became Bush’s ironic motto.

So when the latest in a string of aging Soviet leaders died in 1985, Reagan sent Bush again to take the steps of his young new successor, Mikhail Gorbachev, on his behalf. Conservative British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has declared Gorbachev to be “someone we can deal with.” But Reagan and Bush weren’t sure.

After meeting Gorbachev at his funeral in Moscow, Bush sent Reagan a telegram with his impression. A party official with an unraveling smile, warm eyes, and a charming way of emphasizing displeasure, he was a man to be wary of. Gorbachev was charming and touted as a new generation of modernizers, but neither Reagan nor Bush were convinced he was the real deal.

On top of that, they would both be proven wrong. First Reagan, then Bush, made Gorbachev, who died Tuesday at the age of 91, a genuine agent of change and a credible interlocutor who could help end the 40-year-old nuclear-armed Cold War. I came to regard it as Until then, even Franklin D. Roosevelt’s alliance of convenience with Joseph Stalin during World War II had a closer and more cooperative relationship with Moscow’s leadership than Reagan and Bush had with Gorbachev. No U.S. president built a

Remember the solidarity that has developed between Reagan and Bush on the one hand and Gorbachev on the other, at a time when Russian President Vladimir Putin is once again pitting Russia against the United States and both sides are waging a proxy war in Ukraine. Even more so. This shows just how much has been lost in the two decades since Putin took power and effectively dismantled Gorbachev’s legacy.

Gorbachev was a bit cryptic when he took over the Kremlin at age 54. He represented a departure from the geriatrics that had ruled the Soviet Union for years but had little history of interacting with foreign leaders as judged by Americans. Diplomats and intelligence agencies were not ready to accept him at face value.

After being briefed on the new leadership by Arthur A. Hartman, Ambassador to Moscow, Reagan recorded his questions in his diary. “He confirms that I believe Gorbachev will be as tough as any other leader. If he were not a staunch ideologist, he would not have been elected to the Politburo.” writes Reagan.

Still, Reagan was a committed anti-communist, but since taking office he has been deeply shaken by the prospect of nuclear war, and if he could meet with the other side he could change the difficult relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States. When he finally met with Gorbachev in Geneva in late 1985, the two men had a lively discussion on various issues, but what became known as “Walking in the Woods.” It allowed us to become more comfortable with each other.

By the time they met again in Reykjavík, Iceland, a year later, in more than ten hours of talks, they had come close to brokering a deal to eliminate nuclear weapons altogether, but a counter-attack called Strategic. It stalled Reagan’s resolve to build a missile defense system. Defense Initiative nicknamed “Star Wars”. Even as Gorbachev began to loosen the reins of the Soviet Empire, Reagan urged him to go further, traveling to Berlin in 1987 and challenging him to “tear down this wall.”

But over time, after several more landmark summits in Washington and Moscow, the two formed a true friendship and negotiated a landmark arms control treaty. The scene of the end of the Cold War.

Kenneth L. Adelman, Reagan’s chief of arms control and author of Reagan in Reykjavik, said: “But in the end, we realized that we were both sincere in trying to end the horrific nuclear threat.”

While in Moscow in his final year in office, President Reagan was asked if he still viewed the Soviet Union as the “evil empire” he had long called. “No,” he said. “It was another era, another era.” And he praised Gorbachev’s change. “Gorbachev deserves the most admiration as the leader of this country,” he told reporters at a news conference in Moscow. “President Gorbachev and I have discovered a kind of bond, a friendship between us,” Reagan told reporters during another visit to Moscow a year after he left office. rice field.

When Bush ran for president in 1988, he initially thought Reagan had gone too far and trusted him too much. After his inauguration, Bush put the relationship on hold for several months pending his policy review. This later became known as the “Pause”, much to Gorbachev’s surprise. But Bush eventually found a way to befriend the Soviet leader and work together to have a profound impact on world history.

Jeffrey A. Engel, author of When the World Was New, a history of Bush’s foreign policy, describes the relationship between the 41st president and the last Soviet leader as “from deep skepticism bordering on distrust to It changed over time,” he said. relationship. “But it’s a relationship born out of a practical need on both sides,” he added.

“Gorbachev needed President Bush’s approval, support and, most importantly, money,” said Engel, director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. “Bush knew that anyone who came after Gorbachev would likely undo all reforms and reignite the smoldering Cold War, especially because of a coup or a violent sudden power transition. .

Bush navigated the fall of the Soviet empire and the end of the Cold War as a partner to Gorbachev, not an enemy. Fearing that it would be more difficult, he refused to moan or even express a sense of victory.

Bush and Gorbachev, with the help of Secretary of State James A. Baker III, negotiated the reunification of Germany and its own arms control treaty. In Bush’s “New World Order,” he and Gorbachev worked together to counter Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and seek a Middle East peace deal.

Bush was so aligned with Gorbachev that he led the Soviet Union to hold the crumbling empire together despite the turmoil of hardliners in his own government like Dick Cheney, who was then Secretary of Defense. quietly supported the efforts of “He never put Gorbachev on the spot,” Gorbachev’s interpreter Pavel Parazhchenko once said of Bush.

In any case, the union collapsed anyway, leading to a brief period of hope that Russia would become more democratic, but at the same time, like the young Putin who saw it as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” It also kept away rebels. More than 30 years later, Putin is seeking to conquer the former Soviet republic of Ukraine, restoring what fell apart under Gorbachev.

“History will remember Mikhail Gorbachev as the giant who led his great country to democracy,” Baker said in a statement Tuesday after Gorbachev’s death. Despite Bush’s initial suspicions of the Soviet leader, Baker said, “I believe he was an honest broker and that he could be counted on at his word despite domestic pressure in Moscow.” I made it,” he said.

No U.S. president would have intended to say that about Gorbachev’s predecessor. And no one will say that about the man who now holds Gorbachev’s office in the Kremlin.

This article originally appeared on new york times. How Reagan and Bush Overcame Skepticism to Collaborate with Gorbachev

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