Richard Pipes dies: A scholar who changed the world

The legacy left by Richard Pipes, a historian of Russia who taught at Harvard who died yesterday at the age of 94, rightly should include the fall of the Soviet Empire and the liberation of Eastern Europe.  His family, including his son, Daniel Pipes, who, as president of The Middle East Forum, is performing a similar contribution on the resurgent forces of jihad, has my deepest condolences.

Even the New York Times obituary of Professor Pipes acknowledges his contribution in turning the United States away from a strategy of accepting Soviet dominance of Eastern Europe and its role as champion of global communism.  Without Professor Pipes's work, President Reagan's declaration of his strategy as "We win, they lose," and his injunction to "Tear down this wall!" probably never would have happened.

Richard Pipes in 1959.

Perhaps his most public role in challenging American policies toward the Soviet Union came in 1976 under President Gerald R. Ford.

At the time, conservative critics had for several years been attacking the CIA's National Intelligence Estimate, an annual assessment of the Soviet threat, calling it overly optimistic about Soviet foreign policy intentions and blind to what they believed to be a dangerous military buildup.

In response, the CIA, under pressure from the president's Foreign Policy Advisory Board, conducted an in-house review of its performance in analyzing Soviet strategic doctrine and military capabilities over the previous decade.

But the resulting report by the CIA's experts – the so-called Team A – was found to be so deficient that President Ford asked the CIA director, George H.W. Bush, to order a competitive analysis, pitting the agency experts against a team of outsiders.

Professor Pipes, who had been serving as an adviser to Senator Henry M. Jackson of Washington, a Democrat who was a harsh critic of détente, was appointed to lead Team B.

Its conclusion – that the CIA had badly underestimated the "intensity, scope and implicit threat" of Soviet military objectives – later gave ammunition to Ronald Reagan as he took to the campaign trail for the 1980 presidential election espousing a hard line against Moscow.

With Reagan's victory over President Jimmy Carter in the election, Professor Pipes, taking a leave from Harvard, was appointed director of Eastern European and Soviet affairs at the National Security Council.  He again became a lightning rod for the left, which regarded him as a sinister influence on Soviet policy.

Well, they regarded President Regan as pretty sinister, too.  Fortunately, President Reagan had the inner strength to ignore those he knew were wrong, no matter how powerful their media presence.  As a result, the peoples of Eastern Europe are free of their communist oppressors.

Thank you, Professor Pipes.  Your clarity and integrity and scholarly work changed the world for the better.

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