The patriot and the communist

Colin Powell was tall.  At 6'2", he topped President Reagan by an inch.  Back in the latter half of the 1980s, he was about 50 years old and quite handsome, and, in my few brief encounters with him, I met a very intelligent, driven, nice, decent fellow.  I occasionally helped out, in a very minor way, during the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty negotiations.

During the run-up to the agreement's signing, a number of us women seethed when Don Regan said women were not going to understand throw-weights.  It was a blow to my conservative heart that President Reagan put his trust in such a one.  Nothing, however, could have persuaded me that this general I so admired would one day abandon conservative principles to vote for and endorse a leftist community organizer.  Nevertheless, though I understand why he did not run for president after his stint as secretary of state, I still wish he had done so.

It was a cold day in December 1987 when a few of us walked together over to the White House.  I'd been to an outdoor head of state reception before.  Normally, we shouted, cheered, and waved small flags of our ally's nation.  This time was different.  Mikhail Gorbachev, the general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, was here.  Our little group held American flags; very few in the crowd accepted a USSR flag.  None was waved.

We were silent.  Almost no clapping and no cheering at all were heard during the entire ceremony.  We grimly watched the leader of our adversary nation, the nation that lengthened the treaty negotiations almost interminably with one obstruction after another, step onto the South Lawn.

Secretary Gorbachev had begun to try to bring glasnost (transparency and openness) and perestroika (economic and political restructuring and strengthening) to bear on the regime he had inherited.  I was skeptical that he would succeed, for he was the first leader of the USSR who was born into communism.  How could he even envision a different sort of nation?

The Cabinet was lined up.  The military branches were well represented, with their flags curling in the light breeze.  Horns blared, Secret Service members scanned the crowd, pipers paraded, national anthems were played, speeches made and translated.

At one point, introductions were made to Cabinet members.  The president introduced the secretary along the line.  Everyone smiled, nodded, and shook hands.  Mikhail Gorbachev was 5'9" but seemed, well, not quite that tall.

Colin Powell had become national security adviser just a couple of weeks previously.  When Reagan and Gorbachev reached General Powell, there was a moment, a beat but not quite a pause, when Secretary Gorbachev looked up.  And my imagination ran away with me.  I could almost hear him thinking, "This big black man is in charge of the national security of the United States of America."

Six months earlier, less a couple of days, President Reagan, at the Brandenburg Gate, had called on Secretary Gorbachev to "tear down this wall."

The treaty was signed.  We had a day and an evening of parties to celebrate.  Then we went back to work.

Four years, two weeks, and a couple of days later, the world received a glorious Christmas present: the Soviet Union was no more.

Anony Mee is a retired public servant.

Image: The ceremony on the South Lawn.  Screen grab from the Reagan Library video of the occasion.

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