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Ronald Reagan was especially good at this technique of brinkmanship - taking us to the edge of war, and pulling back to make favorable peace deals. He sent medium range Pershing nuclear missiles into Europe to face off against the Warsaw Pact, and built a whole new class of MX nuclear ICBM, then used the threatening buildup of power to successfully negotiate the START treaties - the world's first actually reducing the number of atomic weapons held by each side.
He did not hesitate to demonstrate America's willingness to use force in countries like Libya and Grenada, but almost always did so on his own terms, against countries that could offer little resistance. He ordered a massive, trillion dollar military buildup from 1980 - 1988, and during that time we were not in any major war.
Some say his military spending bankrupted the Soviet Union and helped to "win" the Cold War - I think that's a kind of a stretch.
We're approaching the end of a bloody century plagued by a terrible political invention -- totalitarianism. Optimism comes less easily today, not because democracy is less vigorous, but because democracy's enemies have refined their instruments of repression. Yet optimism is in order because day by day democracy is proving itself to be a not at all fragile flower. From Stettin on the Baltic to Varna on the Black Sea, the regimes planted by totalitarianism have had more than thirty years to establish their legitimacy. But none -- not one regime -- has yet been able to risk free elections. Regimes planted by bayonets do not take root.
The strength of the Solidarity movement in Poland demonstrates the truth told in an underground joke in the Soviet Union. It is that the Soviet Union would remain a one-party nation even if an opposition party were permitted because everyone would join the opposition party....
Historians looking back at our time will note the consistent restraint and peaceful intentions of the West. They will note that it was the democracies who refused to use the threat of their nuclear monopoly in the forties and early fifties for territorial or imperial gain. Had that nuclear monopoly been in the hands of the Communist world, the map of Europe--indeed, the world--would look very different today. And certainly they will note it was not the democracies that invaded Afghanistan or suppressed Polish Solidarity or used chemical and toxin warfare in Afghanistan and Southeast Asia.
If history teaches anything, it teaches self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts is folly. We see around us today the marks of our terrible dilemma--predictions of doomsday, antinuclear demonstrations, an arms race in which the West must, for its own protection, be an unwilling participant. At the same time we see totalitarian forces in the world who seek subversion and conflict around the globe to further their barbarous assault on the human spirit. What, then, is our course? Must civilization perish in a hail of fiery atoms? Must freedom wither in a quiet, deadening accommodation with totalitarian evil?
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