In the early '80s, the West experienced a nuclear hysteria -- a sudden panic about imminent nuclear destruction and a mindless demand to ``freeze'' nuclear weapons. What had changed to bring this on? Reagan had become president. Like George W. Bush today, the U.S. president was seen as a greater threat to peace than was the enemy he was confronting.
The nuclear freeze and the accompanying hysteria are an embarrassment that liberals prefer to forget today. Reagan's critics completely misunderstood the logic and the power of his nuclear posture. He took a very hard line on the Soviets who had broken the nuclear status quo by placing missiles in Europe. Backed by Margaret Thatcher and Helmut Kohl, Reagan faced the Soviets down -- despite enormous ``peace'' demonstrations throughout the West, including the largest demonstration to date in American history (New York City, 1982) -- and ultimately forced the Soviets to dismantle the missiles and begin their overall retreat.
Rarely has a president been so quickly and completely vindicated by history. The Berlin Wall came down 10 months after Reagan left office. His policies of unrelenting toughness won the Cold War and brought a new peace. That is because Reagan understood that the key to peace was never arms control. Security had nothing to do with the number of weapons, it had everything to do with the intention and power of those who possessed them.
Accordingly, Reagan put relentless pressure on the possessors of that power, the Soviet commissars, through his nuclear hard line, military buildup, Strategic Defense Initiative and the Reagan Doctrine of supporting anti-communist guerrillas everywhere (and especially Nicaragua). Ultimately, that pressure brought about the collapse of the overextended Soviet empire. The result was the most profound peace the world had experienced in 60 years -- since the very beginning of the totalitarian era in the early 1930s.
This success is an understandable embarrassment to the critics who opposed his every policy. They supported the freeze, denounced the military buildup, ridiculed strategic defenses, opposed aid to the Nicaraguan anti-communists and derided Reagan for telling the truth about the Soviet empire.
So now they praise his sunny smile. Normally, people speak well of the recently deceased to honor the dictum of being kind to the dead. When Reagan's opponents speak well of him now, however, they are trying to be kind to themselves.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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