02.07.2011 Commentary No Comments

Reagan at 100: He Ended the Cold War on Our Terms

Who can forget what Ronald Reagan accomplished in his Presidency, particularly in restoring our faith in America, and in ourselves. Truly it was “Morning in America” again. The images—his standing in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, demanding, “Mr. Gorbachev….tear down this Wall!”; his stirring address to the British parliament in 1982 when he charged the West to take a determined stand against international communism; his constant appeals to us to help create that “Shining City on the Hill”.

The “Greatness of Ronald Reagan”! That is a comment we hear more often these days, as we recoil from the constant internecine warfare that passes for governance in Washington, as we mourn the passing of an America filled with optimism and hope, and as we lament the absence of leaders with a clear vision of the future.

His critics learned well that their impressions of him were far off the mark. He was derided in Europe as well as the U.S. as an aging cowboy not capable of dealing with the challenges of the times—averting nuclear war, rejuvenating the sagging American economy, restoring our confidence, and rebuilding a devastated military. They found out that Reagan was not only up to the task, he was an adroit negotiator and trusted confidant of our major Allies.

When Reagan met with the new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, in Geneva in 1985, many doubted that he was prepared for this Summit. After all, “Gorby” was the dynamic, young and globally popular new Soviet leader who took over the USSR after years of decrepit rule by aging and sick Communist kingpins. Not to worry—Reagan took charge of the Summit discussions from the outset, never swerving from his commitment to reach an arms agreement that was fair and equitable, but one that also was verifiable (“Trust, but Verify”, he often told Gorbachev!).

The President also refused to budge from his commitment to building a strategic defense against a missile attack (SDI), reflecting his deep felt desire to shift away from a dependence on the threat of the mutual annihilation of each others’ populations as the basis of our “security”.

Reagan had a special relationship with Pope John Paul II, a partnership that accelerated, if not caused, the fall of Communism in East Europe. The two agreed to support the Solidarity trade union opposition in Poland, through extensive economic and military assistance. Interestingly, in this effort the Pope and the President found allies in the Socialist International and the AFL-CIO! The repressive Communist government ultimately fell, and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa became Poland’s President. That was the first rupture in the Communist monolith.

Reagan led a strong NATO alliance in firmly opposing Soviet aggression and global expansion. He had key allies in British Prime Minister (PM) Margaret Thatcher, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and Canadian PM Brian Mulroney. And, when it came to taking a strong stance against the USSR, he was also supported by Socialists such as French President Francois Mitterrand and Italian PM Bettino Craxi.

By standing strong on conviction, by rallying our Allies, and by restoring the American economy, our military forces, and our confidence, Reagan witnessed the realization of his major foreign policy goals. Within a year of his leaving office the Berlin Wall did indeed come down. The two Germanys were reunited and a united Germany joined the NATO Alliance. Finally, in 1991, the Soviet Union itself collapsed, to use the Marxian phrase, “on the ash heap of history”.

In his final address from the Oval Office, the President returned to the theme of the Shining City on the Hill he wanted us to strive for. “My friends”, he said, “We made the City freer, and we left her in good hands. All in all, not bad at all”.

Yes, Mr. President, we agree, “Not bad….not bad at all”. Happy 100th Birthday!

–      Tyrus W. Cobb

(Dr. Ty Cobb served as Special Assistant to President Reagan and as Director of Soviet and European Affairs at the National Security Council from 1983-89.)


As we near President Reagan’s 100th birthday, please listen to his final remarks from the Oval Office, especially from minute 3:45 on. I often quote the President’s comments about how he always envisioned America as that “Shining City on the Hill”, and how he strove to achieve that vision in his 8-year term. Better to hear that from the President himself.

Click here: Opinion: Reagan’s Farewell Message Resonates Today