It happened today - July 22, 2015
On this day in history, back in 1987, that visionary leader and great statesman Mikhail Gorbachev heroically gave in to Ronald Reagan’s obtuse belligerence and agreed to a treaty limiting intermediate-range nuclear missiles. Or so they say.
It’s a strange business, and one that may have faded from the radar. But the background is that on becoming President, Ronald Reagan determined to do something about his nation's horrifying vulnerability to nuclear annihilation. For this he was pilloried by liberals in politics and the press.
His “Star Wars” system (their name, not his) was endlessly mocked for its scientific infeasibility by people who’d failed Grade 10 physics. And his refusal to abandon research into methods of destroying incoming warheads, or missiles boosting them into launch position, was castigated as an insuperable obstacle to arms control.
As some of us noted at the time, these criticisms were mutually incompatible. If the system couldn’t work, the Soviets had no reason to make it a stumbling block in negotiations as the U.S. was just wasting money and scientific talent on it. As we also pointed out, if it couldn’t work it was weird that the Soviets were working so hard on it, and just in case it could it was worth checking out. For that we too were ridiculed, though at least we were in what we considered good company.
Then in 1986 promising talks between the Americans and the new Soviet leadership broke down, after Gorbachev succeeded a succession of mummified gargoyles each praised as moderates at the time (the actual order, hard to recall nowadays, was Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko, and each was a sinister dud in real life). They broke down because Gorbachev insisted on tying the so-called INF (“Intermediate-range Nuclear Force) deal to the Americans unilaterally abandoning their Strategic Defense Initiative. Which ought to have led fair-minded people to blame Gorbachev, not Reagan.
Instead liberals pilloried Reagan, saying he’d ruined everything waaaa waaaa waaaa we’re all going to die. And when Gorbachev flip-flopped and said Reagan was right, we should deal on INF and not worry about SDI, they all said it proved Gorbachev was right.
Once in a while some liberal commentator will even brush off the canard that Gorbachev, man of peace, persuaded the warmongering Reagan to see the light. As if Reagan had revealed the fatuous hollowness of the American dream while Gorbachev had resuscitated his beloved socialism in Russia.
It might all seem like missiles under the bridge today. But at the risk of clinging to past resentments, I think there’s a pattern here. It’s not just that Republicans still want to protect America (and by extension Canada) with some TLA (Three Letter Acronym) like SDI or BMD or NMD and liberals still say it’s provocative insanity even though it can’t really be both.
It’s that this whole ruckus fell into a pattern of an argument between those who mostly blame the West for trouble in the world and those who mostly blame the West’s sworn enemies. And it bothers me that people can be so wrong about one such issue, especially one this important, then go right on pontificating on the next one and the one after that without so much as an “Ooops,” let alone a “Sorry.”
If we don’t get the past right, we’re liable to botch the future too.