Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

An Appreciation of Gorbachev

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

An Appreciation of Gorbachev

Article excerpt

A MAN stands briefly on the stage of history. From a childhood during his country's Terror, he was recruited to manage the system of Terror, and emerged not quite a hero, but at least a seemingly sincere reformer. And finally, as has happened to reformers before, it seems that Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev is being swept away by the forces that he himself unleashed.

What are we to make of this man's career? How will he be judged by the historians of the future? He looked impressive and innovative during much of his career at the pinnacle of Soviet society.

The 1987 agreement under which the world's two nuclear megapowers agreed to dismantle all their intermediate-range nuclear weapons stands as his greatest achievement. The INF agreement showed clearly that, on both sides, the terrible hostility of the early 1980s had been transcended. The personality, policy smarts, and persistence of General-Secretary Gorbachev were unique resources that he used to persuade both sides' hard-liners to engage in that dispersal of tensions.

Two years after the conclusion of the INF agreement, Gorbachev's landmark decision not to use the Red Army to prop up Soviet power in Eastern Europe underscored the distance he had traveled from traditional Soviet thinking.

At a time when the whole world needed creative diplomacy to save us from the craziness of continuing the cold war, Gorbachev was the one who provided it. He reframed the relationship between Moscow and Washington from the deadly arms-racing involved in building an ever more powerful "deterrent" into an appreciation of the fact that in today's world security is truly a cooperative affair.

Did Gorbachev engage in this reframing because he was a visionary, or because he sat in the one seat on earth from which the bankruptcy of the Soviet system was clearly evident? Maybe, under this latter explanation, the decision to change the terms of the relationship with Washington was less heroic and more like stark necessity?

We should remember, though, that in the few years before Gorbachev came to power, three predecessors in succession had sat in his seat, and none gave evidence of having reached the same conclusions.

Or maybe, Gorbachev's reframing of relations with Washington was intended as a step toward freeing up resources to revitalize the Soviet system? …

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