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Indeed, in a recent class I taught at my home institution—the London School of Economics—I asked a simple question about which policy-maker at the time was most instrumental in ending Soviet control in Eastern and Central Europe.
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Into this situation strode the ever-optimistic Reagan.
The time had come, he announced, to reverse the tide of history.
He was so certain, in fact, that he even abandoned the niceties of nearly forty years of diplomatic convention that took it for granted that “containment” was America’s preferred strategy toward the Soviet Union and replaced it with an altogether more aggressive policy that did not merely contest the Communist system more forcefully, but called its legitimacy (indeed its very survivability) into question. The USSR, he opined in 1982 before the British Parliament, did not represent the wave of the future.
On the contrary, it was, he insisted, condemned like all totalitarian systems to that proverbial “ash can” of history. Marx was right—there was a crisis unfolding—except it was not happening in the capitalist West, according to Reagan, but rather in the communist East.
Yet amongst other students, and no doubt amongst political leaders in other countries, Reagan continues to exercise an enormous fascination—as political leader of the free world at a critical moment in time; as a transformational president; and of course, as the man whose policies, it has been argued, contributed more than anything else to bringing about the demise of Communism.
Few American presidents have complete special issues of devoted to their life and times.
First, what are the main points in favor of the thesis that Reagan, or at least Reagan’s policies, “won” the Cold War?
Second, why has there been so much resistance to this thesis—and not only amongst LSE students?