A Conversation with Kenneth Adelman

Recent polls show that Americans feel that President Obama displays a lack of leadership and competence. Compare this to how Americans felt about Ronald Reagan when he was president. Earlier this month was the tenth anniversary of President Reagan’s death, and Americans still fondly remember him as someone who instilled a sense of pride in the presidency and in the nation itself. Part of this was due to his foreign policy of “peace through strength,” and “trust but verify.” Ken Adelman, the author of the just published book, Reagan at Reykjavik: Forty-Eight Hours That Ended the Cold War, as well as the UN Ambassador and Arms Control Director under President Reagan spoke to American Thinker about these two presidents.

The book is a dramatic first-hand account of the historic 1986 Reagan- Gorbachev summit in Iceland. They met for forty hours to discuss important issues of the day such as the Strategic Defense Initiative and the possibility of eliminating all nuclear weapons. It is inconceivable that President Obama would have the courage and guts to talk as straightforward with Putin as Reagan did with Gorbachev. Can anyone imagine Obama calling Russia the evil empire as Reagan labeled the then USSR? Adelman contends that the two leaders engaged in philosophical conversation, “Mr. Gorbachev scolded Reagan for his earlier talk of an "evil empire." Reagan pointedly said that Soviet citizens who disagree with their government wind up in jail.” Instead, today we have President Obama telling the Russians, “This is my last election. And after my election, I have more flexibility.”

Adelman also relays the conversation the two leaders had about missile defense. Gorbachev wanted the SDI missile defense, dubbed “Star Wars”, confined to the laboratory, which Reagan absolutely refused. Gorbachev even dangled dramatic nuclear cuts if Reagan would just put a limitation on SDI. Adelman writes in the book, “Gorbachev then realized, to his shock and dismay, that there was no offer that Reagan couldn’t refuse when it came to preserving SDI.”  What this summit showed was that Reagan was the consummate negotiator. Compare this to President Obama who is unable to negotiate anything without making America look weak in the world’s eyes. As Adelman directly noted,  “President Reagan was then facing a far stronger adversary than President Obama now faces with Vladimir Putin. Russia’s army today is one-fourth the size of the Soviet army then, and its nuclear arsenal one-fifth the size. Yet despite U.S. leaders now facing a far weaker adversary, few today pursue any radical change comparable to ending the Cold War. It is inconceivable that President Obama would think, let alone say, that the current standoff with Russia would end with ‘We win, they lose.’ This administration seems quite content to settle for a tie.”

The book also discusses how Reagan had a strategy for winning the Cold War. This author does not see President Obama making any bold initiatives, at least not any he is willing to back up. Adelman told American Thinker, “Instead of bold actions, I see muddled reactions. I see “red lines,” drawn to warn Mr. Putin and his henchmen like Syria’s Bashar Assad, turning light pink and then ever-brightening green. I hear firm warnings turning into embarrassed throat-clearing.”

President Reagan’s bold actions and statements helped the Soviet system fall apart. With oil prices spiraling downward, the Russian economy, which was so dependent on oil and gas exports, faltered. Because Reagan never backed down to Gorbachev’s demands, the Soviet President went home and tried to modernize by attempting to compete on a high-tech level. This helped to end the Cold War. Reagan knew where the Soviet Union’s vulnerabilities were and used that to his advantage. On the other hand, Adelman gives President Obama low marks for “exploiting Russia’s energy vulnerability. The Keystone XL Pipeline decision memo, for instance, breaks all indoor records as the longest languishing paper in an Oval Office inbox.”

Readers of Reagan at Reykjavik: Forty-Eight Hours That Ended the Cold War will learn that President Reagan was a truly great negotiator. During this summit he went one-on-one with Gorbachev, without talking points or memos, and impressively held his ground. Adelman looks back on America’s 40th President with fondness and admiration since this event showed that Reagan was willing to sit down with the Russians but more importantly would stand up to them. Maybe someone should send a copyof this book to President Obama -- it is obvious that his policy of "leading from behind" will not lead to a strategic or moral victory.

The author writes for American Thinker.  She has done book reviews, author interviews, and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.

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