In those sentences, Ganji challenges one of the most damaging myths in modern American foreign policy: that via war and cold war, America promotes freedom.
As with so much else involving today’s GOP, that myth is connected to the myth of Ronald Reagan. As hawks tell it, Reagan entered the White House in 1981, built up the American military, sent arms to anti-communist rebels, refused to negotiate arms-control deals, called the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” and, presto, the Berlin Wall fell. It was America’s escalation of the Cold War that liberated Eastern Europe.
The problem with this story is that it ignores everything that happened between 1984 and 1989. In 1984, Reagan—alarmed that a NATO military exercise called Able Archer had brought the U.S. and U.S.S.R. close to accidental war, and worried that his bellicose policies were hurting his chances of reelection—began working to de-escalate the Cold War. “During my first years in Washington,” Reagan wrote in his memoirs, “I think many of us in the administration took it for granted that the Russians, like ourselves, considered it unthinkable that the United States would launch a first strike against them. But the more experience I had with Soviet leaders and other heads of state who knew them, the more I began to realize that many Soviet officials feared us not only as adversaries but as potential aggressors who might hurl nuclear weapons at them in a first strike. …Well, if that was the case, I was even more anxious to get a top Soviet leader in a room alone and try to convince him we had no designs on the Soviet Union and Russians had nothing to fear from us.” In January 1984, Reagan gave a speech declaring that, “Neither we nor the Soviet Union can wish away the differences between our two societies and our philosophies, but we should always remember that we do have common interests and the foremost among them is to avoid war and reduce the level of arms.” After meeting Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko that September, the White House announced that, “The United States respects the Soviet Union’s status as a superpower … and we have no wish to change its social system.”
All this helps explain why, within hours of learning that Mikhail Gorbachev had become the Soviet Union’s new leader in March 1985, Reagan invited him to meet without preconditions. The White House dispatched Vice President George H.W. Bush to Moscow to declare that, “We should seek to rid the world of the threat or use of force in international relations.” When Reagan and Gorbachev met that fall, they talked for almost five hours and Reagan whispered to his Soviet counterpart, “I bet the hard-liners in both our countries are bleeding when we shake hands.” By 1987, Reagan had signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, the most sweeping arms-control deal of the Cold War. His rhetoric toward the Soviet Union also radically changed. It’s true that in June 1987 Reagan famously called on Gorbachev to “tear down” the Berlin Wall. But when asked the month before whether he still considered the Soviet Union an evil empire, Reagan replied, “No, I was talking about another time and another era.”