The Ronald Reagan Legacy: Or: Oh, Ye of Little Faith

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 7, 1997 | Go to article overview

The Ronald Reagan Legacy: Or: Oh, Ye of Little Faith


Bill Clinton has been spending his second administration feverishly seeking a legacy, and, who knows, he may even find one, what with his race monologues and Internet-in-the-schools policy. However, if Mr. Clinton wants to look beyond the nickel-and-dime legacies he is likely to leave, he ought to invite a fellow deep thinker - his old Oxford roommate and current deputy secretary of state, Strobe Talbott - over to the White House tomorrow for an afternoon of reflection and cigar-chomping. (Inhale? Gee whiz, Hillary won't even let Bill light up in the Oval Office. ... And you wonder why the president suffers from a major case of legacy-envy?)

The president and Mr. Talbott may reflect upon the sort of presidential legacy - the giant kind -that is established twice a century, if that. Tomorrow seems especially appropriate, inasmuch at it represents the 10th anniversary of an event that arguably signalled not only the beginning of the end of the Cold War, from which the United States triumphantly emerged as the world's sole superpower, but also the beginning of the end of the "Evil Empire," as President Ronald Reagan had so accurately described the soon-to-be-vanquished, now-defunct Soviet Union in 1983. Ten years ago tomorrow, then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, having utterly failed to dent Mr. Reagan's boundless faith in the Strategic Defense Initiative, nonetheless crawled into Washington to sign the International Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty under terms that Mr. Talbott, as Time magazine's diplomatic correspondent, had spent years of his professional life insisting the Soviet Union would never accept.

When President Reagan boldly offered his "zero option" in November 1981 to eliminate present and future intermediate-range land-based missiles from the superpowers' arsenals, the "arms-control community," which spent the first 11 months of Mr. Reagan's presidency pounding the administration for its lethargy and obstructionism, lambasted the offer as a nonstarter. Mr. Talbott, the impressario of the "arms-control community," was leading the pack.

After all, when the "zero option" had been proclaimed, none of the 572 single-warhead U.S. missiles that the United States and its allies had agreed in 1979 to station in Europe had yet been deployed. And none were scheduled to be delivered for another two years. Meanwhile, the Soviets had already deployed more than 250 SS-20 missiles, each with three warheads, throughout Europe and Asia, a superpower intermediate-range missile monopoly that would increase by 50 percent before the first U.S. missile was even scheduled to arrive.

Indeed, not only did Mr. Reagan have the temerity to demand that the Soviets destroy their SS-20s based in Europe in order to prevent the United States from deploying its own missiles there, but he also demanded that they destroy their Asia-based SS-20s as well.

The bold simplicity of the zero-zero option boggled minds among the arms control community, not least Mr. Talbott's. In his gloom-and-doom book, "Deadly Gambits" (and, oh, what a read it makes today), Mr. Talbott meticulously recounted the myriad of supposed failures of the Reagan administration's arms-control policies during its first three years, "[B]oldness was inversely proportional to negotiability." Commenting on U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle, who zealously and successfully lobbied the Reagan administration to adopt the global zero option, Mr. Talbott disapprovingly declared, "[O]n every issue he had taken a position that was extreme, but that was also simple and compelling as long as one did not dwell on the question of negotiability."

Throughout his book, Mr. Talbott obsessed over "the question of negotiability," almost solely from the Soviet Union's point of view. "Negotiability" clearly was the paramount consideration in Mr. Talbott's limited worldview. On the first page of "Deadly Gambits," he revealed his deeply held conviction that U. …

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