Ronald Reagan and the Cold War: What Mattered Most (May 2018)
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Scholars, like contemporary observers, continue to argue heatedly over the quality of President Ronald Reagan’s strategy, diplomacy, and leadership. This paper focuses on a fascinating paradox of his presidency: By seeking to talk to Soviet leaders and end the Cold War, Reagan helped to win it. In that process, his emotional intelligence was more important than his military buildup; his political credibility at home was more important than his ideological offensive abroad; and his empathy, affability, and learning were more important than his suspicions. Ultimately, by striving to end the nuclear arms race and avoid Armageddon, he contributed to the dynamics that led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. These ironies, rather than detracting from Reagan’s significance, should instead put it in proper perspective. He was Gorbachev’s minor, yet indispensable partner, setting the framework for the dramatic changes that neither man anticipated happening anytime soon.