Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Books: Bret Baier On Reagan In Moscow

Three Days In Moscow
By Bret Baier, with Catherine Whitney
William Morrow, An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers

One of the biggest achievements Ronald Reagan had as President was winning the Cold War, and one of thee landmark moments in the process came when he delivered the capstone address at the 1988 Moscow Summit.

Bret Baier, the Chief Political Anchor for Fox News Channel, examines the decisive address in his new work, Three Days In Moscow.

This is Baier's second book on the Cold War, with his first being a look at the leadership of President Dwight Eisenhower during the early parts of the battle in Three Days in January.

Amidst the reemergence of tensions between the United States and Russia, Baier's deeply researched narrative could not be more timely. The end of the Cold War is perhaps the defining historical moment of the past half century, and it must be understood to comprehend where America is in the world today.

Baier makes the case that Reagan's essential role in ending the Cold War is too little appreciated.

On May 31, 1988, one thousand miles behind the Iron Curtain, President Reagan addressed a big crowd at Moscow State University. The speech capped his first visit to the Soviet capital, and the fourth summit he held with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. This summit was a dramatic coda to their tireless efforts to reduce the nuclear threat, but Reagan saw a larger meaning.

Baier writes, "President Reagan spoke to the college students in Moscow under a giant image of Vladimir Lenin, with confidence, optimism, self-assuredness, pride in his country, and knowledge that the Soviet Union's days were numbered, telling the students at one points, 'I want to talk not just of the realities of today but all of the possibilities of tomorrow.'

"And then, in the heart of Communist thought - the capital of communism - President Reagan delivered these words about a freedom, not in a threatening or scolding way but in a 'shining city on a hill,' hopeful manner:

[Reagan's speech] "Freedom is the right to question and change the established way of doing things. It is the continuing revolution of the marketplace. It is the understanding that allows us to recognize shortcomings and seek solutions. It is the right to put forth an idea, scoffed at bu the experts, and watch it catch fire among the people. It is the right to dream - to follow your dream or stick to your conscience, even if you're the only one in a sea of doubters. Freedom is the recognition that no single person, no single authority or government has a monopoly on its truth, but that every individual life is infinitely precious, that every one of us put on this world has been put there for a reason and has something to offer."

This speech lit a path forward for a new generation of Soviets, speaking of freedom and human rights, and the democratic society that could be theirs if they fought for it.

Baier continues, "The choice of Moscow State University for Reagan's major speech was loaded with significance. Considered Moscow's finest university, with thirty-five thousand students, it was an imposing structure in Lenin Hills, with a view of the city. Both Gorbachev and his wife were graduates, although neither would be present for the speech. (Nor would Nancy, who was on a day trip to Leningrad.)

"The students who crowded into the twelve-hundred-seat auditorium were like students everywhere: informally dressed, their faces a mix of curiosity, excitement, and practiced indifference. They had been raised to distrust and even hate the United States, just as American children had been raised to distrust and hate the Soviet Union. But because they were young and attended a university where ideas were debated, many of them had expanded their thinking. If a poll had been conducted among them, it would probably have shown approval of Gorbachev's reforms. In some circles, perhaps, Reagan was even lionized, just as Gorbachev was by American youth. Those were indeed strange times, the apple cart of conventional thinking upended by their leaders...

"It was a speech remarkable for its poetry, its subversive seduction, and its subject matter: the technological progress of the current era, the promise available to those modern-day explorers, perhaps sitting in that hall.

[Reagan's speech] "Standing here before a mural of your revolution, I want to talk about a very different revolution that is taking place right now, quietly sweeping the globe without bloodshed or conflict. Its effects are peaceful, but they will fundamentally alter our world, shatter old assumptions, and reshape our lives. It's easy to underestimate because it's not accompanied by banners or fanfare. It's been called the technological or information revolution, and as its emblem, one might take the tiny silicon chip, no bigger than a fingerprint. One of these chips has more computing power than a roomful of old-style computers."

The New York Times wrote that it "may have been Reagan's finest oratorical hour" and continued, "When people some day look back to the milestones of the cold war, they are likely to remember the day Ronald Reaan extolled freedom, while Lenin looked on."

In addition to examining this speech, Baier looks at what it took to get to this moment, as Reagan worked with Gorbachev for most of his presidency to resolve the Cold War.

Three Days In Moscow is an essential read because it shows that the United States can achieve the impossible, in this case ending the Cold War, and in the current moment, the U.S. working toward normalizing relations with North Korea.

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