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Terrell Fall 2010 “The Biggest Thing that has Happened in our Lives”
What a Victory or an End of the Cold War Means for Historians: A Review of Recent Scholarship
Foreign policy scholarship tends to focus on the origins of, or significant moments during the Cold War. However, as a new generation of post-Cold War historians come of age, new insights and depths of our twentieth century past must be explored. The “end” of the Cold War, one argues, spans the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. During these administrations, the geopolitical makeup of the world changed from a bipolar détente into either a multipolar system, or unipolar hegemony depending on one’s vantage. Three large schools from studies over the origins of the Cold War carry over to studies of its conclusion. The orthodox historians insinuate that aggressive Soviet expansion and postures from WWII into 1947 were the root causes for the Cold War. Revisionists place blame on both the Soviet Union and the United States while asserting policies under Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman were anything but passive. The post revisionists accept that the United States used its economic superiority to secure political ends, but also contend that Stalin was little more than an opportunist. These schools largely carry over into defining how one sees the last years of the Cold War in historiography. Though the 1980s and 1990s are a not-so-distant past, the waning years of the Cold War have already produced many paradigms and theses. Like the schools over the origins of the Cold War, early histories of the events from the 1980s and 1990s were largely first hand accounts, or “insider” narratives. Setbacks from these sorts of reports included overly-subjective assertions largely due to affiliations and beliefs manifested in posts on the inside of the policymaking
arenas. Insider narratives have their place in scholarship, and even though they may later be disproved, or reinterpreted, by data releases, the writers had access to more than a professional historian at that time and therefore influenced the direction of early scholarship and interpretations. Furthermore, these early insider stories have first-hand recognition and perspective of events that unfolded before their authors. Because of--or perhaps despite--the questionable nature of these first-round histories, scholars later can use such histories as secondary literature or primary sources depending on revisionists’ assertions and views. Examples of this school were George Bush and Brent Scowcroft’s A World Transformed (1998), Jay Winik’s On the Brink (1996), Robert M. Gates’s From the Shadows (1996), Philip Zelicow and Condoleezza Rice’s Germany Unified and Europe Transformed (1996), Thomas W. Simons, Jr.’s The End of the Cold War? (1990), and George Shultz’s Turmoil and Triumph (1993). The majority of these published insider views of what happened differ slightly on micro issues, but all tend to conclude that by American guidance the Cold War was a victory for the West. Those dissociated from policymaking soon thereafter published works underplaying American involvement in the events of the late 1980s and the fall of the Soviet Union. To these revisionists, larger trends such as transnationalism and Soviet domestic failures ended the Cold War, but not as a clearcut victory for the West. Revisionist history over the end of the Cold War was largely due to the opening of archives in Russia and the United States. These historians sought to convince readers that the Cold War ended because the Soviet Union in its own creed failed. The communist system worked in war time, but could not compete forever in a greater maritime period with an expanding global economy. Followers of this school believe the Soviet Union of the 1980s was more influenced by exterior forces than ever before and had to turn
attention at the state level more inward. Gorbachev’s actions and attempted reforms are central to making revisionist arguments; his interest in ending the arms race was genuine and revisionists fault hardliners in America for not realizing this earlier. This approach to the end of the Cold War is best portrayed in: Immanuel Wallerstein’s The Decline of American Power (2003), essays in Michael J. Hogan’s The End of the Cold War (1992), and John Lewis Gaddis’s The United States and the End of the Cold War (1992). Lastly, there is a growing field of post revisionism over the last years of the Cold War. Similar to the discourse over the origins thereof, post revisionists tend to see larger trends like revisionists do, but also contend that America was nonetheless a key player in the demise of the Soviet Union. The majority of debate among this school is between Reagan and Bush supporters and over who influenced the international stage more. Works in this school of thought include: Frances FitzGerald’s Way out there in the Blue (2000), Campbell Craig and Fredrik Logevall’s America’s Cold War (2009), Don Oberdorfer’s The Turn from the Cold War to a New Era (1991), John Lewis Gaddis’s Strategies of Containment (Revised 2005), and Christopher Maynard’s Out of the Shadow (2008). The end of the Cold War redefined how scholars look at the half a century of ongoing conflict from the end of WWII through the early 1990s. While this may be more of a side note to the purpose of this paper, it seems necessary to point out that established scholars’ points of views are altering between these three larger schools of thought on Cold War history. As one notices, John Gaddis, arguably the leading Cold War historian of the 21st century thus far, has published books and articles that place him in both the revisionist and post revisionist schools. This is not to say that historians are fickle, but more accurately that history is fickle in itself; time
continues and history as a field tends to approach the past differently based on a number of factors including availability of documents, contemporary issues, societal changes, and curiosity. With this in mind, it is important to notice how recent the events and books covered herein are. In our lifetime, the world changed, and what many pundits expected to happen eventually occurred seemingly overnight. This historiography of a few significant books published during and since the waning years of the Cold War aims to illustrate how rapidly scholarship can evolve and create far reaching discourse. There are a few questions that guide continued studies at rudimentary levels, this paper will also seek to identify how these authors respond to such recurring themes. In his January 1992 State of the Union Address, President Bush asserted that America won the Cold War by the grace of God. In stating this, one sees where the administration was wanting public reaction and scholarship to begin; the United States won. But, how had the United States won it, especially since in the same speech he cited Korea and Vietnam as paths to victory in the Cold War episode? These two instances were prime policy examples of a stalemate, and defeat. During the ensuing 1992 presidential campaign, Bush asserted that Republican Party policies under his and Reagan’s watch collapsed communism. Thomas W. Simons, Jr., was ambassador to Poland for the United States in the 1990s and oversaw the U.S. assistance to the new independent states of Eastern Europe as the Soviet bloc withdrew. His degrees are all in history from Yale and Harvard and as such his monograph, The End of the Cold War has a distinctively fairer approach to “behind the scenes” activities. He commended Gorbachev for his skills with meeting Reagan in the 1980s stating that Gorbachev preempted questions and volunteered information on the Soviet domestic situation in order “to avoid that
uncomfortable implication that he was doing things at home to please them, and thereby impinging on Soviet sovereignty after seven decades of revolutionary effort by his party to secure it.” However, he also extolls President Ronald Reagan for being the right person at the right time in the presidency.1 Simons’s monograph serves a prime example of what early questions were on the minds of scholars immediately after the Berlin Wall fell: How much of the Soviet Union collapse was due to internal and external forces; how important was Mikhail Gorbachev to this process; was Reagan’s larger contribution not just the spending but his personality? First off, it is important to note that his book was the earliest published work compared herein. Simons saw first hand in meeting with both sides how quickly the Soviet Union imploded. He also took care to elaborate on Gorbachev’s differing outlook on Soviet affairs domestically and in the world stage. Gorbachev was the first leader of a new generation of Soviet leadership. He sought to enter the geopolitical world first by reforming the Soviet Union into a competitive system.2 Simons portrays Gorbachev also as a realist and a patriot for the USSR in talks over arms reduction; Gorbachev knew Soviet strategic forces could no longer keep up with the United States. In accepting this, Simons showed how talks over strategic arms reductions were often seen as victories for the American delegation, but Gorbachev accepted such numbers in earnest because of the economic limitations and his own, personal hope. Simons, possibly greatest contribution to early scholarship remains his admonition that Reagan’s personality influenced and achieved more than any former president could, even had the Soviets been led by different,
Thomas W. Simons, The End of the Cold War?, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990), 4-22; George Bush, “Address Before a Joint Session of the Congress on the State of the Union,” 28 January 1992, The American Presidency Project, <http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=20544>.
Simons, The end of the Cold War?, 23-27, 55-76.
more traditional communist leaders. Amid 1990, Simons called for his readers to not leave everything to Gorbachev, but rather continue discussions with the Soviets encouraging U.S. values and interests be accepted.3 Another author who considered the end of the Cold War a victory for America was historian Jay Winik. In his work On the Brink, readers are taken behind the scenes through the eyes of four individuals: Richard Perle, Assistant Secretary of Defense under Reagan; Max Kampelman, head of the U.S. delegation to the negotiations with the USSR on nuclear and space arms in Geneva; Jeane Kirkpatrick, the first female U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; and Elliot Abrams, foreign policy counselor to the Reagan and Bush administrations. Why these individuals one must inquire? Winik uses these four because of their history in Washington; they were first loyal to the Democratic party and converted to the Republicans amid the Reagan Revolution as pioneers of the “neoconservative counterestablishment.” They allied with Reagan because of what Winik saw as personal convictions to vanquish the Soviet Union. By all accounts, this book is not an objective approach to events covered, nor is it meant to be so. Winik attempted to show how central themes in the American security establishment during the 1980s were shared by many even outside Reagan’s inner circle of friends. This book addressed the issue of military spending in the 1980s much in defense of Reagan’s policies than any other herein discussed. Winik asserted through events involving his four protagonists that extensive military buildup was indispensable in preserving peace and promoting the liberalization of states world wide. What is of interest for future scholars was Winik’s assertions that the handling of intermediate-range nuclear forces and the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) were the two central
Ibid, 77-102, 159-174.
means for victory in the 1980s. This added new depth to the future debate over the impact of arms talks, and more specifically Reagan’s SDI.4 4 Opposing Winik’s assertions was Robert Gates’s book, From the Shadows. Strangely enough, this was published in the same year, by the same publishing company, Simon & Schuster. However, Gates is not an average scholar nor politician. He remains to this day the only person to be named Director of Central Intelligence who began his career in the CIA as an analyst. He worked with each administration from Richard Nixon to George Bush. From this perspective, he traces the end of the Cold War not directly to Reagan, but as the culmination of efforts over each successive administration. This directly conflicts with Winik’s perhaps overstated emphasis on the Soviet collapse only accelerating during the Reagan years. Towards the end of Robert Gates’ retelling of his years with President Bush, he reveals a National Security Council contingency plan to stage in coupe in Moscow in the summer of 1989. Obviously, this did not follow through, but as an insider retelling of events this contradicts the notion of other authors to be covered who insist the Bush administration did nothing to encourage the demise of the Soviet bloc.5 Early advocates of Bush’s success in the final years of the Cold War were Condoleezza Rice, then Soviet and Eastern European Advisor to Bush, and Philip Zelikow, then National Security Council contributor and foreign policy aid to the Bush administration. Their coauthored monograph, Germany Unified and Europe Transformed, is one of the greatest examples of the benefits of insider narratives. They were both on the front line with policy adjustments in
Jay Winik, On the Brink: The Dramatic Saga of How the Reagan Administration Changed the Course of History and Won the Cold War, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 1-11, 321, 457-521.
Robert M. Gates, From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider's Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War, (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 15-26, 170-277, 449-563.
1989, and both were academically-trained scholars. Since they published their work in 1995, they also were able to take advantage of East German and Soviet archives and compare it with their own interviews of other officials and their own memoirs. The regular setbacks in first hand accounts was not an issue in the acceptance of their finished project largely because of their research done after the events unfolded. They reveal how Bush unilaterally took care to sit back and watch, often times criticized by his pundits and future scholars. However, a decision not to exploit the move toward reunification, and interpret it as a victory for the West, ended up being the best policy decision at the time. While their book is narrowed in on German Reunification, they hint that the successful reunification and move from the Soviet bloc marked an end to the majority of Cold War conflicts. The way Bush allowed his bureaucrats to operate with more freedom, and the way in which he separated himself away from the fear of reunification are evidences enough that Bush was a master states craftsman according to the authors.6 Former President George Bush and his National Security Advisor, Brent Scowcroft, published, A World Transformed in 1998. If any book from a first hand account was going to be questionable at first glance, this was it. Surprisingly, however, neither Bush nor Scowcroft asserted it was meant to be a history of events, nor a memoir. They offered their account with the help of a solid writing team in efforts to offer insight for historians into the decisions made from 1989 to 1991, the period they classify as the end of the Cold War and the last great confrontation of the century. They admitted early on in their book their former desires to create a comprehensive synthesis of events and changes in these years across the globe where the Bush administration had a hand. Of interest, especially by 1998, was their decision to omit arms control which many first hand
Philip Zelikow and Condoleezza Rice, Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995), 1-38, 63-71, 251-289, 364-370.
accounts delved into when exemplifying Reagan’s and Bush’s decision making. There is little criticism for the book from historians other than what their editors asked them omit in order to avoid making this a huge volume like George Shultz’s book. It seems fair to say Bush and Scowcroft’s book was probably the most influential and critically acclaimed book written by members of the Reagan and Bush administrations. Why was this? One believes it lies in the way neither authors tried to cover up what they considered to be risky decisions, or even mistakes. Had such a retelling of events been published early after the beginning of the Cold War, scholarship would have evolved much differently. 7 The majority of books covered thus far seem to ride a reasonably fair balance in pinpointing reasons for the demise of the Cold War. Larger themes such as Reagan’s efforts, Bush’s directives, or Gorbachev’s retreat and reforms all have a worthy place in historical debate. So where, one might ask, did the revisionist school come from, in what large respect did they counter the orthodoxy scholars with their first-hand accounts of the events at the end of the Cold War? One believes, the largest monograph published as a first-hand account, also started the largest discourse in studies of this era. The early synthesis of dealings between Reagan and the fall of the Soviet Bloc came from George Shultz, Secretary of State for Reagan, in his memoir, Turmoil and Triumph (1993). This memoir was the target of historical criticism and a model replica of many early Cold War Origins insider narratives. In a way, such an excessively chaotic work needed to be published to spark an interest in disproving excessive extolling of the Reagan myths. At 1,184 pages and no notes to support his retelling of events, historians in the revisionist school possibly looked to this, frankly,
George Bush and Brent Scowcroft, A World Transformed, (New York: Vintage Books, 1998), ix-xiv, 3-111, 536-561.
ridiculous “history.” Shortly there after, published works over counter approaches and corrections flourished in journals and book presses. This was a legitimate example of fallacies in choice history, in that he covered events and details that only he could defend without revealing perhaps bad choices and reactions.8 From these first-hand accounts of the end of the Cold War, historians were able to branch off in the past two decades. Though some have their moments of questionable legitimacy, the majority of writers discussed so far all agree on one central, very important theme that was echoed in journals and the media: the Cold War ended with the demise of the Soviet bloc and successful integration of liberal states in Eastern Europe into modern global politics. Historians of the revisionist school largely branched off from excessive narrow interpretations of events as seen in some of these books, but for the most part, the orthodox school of political retelling and political historians treated the waning years of the Cold War as a transition into what George Bush called a new world order. To this effect, each author seems to agree in conclusions that the world after was destined to be a unipolar system with significant counterparts and allies. Those who touched on the Desert Storm coalition seemed to show how the United States was finally in a position of leadership of the entire world, including the Soviet Union. The first hand accounts of the Reagan and Bush administrations were loaded with policy implications. The way historians interpreted these reports dictated which approach was most appropriate in dealing with the waning years of the Cold War. For instance, if one chose to align with the idea that U.S. military pressures forced the demise of the Soviet Union, then such an author tended to focus on high politics as the root cause for the end of the Cold War. Revisionists
George P. Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State, (New York: Scribner’s Publishing, 1993), 5-47, 738-819.
of this period in history tended, mostly, to emphasize the overarching point that historians will not know everything on this subject, ever. And yet, many were convinced that forces removed from high politics were the reasons for such a drastic shift in the world stage. None of these revisionist historians, however, had the thesis that the Cold War was a clear cut victory for the West as many orthodox scholars did. The emphases on transnational movements and domestic affairs within the Soviet Union are largely the key connections in this school’s historians. A large reason for the emphasis on Soviet domestic forces was the opening of archives in Moscow and former Soviet states. Arguably, this is the natural cycle for revisionist history; when more information is readily available we know more and then can draw on larger themes perhaps formerly overlooked or underplayed. Immanuel Wallerstein’s The Decline of American Power, began with a very startling, yet convincing assertion that the reason America’s power has declined because of the Cold War, was in fact because of our own “American Dream.” In this, he means not to criticize or demean the idea that all citizens are socially mobile, but that in our aim to free the world from communism we integrated our American Dream into many societies who believe in it too. In a way, then, America succeeded, but perhaps we went past a point of diminishing returns. Wallerstein also criticized America’s lack of purpose and goes so far as to cite 11 September 2001 as a rallying point for some, and a day of realization for others. He went to great efforts to convince his readers that what brought about the end of the Cold War, also ended the myth of American exceptionalism. What we became at the end of the Cold War was a “lone superpower that lacks
true power, a world leader nobody follows and few respect, and a nation drifting dangerously amidst a global chaos it cannot control.”9 As his theories expanded, Wallerstein showed how very large transnational issues met in America, its allies, and enemies. As it pertains to the Soviet Union, globalization became a goal for Moscow, more so under Gorbachev as the realization that their current system could not compete nor sustain the Soviet Union at large any longer. Wallerstein also incorporates more on what became the Islamic threat to twenty-first century America and its role in the latter years of the Cold War. Namely, the Afghanistan incident with the Soviet Union, and the Iran-Iraq War which pitted the United States against the Soviets on levels of weapons deals, but allied on intelligence sharing planes. This was revisionist history at its best even though written by a sociologist. By 2003 the end of Cold War historiography seemed to be meeting a consensus that the war ended but not as a victory for America. Wallerstein capitalized on this growing concern with the publishing of this book. However, his larger aim for the book was not to rethink just the end of the Cold War, for he saw the decline of American power as a much larger, more globalized in context problem. Nonetheless, what he does for the field is spark renewed interest, perhaps too blatantly for some, in asking whether the end of the 20th century was the end of the so-called American century.10 The majority of revisionist interpretations over the end of the Cold War are also included in the growing field of globalization. Additionally, international studies of the Cold War includes much of the debates amongst historians. Michael Hogan’s edited volume The End of the Cold
Immanuel Wallerstein, The Decline of American Power: The U.S. in a Chaotic World, (New York: the New Press, 2003), 17.
Ibid, 1-30, 100-123.
War, is filled with essays by traditional historians already groomed in their Cold War approaches. John Mueller’s essay concluded much along the same line as Fukuyama’s favorite assertion that we reached the end of history with the demise of the Soviet Union while Ronald Steel argues based on the outcome of the Cold War that ideology had a greater influence upon American foreign policy than on Soviet, this was containment and anti-communism that was embraced nation-wide in the United States. Walter LaFeber chimed in for Hogan’s volume argues that the Cold War seemed to be the logical next step in American interventionist supremacy while Gaddis and Schlesinger assert 1947 American foreign policies saved the world from communism and that the end of the Cold War was the inevitable conclusion of successful policies along these lines since.11 Of most interest in Hogan’s edited volume is a Soviet historian, Alexei Filitov. He differs much from revisionists historians in his assertions by identifying the Cold War conflict’s end because the militaries of the United States and Soviet Union could not keep up with the changing geopolitical responsibilities. However, Filitov does concede that the domestic cry in the Soviet Union to join the global economy and compete in market economies was a determining factor for communism’s demise in the 1980s.12 Hogan’s contribution to scholarship was to edit the multitude of attitudes towards the end of the Cold War from a historian’s perspective. His authors in 1992 revealed how many different tangents were already being pursued in the journals in the months immediately following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. What does this say about the
Francis Fukuyama, “The End of History?,” National Interest 16, (Summer 1989), 3-5; Walter Lafeber, “An End to Which Cold War?, John Lewis Gaddis, “The Cold War, the Long Peace, and the Future,” John Mueller, “Quiet Cataclysm: Some Afterthoughts on World War III,” Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., “Some Lessons from the Cold War,” Ronald Steel, “The End and the Beginning,” in The End of the Cold War: Its Meaning and Implications, ed. Michael Hogan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 13-20, 21-38, 39-52, 53-60, 103-112.
Alexei Filitov, “Victory in the Postwar Era: Despite the Cold War or Because of it?,” in The End of the Cold War: Its Meaning and Implications, ed. Michael Hogan, 77-85.
revisionist school of history? Hogan said he was shocked with how many wanted to be included in his project so early after the fall of the USSR because the majority of his contributors were already established in their schools of thought from the origins and policies throughout the Cold War. They were not however forerunners in the new orthodox school because they were all outsiders rather than policy insiders and as such much of their work asks questions that were later expanded upon. Nevertheless, that so many would have so much to say in 1992 should show how historians live for big shifts in time. Many of the essays included in Hogan’s edited volume will be cited for years as newer historians answer the questions asked as more sources are released to scholars. Thought of as one of the leading post revisionists of Cold War origins and general history, John Lewis Gaddis’s The United States and the End of the Cold War takes more a revisionist approach to seeing the end of the Cold War as the culmination of larger themes he pursued in his earlier works. In relating his approach to the end of the Cold War to his belief in the “long peace” Gaddis asserts that the United States and the Soviets became predictable to each other’s delegation and policymakers. Gaddis was among the first to admit he failed to predict the fall of the Soviet bloc happening as early as it did. However, he agrees with aforementioned revisionists that trends moving towards economic motivations out maneuvered the traditional policies that pushed for military might. Of great interest to the orthodox school was Gaddis’s assertion that Reagan’s military buildup in the 1980s may have forced America to fall like the Soviet Union did had it continued on the same scale. He also agreed with some orthodox historians praising
Reagan’s charm and personality and the relationship that formed between Gorbachev and the American president.13 As part of a new generation of historians, one has to wonder why so little revisionist histories of the Cold War’s conclusion exist in monographs. Perhaps some of this can be attributed to the lack of newer scholars who want to focus on this for a book as it has been extensively covered by political scientists, policy historians, and sociologists in journals. Or, perhaps it is that this school has already reached a consensus: that the end of the Cold War was the culmination of a global system of markets and ideas and perhaps the sole, tangible block to the success of this global trend was the Soviet bloc and the Berlin Wall. Once these diminished, most studies over globalization in the twentieth century were amended to include new epilogues. This historian contends that the post revisionist school’s approach to the end of the Cold War is most complete, however. It was not exclusive to personalities or decision makers, nor arms reductions and global economics. Rather, the 1983-1992 era was a shift and mélange of all of these assertions. The post revisionist school has approached the end of the Cold War with an acceptance of players and trends working in conjunction. Those who were seeing trends during the Cold War realized when the end arrived there was still more at play than met the eye. Gaddis’s famous 1982 Strategies of Containment failed to make a conclusion answering his own posed question: did containment work? When he revised the monograph in 2005 accepted that Reagan’s strategy
John Lewis Gaddis, The United States and the End of the Cold War: Implications, Reconsiderations, Provocations, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 3-35, 119-161. Gaddis went on in 1997 to published We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History, where his transition from the postrevisionist school to more of the revisionist school concluded.
was already in place when Gorbachev came to power in 1985. The SDI allowed the United States to have the upper hand in negotiations over arms concessions because Gorbachev recognized he could not compete any longer. Of great distinction from earlier discourse, however, was Gaddis contention that Reagan concluded containment in the exact way George Kennan prescribed decades earlier: “by enlisting a Soviet leader in the task of altering his own regime.”14 Frances Fitzgerald attacked revisionists, and orthodox historians who believed Reagan’s SDI was a leading reason for the end of the Soviet bloc. Fitzgerald asserts SDI from the beginning of its thoughts and announcements was implausible and simply impractical. The book, at large, was only useful for those already acquainted with the established schools that studied the end of the Cold War. She agrees with one aspect of pro-Reagan fans in the field, that SDI was successful because it was a good bargaining chip in negotiations over strategic armaments. What she lacked in documentation for some bold assertions, she did make up for in illustrating Reagan’s mixed legacy by those who knew him. By doing so, she also bridged the gap between social and cultural historians who were always stressing bottom up approaches to looking at the 1980s New Right establishment.115 Largely, however, her book did little in advancing new scholarship, she simply set out to state her opinion of SDI as so many journalists and other pundits were doing even as late as 2000. Journalists were bound to have a say in each school of thought. Some might associate journalists, however, with amateur historians who deal in incomplete, choice vantages. In most
John Lewis Gaddis, Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of American National Security Policy during the Cold War -- Revised and Expanded Edition, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), xiii-xiv, 342-390.
Frances Fitzgerald, Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars and the End of the Cold War, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000), 15-68, 460-482.
cases, one tends to agree with this, and yet, when a journalist introduces something new, historians have to wonder how they missed something. The clash of methodologies between historians and journalists writing on history was best portrayed for our purposes in Don Oberdorfer’s The Turn. Published in 1991, Oberdorfer explains his interest in turning points of history exists because “they [turning points] give meaning and more lasting importance to the rapid flow of daily events.” He also contends that it was his aim with this book at its inception in 1988 writing to bring diverse pieces of the story together in one place in order to form a comprehensive vantage of the changing climate. Oberdorfer was one of the lucky few outsiders to use Soviet glasnost policies to gain access to key actors in the USSR for interviews. The post reformists have several unifying theses, but Oberdorfer seemed to be ahead of the curve in assigning the start of the end of the Cold War in 1983. Why does this matter? Historians like to be able to trace trends back to their inception As one argues throughout this paper, the end of the Cold War era really began in the first years of the 1980s decade. Oberdorfer, possibly without meaning to, defined the area that would become known as the end of the Cold War for scholars. With careful chronological order, he successfully convinced many in his large audience that the Cold War was winding down with each passing year. Reasons he elaborates on included Reagan’s SDI and the subsequent negotiations over arms reductions, but he was also very supportive of Bush. In his eyes, and one believes this is a fair assertion, Bush as Vice President under Reagan was one of, if not the largest, figure in foreign policy counseling.16
Dan Oberdorfer, The Turn: From the Cold War to a New Era: the United States and the Soviet Union 1983-1990, (New York: Poseidon Press, 1991), 15-31, 107-209, 387-405. Oberdorfer was also among the first to detail the complete story behind the Reykjavik meetings with Reagan and Gorbachev, he lists and details proposals as well in his appendixes.
Christopher Maynard later picked up on this and expanded upon it in 2008 with Out of the Shadow. Maynard wrote a very convincing account of foreign policies during the Bush administration that brought about the conclusion of the Cold War era. He attacks the consensus that Bush was little more than a continuer of Reagan’s initiatives. To defend this, he went to great length in showing how Reagan republicans were removed from their offices rather quickly after the January 1989 inauguration. Scowcroft, in an interview within the book, also defends this approach that has yet to be sufficiently revoked. Pragmatically speaking, Maynard asserts the Cold War was still in existence as Bush entered the White House and could have continued had Bush not exercised his skill in diplomacy: “eliciting cooperation from people, both friends and opponents.” Quite accurately, and convincingly for that matter, Bush’s life story and career proved him to be the last president to enter office with so much already on his resumé. Such a man, Maynard asserted, was exactly the right man to finish up what was begun during previous administrations. Maynard, however, is not one to say Bush did more than Reagan, but only to show that Bush was inaccurately portrayed as a figure in the shadows of Reagan, a tag-along figure. In the end, Maynard built on existing scholarship of Reagan’s “symbolic gestures” and Reagan’s importance in accelerating the downfall of the Soviet Union. He added to this vantage, that it took additional, carefully-crafted decisions to follow through and see to the reunification or Germany, Desert Storm’s success, and the calm disintegration of the Soviet Union.17 Focusing on foreign policies during the Bush administration may seem cliché, but because of the way foreign policy was surveyed, the post revisionists gained another consensus among its crowd.
Christopher Maynard, Out of the Shadow: George H.W. Bush and the End of the Cold War, (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2008), 27-45, 75-80, 92-130.
Of like mind as Maynard and Oberdorfer was a very recent release of America’s Cold War by Campbell Craig and Fredrik Logevall in 2009. This book traced greater trends throughout the Cold War from its inception concluding that in the 1980s and early 1990s, it was the decisions for inaction by Reagan, and more so by Bush, that allowed for a rather peaceful transition into the post Cold War world. These authors are placed in the post revisionist school because of their assertions that many factors, some from the origins of the Cold War in the 1940s, led to the inevitable dissolution of the bipolar world. With specific regard to the events of the 1980s and 1990s, the authors assert the decisions of the two presidents to ignore pushes from their party to be more aggressive with Gorbachev ended up being the eclipse of policies that would allow for the quick transition in the new world. They tackled some assertions from the orthodox school as well. More specifically, their interviews and mass collections of newly released documents allowed them to prove that Bush and Baker were smart to believe early on the Gorbachev’s reforms were genuine. Bush did not make the mistake of going adamantly against Gorbachev, nor for him once in office much to the dislike of Gates and Cheney. They wrap up their narrative by making a very bold, but very solid conclusion: “the Marshall Plan, it could be said, was complete, some forty years late.” Much to the chagrin of Paul Kennedy, the Soviet Union managed a “good death” because of humanistic interpretations across state lines. 18 Foreign policy history over the Cold War itself was well established and branching further as the concluding years of the war approached. Early writers looking at the “end” of the Cold War determined it was a tangible victory for the United States, and the West. However,
Campbell Craig and Fredrik Logevall, America’s Cold War: The Politics of Insecurity, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009), 1-12, 322-370.
some intuitive scholars writing during the immediate postwar years questioned whether this was a victory for anyone. There remains in 2010, no distinct overarching, comprehensive consensus over what transpired in the 1980s and early 1990s. The era in question is open for inspection and scrutinization. The three schools that formed in studying the origins of the Cold War, however, do define themselves early after the war’s end. First hand accounts from “insiders” put the success of the United States on the shoulders of the country’s policy makers. Yet, revisionist historians rebuke this and contend the events were largely due to exterior forces not all from the United States, but from within transnational movements for peace and economic advancement that spread across the Soviet bloc. Post revisionists prefer to see things not all from macro levels, or strictly high politics. They are the more modern historians of the upcoming generation who are, for the most part, free to analyze even this recent history however they can. This includes advancing formerly understated ideas, and branching ideas from both opposing schools of their predecessors. The field as it stands in 2010 is still expanding, and one hopes this path continues well into the future. There may still be aspects and ramifications from these years that have yet to be revealed in modernity. If readers are to take one message from this brief summary of where the field stands, take comfort in realizing that there has been, and continues to be a steady expansion of depth and levels of analyses over the end of the Cold War.
Bibliography Craig, Campbell and Fredrik Logevall. America’s Cold War: The Politics of Insecurity. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009.
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