What Obama can learn from Reagan about Russia

Obama’s critics contend that he’s not Ronald Reagan, but Reagan, as eager as he was to speak to the moral failings of communism, treated the Soviet Union with more nuance than his ideological hagiographers would suggest. Indeed, by the end of 1983, Reagan grew skeptical of those advisers who urged him to treat Soviet leaders as belligerents, as if they were routinely and only deceiving him — which is to say, not to deal with them directly at all — and instead recognized that in order to advance the cause of nuclear disarmament, he would have to acknowledge that the Soviets had legitimate interests and that those interests had to be recognized…

After Able Archer, Reagan wrote in his diary that “I feel the Soviets are so defense minded, so paranoid about being attacked that, without in any way being soft on them, we ought to tell them that no one here has any intention of doing that.”

Within weeks, he had consolidated control of the nuclear portfolio into the White House, and out of the Pentagon. Reagan would never labor under the illusion that the Soviet leaders were telling him the full truth. It confounded him, for example, that Gorbachev would deny the existence of a Soviet strategic missile defense program, even though the U.S. was observing its testing from the skies. But he looked beyond that. He found a way to talk, to negotiate, with people intent on deceiving him. Obama admires Reagan for thinking beyond his present moment. Here is a chance for him to do the same.