In speeches delivered to the State of the World Forum in September 2000, Mikhail Gorbachev blamed the United States for squandering unique post-cold war opportunities to bring "new thinking" (novoe myshlenie) to the problems of globalization, arms reduction and nuclear disarmament. He's entitled. For, paradoxically, it was Gorbachev–the product of an ostensibly moribund, so-called totalitarian regime–whose idealism and dynamism went farthest in demilitarizing the cold war, assuring its peaceful resolution and ushering in those very opportunities.
Nevertheless, Gorbachev erred when he blamed the United States. In fact, it appears that the United States "won" the cold war (this month marks the tenth anniversary of the fall of the Soviet Union) without ever recognizing, let alone understanding, the indispensable role played by Soviet ideas. Thus, a corresponding paradox: Vibrant, dynamic, democratic America had no new thinking to squander.
Such conceptual disarmament can be traced to the US political leadership's cold war embrace of the concept of totalitarianism to explain Soviet behavior, and to the post-cold war support it found in the work of the "totalitarian school" thinkers. Apparently it mattered little to them that Richard Pipes and Martin Malia, two of the school's most prominent members, could not even agree on the origins of Soviet totalitarianism: Pipes indicted virtually all of Russia's history by finding fully developed totalitarianism to be the legacy of "patrimonial" rule under the czars, with the addition of Lenin's militarized lust for dominance. Malia simply blamed socialist ideology.
Having learned from Merle Fainsod that "the totalitarian regime does not shed its police-state characteristics; it dies when power is wrenched from its hands," both historians denied the very possibility of systemic change from within and, consequently, credited pressure from the West, best symbolized by the Star Wars program of the Reagan Administration, for precipitating the collapse of Soviet Communism.
If a flawed idée fixe like this could capture such erudite Russia scholars, imagine the blank spots that impoverished the thinking of lesser "totalitarian school" Sovietologists, especially those primarily concerned with national security problems. Suffice it to say that these scholars' intense search for the slightest improvements in Soviet weaponry obscured much bigger developments: the mellowing Soviet leadership identified by George Kennan, the "friends and foes of change" detected by Stephen F. Cohen and the potential implicit in generational change in the Soviet leadership suggested by Jerry Hough and Archie Brown. Imagine how much worse were the unschooled cold war politicians of both major political parties, who further militarized and coarsened the worst of cold war scholarship–which continues to this day, in some cases.
Serious and comprehensive early post-cold war scholarship by Raymond Garthoff and Archie Brown properly credited Gorbachev. Garthoff concluded that, "in bringing the cold war to an end…what happened would not have happened without him; that cannot be said of anyone else." Brown, in addition to proclaiming Gorbachev "the individual who made the most profound impact on world history in the second half of the twentieth century," explicitly rebutted the totalitarian argument by concluding: "From the spring of 1989 [thus, well before its collapse] it is scarcely meaningful to describe the Soviet Union as a Communist system."