The Anti-Cold War Brigade
The virtual collapse of East European Communism and the apparently irreversible decay of Communism everywhere else would seem to offer powerful vindication to those who advocated anti-Communism as the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy in the postwar era. This would especially seem to be the case given the timing of the momentous events of the past several years. During the crucial decade of the 1980′s, after all, the United States did not advance the favors, concessions, and reassurances which the proponents of détente advocated as the only realistic approach to relations with Moscow. Instead, under the Reagan presidency, America prosecuted the traditional policy of containment with a purposefulness not seen since the Truman years, even borrowing a page from the much-scorned rollback idea in its approach to Communist regimes in the Third World. Precisely how much influence these policies exerted over Communist world developments is a legitimate subject for debate; that they played some role, and probably a large one, would seem beyond doubt.
Nevertheless, a number of influential observers have argued that anti-Communism was irrelevant to the demise of the 20th century’s most durable totalitarian system. A few have gone even further, asserting that Western anti-Communists, by providing ideological ammunition to hardline elements within Communist-party leaderships, actually impeded the process of change. Far-fetched as such arguments may sound, it should be remembered that the timing of Communism’s great upheaval created a serious intellectual dilemma for critics of the cold war. Reagan’s policies, these critics had confidently predicted, would not merely fail, they would almost certainly trigger a foreign-policy catastrophe of frightening dimensions, with nuclear war a distinct possibility. As we know, the maligned 80′s concluded with more substantial prospects for real peace than at any time in the past 45 years. Small wonder, then, that a subtle tone of annoyance has crept into the commentaries of cold-war critics as they attempt to show how an approach guaranteed, in their eyes, to produce disaster had nothing to do in the end with what turned out to be a monumental triumph for democracy.
About the Author
Arch Puddington is director of research at Freedom House and the author, most recently, of Lane Kirkland: Champion of American Labor.