Gorbachev Lost the Cold War
by CA Pol Junkie
by CA Pol Junkie
Last week, we were subject to unrelenting deification of Reagan with one of the most common themes that he won the Cold War. Even Kevin Drum reluctantly joins the chorus:
Although many of the standard storylines about Ronald Reagan are more myth than reality, there's at least one of them that's fundamentally true: he really did win the Cold War. Maybe it didn't happen in quite the way his fans would like to believe, and maybe it wouldn't have happened at all without Mikhail Gorbachev, but still: Reagan's defense buildup and his quixotic insistence on pursuing an unworkable missile defense shield really did help to bring down the Soviet Union. When I say this, it's not because I especially want to believe it, but because the historical record seems to show that it really happened.
I submit that the end of the Cold War would not have happened at all without Mikhail Gorbachev, which makes Reagan's actions inconsequential. Eastern Europe had long desired to be free of the Soviet Union's grip, but was under the shadow of invasion if it dared to stray too far. Hungary was invaded in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 to squash democratic reforms. Czechoslovakia was meant to set a precedent as the Brezhnev Doctrine, which held that the Soviet Union would use its military to protect its interests in Eastern Europe. Poland put a crack in the Iron Curtain when Lech Walesa led the Solidarity movement in 1980, but the threat of invasion still loomed. It wasn't until Gorbachev abandoned the Brezhnev Doctrine that revolution became possible - all it needed was a catalyst to spark the people to rise up against their governments.
In summer of 1989, Poland's Communist Party began sharing power with Solidarity, signaling what was to come. The spark came on September 10th, 1989. The Hungarian government had been reforming on its own, and removed the fence on its border with Austria. When it allowed East Germans to enter into Hungary, they would park their Trabis near the border with Austria and make a 100 yard dash to freedom. East Germany hemorrhaged people and was forced to open its borders, leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Soviet Union chose to stand aside and watch it happen. A week later, the Velvet Revolution swept Czechoslovakia, followed by the sudden Christmas overthrow and execution of Ceaucescu and his wife in Romania.
So what did Reagan have to do with all this? Not much. The forces which would transform Eastern Europe had been in place before Reagan became president. Reagan didn't bring Gorbachev to power in the Soviet Union. Whether internal weakening of the Soviet Union forced his hand or he just didn't want to crush Eastern Europe, Mikhail Gorbachev deserves the credit for the end of the Cold War.