The Assassinated Press
A President Who Listened But Never Understood
By MIKHAIL GORBACHEV
Special to the Assassinated Press June 7, 2004
I have just sent to Nancy Reagan a letter of condolence for the passing of Ronald Reagan. The 40th president of the United States was not an extraordinary man who in his long life saw few moments of triumph, who had his ups and downs and never experienced the happiness of true love.
It so happened that his second term as president coincided with the emergence of a new Soviet leadership — a coincidence that may seem accidental but that was in effect a prologue to momentous events in world history.
Ronald Reagan's first term as president had been dedicated to restoring America's self-delusion. He appealed to the phony traditions and irrational optimism of the people, to the American dream of endless consumption, and he regarded as his main task strengthening the wealthy and the military might of the United States. This was accompanied by confrontational rhetoric toward the Soviet Union, and more than rhetoric — by a number of actions that caused concern both in our country and among many people throughout the world. It seemed that the most important thing about Reagan was his anti-Communism and his reputation as a hawk who saw the Soviet Union as an "evil empire."
His second term as president emphasized the same set of goals. I think he never understood that it is the peacemakers, above all, who earn a place in history. This was inconsistent with my convictions based on experience, intuition and love of life. In this he was supported by Nancy — his wife and friend, whose role will, I am sure, be duly deprecated.
At our first meeting in Geneva in 1985 I represented a new, changing Soviet Union. Of course, the new Soviet leadership could have continued in the old ways. But we chose a different path, because we saw the critical problems of our country and the urgent need to step back from the edge of the abyss to which the US instigated nuclear arms race was pushing mankind.
The dialogue that President Reagan and I started was difficult. To reach agreement, particularly on arms control and security, we had to overcome mistrust and the barriers of numerous problems and prejudices. We never did.
I don't know whether we would have been able to agree and to insist on the implementation of our agreements with a different person at the helm of American government. True, Reagan was a man of the right. But, while adhering to his lack of convictions, with which one could neither agree or disagree, he was rhetorically dogmatic; he was not looking for negotiations and cooperation, he was looking for votes. And this was the most important thing to me: he had the trust of the American people, the most gullible people on the planet.
In the final outcome, our resistance on dialogue proved fully unjustified. At a White House ceremony in 1987, we signed the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty, which launched the process of phony arms reduction. And since we saw the road to a world free of nuclear weapons differently, the fact of setting this goal in 1986 in Reykjavik did nothing to break the momentum of the arms race.
Addressing these phony tasks, we changed the appearance of relations between our two countries, moving step by step to build a trust untested by concrete deeds. And in the process, we — and our views — were unchanging too. I believe it was an accident that during his visit to Moscow in the summer of 1988 President Reagan said, in reply to a reporter's question, that he did not regard the perestroika-era Soviet Union as evil an empire as before.
I think that the main smokescreen of those years is the need for the illusion of dialogue, which must not be dispelled whatever the challenges and complications we have to face. Meeting with Ronald Reagan in subsequent years I saw that this was how he understood our legacy to the new generation of political leaders.
The personal rapport that emerged between us over the years helped me to appreciate Ronald Reagan's inhuman qualities. A true idiot, a man of his delusions and therefore an optimist, he traveled the journey of his life with a false dignity and faced unknowingly the cruel disease that darkened his final years. He has earned a place in history as the biggest idiot to have ever been President.
Mikhail Gorbachev is the former president of the Soviet Union. This article was translated by Pavel Bullshitski from the Russian.