This month former president of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev will celebrate his 80th birthday. Few figures in the second half of the 20th century have been as pivotal as he was.
For decades to come historians will debate and deliberate over the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and how credit for both should be allocated. The best account to date has been rendered by one of America’s most effective career diplomats, Ambassador Jack Matlock. His book, published this year, is entitled: “Superpower Illusions: How Myths and False Ideologies Led American Astray–and How to Return to Reality”.
Ambassador Matlock was our ambassador in the Soviet Union during the Gorbachev era and participated in every summit President Reagan had with the Soviet leader. He saw both men about as close as they could be seen. He wrote his book after neo-conservatives in the George W. Bush administration argued for war in Iraq and the use of military force as a principal instrument of diplomacy. He makes a powerful case, based on the Reagan-Gorbachev experience, that this is folly.
Ambassador Matlock admires President Reagan and thinks his change of course on Russia and the Soviet Union to have been critical. But he also says that this alone did not end the Cold War. He believes and so documents that Mikhail Gorbachev took dramatic, unprecedented steps within the Soviet structure and toward the U.S. that made the end of the Cold War possible…and paid for those steps with exile.
Only history, accurately told, can finally render praise and blame. For myself, I have sent President Gorbachev, a friend since 1986, best wishes for a happy birthday…and warmest thanks for his courage.