THE REAGAN REVERSAL by Beth A. Fischer

THE REAGAN REVERSAL

Foreign Policy and the End of the Cold War
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Much energy is expended here demonstrating that Ronald Reagan's policy toward the Soviets was pro- rather than reactive beginning in 1984. According to Fischer (Political Science/Univ. of Toronto), both versions of the ``conventional wisdom'' about the ending of the Cold War portray Reagan as simply responding to Gorbachev's initiatives. Liberals dismiss him as the lucky man in office when the Soviet Union unraveled, conservatives praise him as the hardliner tightening the screws until the Soviets cried ``uncle.'' Fischer's examination of events, however, points to a stark shift in Reagan administration rhetoric and policy prior to the 1985 summit with Gorbachev. The references to an evil empire and refusals to enter into serious arms negotiations were abruptly replaced by a more conciliatory attitude shorn of saber-rattling and positively seeking accommodation with the Soviets. But if the Reagan Administration was out front rather than reacting to Gorbachev, the interesting question is explaining this reversal. In good dissertation-like fashion, three hypotheses are considered: (1) domestic politics dictated a softening of ideological hyperbole prior to the 1984 election; (2) moderates within the administration became more influential in the area of foreign policy; and (3) Reagan himself decided to take relations with the Soviets in a new direction. The possibility that multiple factors were at work is ignored, and the first two potential explanations are rejected as insufficient. The third is supported through a quasi-psychological analysis in which Reagan's horror of nuclear weapons, his belief in an approaching biblical Armageddon, and a series of triggering events are posited as the basis for his leadership in reaching out to the Soviets. There is no hard evidence supporting this hypothesis, of course, but it doesn't matter: This is a purely academic exercise, somewhat akin to arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-8262-1138-0
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Univ. of Missouri
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1997




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