Written by: Amanda Jarrett
After reading the entirety of Gaddis’s book, and more specifically the last two chapters, it makes me think about what could have happened had Gorbachev and Reagan not been in the positions they were. Gaddis seemed to be highlighting the miracle of timing, consequences, and the significance of individual actors when it comes to explaining the end of the Cold War. Though, people within a system are important to look at, so it the system itself.
The grand strategy of containment and the various attempts of smaller strategies—asymmetry, asymmetry, SALT, NSC-68, MAD, detente, linkage—highlighted the different ways the United States tried to minimize the sphere of influence and ideological threat of the Soviet Union in the post-war era. Though, the United States philosophical strategy dates back to Kennan’s objective back in 1947, which was to increase the strains on Soviet policy and “force upon the Kremlin a far greater degree of moderation and circumspection than it has had to observe” (Gaddis, 353).
During the Carter and Reagan administrations, there was circling back to this grounding ideology, but with modern twists. Kennan mainly focused on the ideological aspect and the possible global political effect the Soviets would have. Though, for later administrations, such as Reagan’s, the focus was on the belief that capitalism was in the best interest for the global system. The perpetuation of this ‘best interest’ for the world herein lied in the best interest for U.S. power and hegemony. This hegemony, post-Cold War, began as political but quickly interlinked with economic power, setting the stage for self-interest capital growth.
This concept of ‘America First’ is demonstrated in Reagan’s comments on U.S. foreign policy in 1980. “Our foreign policy should be to show by example the greatness of our system and the strength of American ideals” (Gaddis, 353). This rhetoric proposes that American ideals, perspectives, and way of life is the only correct way to live. All other systems of operation, whether it be economic, political, or societal, are wrong.
Linking this rhetoric to future endeavors and wars that the U.S. has decided to commit to since the end of the Cold War, an example being the 2003 Iraq War, how narratives from the Cold War American ideology still carries heavy weight in the way that America conducts its foreign policy. This becomes largely problematic in the states affected by the proxy wars in the ‘Third World,’ especially while they are trying to recover and developing their own systems of management.
To further this point, on page 351, Reagan comments that communism was “temporary aberration which will one day disappear from the earth because it is contrary to human nature.” In this statement there seems to be a reference to the Federalist Papers, where it was stated that human nature is naturally corrupt and that humans are inherently selfish, which means that they do not have the ability to think of the greater whole.
From Reagan’s comment, two points can be made. First, the comment highlights his favoritism of capitalism. By stating that communism is not the way of human nature, he attempts to narrate that by following that system, one is to go against humanity. Therefore, positioning communism within the idea of evil. This highlights Reagan’s “impatience with compromise in what he regarded as a contest between good and evil” (Gaddis, 350).
Secondly, to reiterate the reference the Federalist Papers, human nature is inherently selfish. Capitalism thrives off of the selfishness of individuals, companies, and states. All of these actors build their capital influence through the destruction and exploitation of others. Reagan’s belief in capitalism pokes at the complexities of his own debate between what is good and evil. He saw communism as evil because it went against human nature. Though, capitalism, in his eyes, is good, even though it exploits the selfishness of human nature. Due to American interests, Reagan looks past the bad of human nature—selfishness—in order to highlight the bad of communism—a contrasting political and economic system. Luckily for Reagan, Gorbachev was feeling the consequences of engaging with the ‘Third World.’ The Soviet Union, and communism, were experiencing the revolutionary crisis that Karl Marx had discussed (Gaddis, 355). Gorbachev understood that his communist economy could not sustain the long term battle with United States capitalism.
At the beginning of his term, Reagan did make it a point to distanced himself from previous administrations, whether they were Democratic or Republican. This immediately separated himself from the Carter administration’s challenging of the ‘America First’ narrative. Carter seemed to really challenge this dominant American narrative with his grounding and push for human rights.
His vision for American foreign policy was calling for “a policy based on constant decency in its values and on optimism in our historical vision” (Gaddis, 343). Carter pushed the idea of ‘not destroying what was sought out to protect’ by attempting to marry morality and his domestic political commitments.