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How the Cold War Really Ended

- Abstract

Up until 1990, the great divide of American politics for at least 25 years, and perhaps 45, was between hawks and doves. Whatever the relative weight of international or domestic issues in one electoral race or another, the transcendent issue of the age was the cold war, with its immanent threat of nuclear conflagration. In the view of the hawks, the Soviet Union was an innately hostile power, and the keys to peace were strength, toughness, and deterrence. In the view of the doves, the Soviets were motivated as much by fear as we were, and the key to peace was mutual reassurance.

The remarkable denouement of the cold war vindicated the hawks. First, the cold war began to wind down during the administration of Ronald Reagan, the most hawkish of all U.S. Presidents, and its last remnants were liquidated under Reagan’s heir, George Bush. Second, the hawks’ interpretation of Soviet behavior during the cold war was endorsed by the intellectual and political leaders who emerged from “under the rubble” of the Soviet Union. Third, as the cold war wound down, several local conflicts—in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Namibia, and South Africa—were resolved, thus confounding the doves who had chastised the hawks for overestimating the cold-war dimensions of these conflicts.

About the Author

Joshua Muravchik, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is working on a book about Arab and Muslim democrats.