Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Misremembering Reagan's Willingness to Meet With Soviet Leaders

During last Friday's debate McCain invoked Reagan when arguing for the necessity of setting pre-conditions before meeting with Iran.  This led Brad Delong to point to an article in Pravda from 1982 in which Brezhnev declined an offer by Reagan to meet informally, which Matt Yglesias picked up on his blog. The discussion in the comments to the latter's post got me thinking about how the American right has allowed Reagan's aggressive rhetoric to overshadowed the reality of his diplomacy, and how this has led to the neo-con right's absolutist stand regarding negotiations with Iran and other states that have been longstanding security threats.

Brezhnev's refusal has been a boon for American right's view of Reagan because it meant that Reagan ended up not meeting with a Soviet leader until the Geneva summit with Gorbachev in November of 1985.  Yet, the reality is that far from shaping events through steadfastness Reagan was a hostage to the poor health and age of the CPSU politburo leadership.  Meanwhile, Gorbachev's association with glasnost and perestroika has been used as an ex-post facto justification for Reagan's readiness to meet with Gorbachev.   Yet contrary to how the neo-cons construe it, when Reagan initially invited Gorbachev to come to Washington in March 1985 and ultimately met with the Soviet leader in Geneva that November, Reagan was not rewarding Gorbachev.   While Gorbachev had already introduced the terms glasnost and perestroika as necessary for reform in speeches, there was little sign in his first year in office that apart from curbing alcohol consumption his reformist talk was more than window dressing.  Thus, were the neo-cons to apply the standard they do to talk with our current enemies to the Geneva summit, they would be bitterly disappointed.  If anything Reagan's willingness to meet Gorbachev, as well as the latter's readiness not to over react to Reagan's harsher anti-Soviet rhetoric intended for domestic consumption, seems to back up the view that even when the results are not certain diplomacy is worth the risk.  

(Blogger's note:  This entry had its origins in a comment made to the post at Matt Yglesias's blog linked to above.)

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