Ronald Reagan and his advisers wage a twilight struggle with a decaying Soviet Union—and each other—in this fascinating documentary history.
Was the 40th president a warmonger or a peacemaker? Both sides of that debate will find support in this collection of newly declassified White House papers from the 1980s. Saltoun-Ebin, a researcher at the Reagan Presidential Library, assembles minutes of National Security Council meetings where Reagan and his top cabinet officers and aides hashed out a line on the Soviets, personal letters in which Reagan and Soviet leaders lectured and prodded one another and transcripts of key summit discussions between Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev that led to the great geopolitical thaw. These documents, illuminated by the editor’s helpful explanatory notes, describe a long ideological journey: Reagan enters office a fervent Cold War warrior—“The Soviets have spoken as plainly as Hitler did…they speak world domination”—pressing for military buildup and stiff sanctions to strangle the Russian economy; he leaves inking breakthrough nuclear arms-control agreements. The documents display Reagan’s cogent grasp of policy and his nose for evolving possibilities. They also demonstrate the importance of his visionary idealism; one of the book’s revelations is how decisively his Strategic Defense Initiative, which he envisioned sharing with the Soviets in a bid to abolish all nuclear weapons, shaped American policy. (Whether SDI, which was rabidly opposed by the Soviets, curtailed or prolonged the Cold War is a question not entirely settled here.) Most of all, the documents are a vivid record of high-level statecraft. We see clashing egos and emotional outbursts—“We can’t be supplicants crawling, we can’t look like failures,” the President agonizes while pondering nuclear talks—at the NSC; we listen as Reagan and Gorbachev fence and fume while subtly edging toward crucial diplomatic compromises. Scholars will find this collection an invaluable resource, and interested lay readers will be captivated by its portrait of Reagan and other leaders grappling with history.
A trove of important papers that shed new light on a critical era.