I can hear liberals already: Reagan, they’ll say, was not a warrior but a peacemaker. Didn’t he negotiate with Gorbachev, didn’t he offer at Reykjavik to eliminate all ICBMs in exchange for the right of strategic defense? And so he did. But to focus only on Reagan’s diplomacy is to suffer from historical myopia. It is to ignore Reagan’s first term in favor of his second.
The hawkish policies Reagan enacted between 1981 and 1985 gave him the economic, political, and military leverage to become friends with Gorbachev later. And only with Gorbachev: During Reagan’s first term, three Soviet leaders preceded the author of glasnost and perestroika. The president didn’t meet with any of them. “They keep dying on me,” he liked to say.
In their moral disapproval of force, in their fallacious belief that human beings of every nation and every government share the same values and interests, liberals forget that every diplomatic solution is based on the balance or preponderance of military power. It is the weaker party that seeks negotiations—just as Europe and the United States, consumed by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, did after Russia’s invasion of Georgia. Just as President Obama, preoccupied with ending the Middle Eastern wars and resolving the financial crisis, attempted his reset with Russia. Just as Europe and the United States, in the grip of anomie and malaise, have sought to freeze the conflict in Ukraine and “de-conflict” the escalating war in Syria.
Let’s reverse the equation.