Near the end of his threadbare, tendentious and dubious hagiography of Ronald Reagan, Peter Schweizer recounts the President’s first trip to Moscow, in late spring 1988. Reagan had undertaken the visit, so Schweizer claims, in order to push “just once more against the Soviet edifice.” Schweizer waxes euphoric about how the dissidents at Spaso House “erupted with cheers” as Reagan entered the room, how he wowed the students at Moscow State University and how Reagan lectured Gorbachev, in the words of one observer, like “a parent trying to reason with a child.”
Strikingly absent from Schweizer’s account of the visit, however, is perhaps the most revealing incident of all. When asked whether he still considered the Soviet Union to be the Evil Empire, Reagan answered: “No. I was talking about another time, another era.”
Beyond questioning why Schweizer would omit such an important incident (obviously it doesn’t fit with the author’s portrayal of Reagan as a principled and relentless anti-Communist), one also might ask what had happened during the five years since Reagan first used the term. Had Reagan changed? Was he perhaps won over by Gorbachev? And why the criticism by prominent conservative columnist George Will (“Reagan has accelerated the moral disarmament of the West–actual disarmament will follow”)?
Schweizer gladly recalls Reagan’s accusation against the Kremlin: “The only morality they recognize is what will further their cause, meaning they reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat, in order to attain [their objectives].” Yet, criminality aside, it’s an allegation worth recalling when reading Schweizer’s book. For after discounting for Schweizer’s transparent and obnoxious attempts to put an epic glow on everything that Reagan touched, there still remains the bias and incompetence about his claims that might add up to something worse:
No, President Eisenhower was not a coward, even if Reagan claimed that under Ike it was “painfully clear that our foreign policy today is motivated by fear of the bomb.” After Stalin, fear of the bomb affected American and Soviet leaders alike, including Reagan (something Schweizer strains to ignore). And no, JFK had not “given up too much” to bring the Cuban Missile Crisis to a peaceful conclusion. As for Lyndon Johnson, he may have been “naïve” for believing that a slow escalation of the war in Vietnam might succeed, but hindsight has not been kind to people, like Reagan, who claimed that the war “must be fought through to victory.”
President Nixon virtually gave away America’s grain to the Soviet Union, and Henry Kissinger “approved the sale of advanced computers to Moscow for the first time.” Schweizer casts as their gravest mistake, however, “giving up too much to Moscow” when they signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.