tv The Presidency Ronald Reagan Conservatives the Cold War CSPAN March 31, 2021 4:31pm-5:34pm EDT
historian marcus witcher explores conservatives criticism of ronald reagan's foreign policy towards the soviet union in the 1980s. he explains how conservatives gradually down played this criticism in later decades as they sought to reimagine their relationship with the 40th president. the federalist society's montgomery, alabama, chapter hosted this event. >> good morning. good morning and welcome to the montgomery lawyers chapter of the federal society. the federal society is founded on the principles that the state exists to preserve freedom, that the separation of governmental powers is central to our constitution and that is emphatically the duty and province of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be. the society seeks both to promote an awareness of these principles and to further their application through its activities.
now, you may notice i have an adam smith tie on today, and that's not because we have an economic historian coming to speak to us. but it's because adam smith was principally an educator. he was a professor and a private tutor. and he was beloved by his students. and marcus witcher who is speaking to us today is known as a very exuberant, enthusiastic educator. i first met marcus several years ago at an institute for humane studies conference. i spoke and then he followed me. he later told me, and i mean years later, that he was so relieved that i went first because i didn't do such a good job and i made it so much easier for him to follow. i was an easy act to follow, so he was very pleased by this. but marcus has spent the last five years writing this book on ronald reagan, and ronald reagan
has become a symbol. he's become an icon for conservatives. we have presidential primary debates within the republican party held at the reagan library. and it's a de facto prerequisite for these candidates to air their opinions, to pay homage to ronald reagan. but as marcus likes to point out, there's a disconnect between the way conservatives thought about ronald reagan in the 1980s, in his own time and space. and the way reagan has been mythologized, the way we think about reagan today, reagan the icon, reagan the symbol. marcus and i were at a philadelphia society meeting once, we were at a reception, and don divine, who was head of the civil service in the reagan administration made some comment about the reagan administration to marcus, and marcus came back and said actually reagan did not cut domestic spending and they kind of got into this argument
about how much reagan actually cut, and it was a funny moment for those of you who have seen don divine on television, he's a very animated person, and a very adamant person. and marcus is as well. so it was a pretty robust argument and an exciting one to be standing next to. reagan's image was to a great degree self-made. he was very aware of his legacy and sought to frame narratives about his presidency. during his presidency the cold war united conservatives in a sort of fusionist way. some of you may have recalled the fusionist project as it was articulated by frank meyer. well, that united people as disparate as libertarians and neoconservatives and evangelicals and they all came together because of a common enemy. but after the cold war we sort
of lost that fusionism. so we -- conservatives today exist in a fractured state. we have neo conservatives, those who celebrate american greatness. we have libertarians and classical liberals. we have paleo conservatives. we have localists, we have evangelicals. and in the current political climate they are not as united as they were under the reagan presidency. and a lot of that has to do with the cold war. so here to talk to us today about the cold war reagan conservatives and the end of the cold war is dr. marcus witcher. dr. witcher is a scholar and resident at the history department at the arkansas center for research and economics. otherwise known as a.c.r.e. and he's at the university of central arkansas. he teaches in the history department. in addition to being an engaging and enthusiastic speaker he specializes in political, economic and intellectual history from 1920 to the present. his focus was on modern american
conservativism and his manuscript, getting right with reagan, comes out this month. november 2019. he earned his bachelors in history at the university of central arkansas and received his ph.d. from the university of alabama. this is when all the auburn fans in the room boo. dr. witcher offers classes in modern american history including courses on the cold war, the con servingtive movement, the american presidency, the history of economic thought and u.s. economic development. he's published in a wide variety of places including white house study journal and is co-editor of a three-volume anthology entitled public choice analysis of american economic history. he's currently researching for his next book titled "fulfilling the reagan revolution." clinton, gingrich and the conservative 1990s. please join me in welcoming dr. witcher. [ applause ] >> thanks. you're doing a great job. i don't know i even need to speak. thank you so much for having me.
it's a pleasure to be here and a pleasure to be talking to the montgomery chapter of the federalist society. a society that has done so much in terms of reshaping the american judiciary and has played such a large role in the conservative movement. and so it's a great pleasure for me to be here today. as allen said, i'm going to be speaking to you guys today about reagan, conservatives and the end of the cold war. and i want to start off by sort of asking you to think about what do you think ronald reagan stood for? what defines ronald reagan for you? and i think for many, many conservatives what defines ronald reagan for them is an adherence to principle, an unflinching adherence to principle, conservative principles specifically that he never sort of deviated from. and this conception of reagan really started to emerge around 2005, 2006 in the wake of sort of george w. bush's dismal presidency, from the point of
view of conservatives, where they became very, very disillusioned with george w. bush. so what i want to talk to you guys today about is i want to talk about how conservatives viewed reagan during the 1980s. oftentimes they viewed him with frustration, contempt, anger because not more was being done to sort of achieve conservative's policy goals. i was really, really surprised when i was researching for my dissertation because i went through steven hayward's book and i found this nice little paragraph where he basically talked about all these conservatives who were upset and frustrated with reagan. and then he went on and he told the long sort of story about the reagan years, and i was like that's really fascinating. and i found that aside in several other books i was reading in my seminar class and i took it my dissertation advisers and they said this sounds like an excellent topic. go and research it. go and look into it. and so out of that research came the book, getting right with reagan, the struggle for true conservatism, and that's what i'm going to be talking about today.
so we'll go ahead and talk about how conservatives view reagan today, and then we'll sort of go back in time and take a look how conservatives viewed reagan during the 1980s. like i said, oftentimes with frustration and even contempt when it came to his cold war foreign policies. and then we'll talk a little bit how reagan wanted to be remembered. and we'll end with me sort of gesturing how conservatives began to construct the reagan legacy and later the reagan myth. i really, really love this quote from matt purple. i wish i had written it, but i didn't. i think it really sort of grasps what i'm trying to do in the book. purple says, quote, historical memory is like a great compacter, crushing nuances and flattening wrinkles until a person or event is made a perfect morsel for popular consumption. and i think this has largely happened with ronald reagan today among conservatives.
he's sort of been compacted down into a simplified version of himself, maybe a purest version of himself. and all the nuances and sort of pragmatic policies of the '80s have largely been forgotten. this is really personified by wwrd. okay. this emerged in 2005. anne colter, she said, you know, for christians it's wwjd, what would jesus do. but for conservatives it's wwrd, what would reagan do. and of course after this sort of takes off in 2005, it really takes off in 2007 in the leadup to the 2008 republican primary shawn hannity and the heritage foundation sort of partner on this to say wwrd, right, what would ronald reagan do today? that's what we need. we need a candidate to do what reagan would do. you can go on amazon and buy yourself a wwrd bracelet.
you can buy yourself a t-shirt as you can see up here. you can buy a bumper sticker to put on your car. you can buy a mouse pad like the one on the far left that says if we can resurrect him we'd re-elect him, the idea of a zombie reagan running in the 2020 primary. but nonetheless conservatives from around 2005 to 2016 or so began to really reconstruct reagan as a conservative purest. and they began to sort of claim, and this started maybe even before, that ronald reagan won the cold war by sticking to his conservative principles and that reagan through his sort of conservatism is to credit ultimately for the dissolution of the soviet empire and the end of the cold war. today what we're going to do is go back in time and look at what conservatives are saying about reagan's policies in the 1980s and how that is sort of is quite different from what they claim today. so what does my manuscript do? well, my manuscript details the complex and often tense relationship that existed
between president reagan and conservatives. and it acknowledges the wide range of different perspectives on the right. and i think that's something unique to my book. i think other historians have done a good job with it as well. that's one thing i try to grapple with. all of the differences within the conservative movement. i don't think historians have done enough in understanding conservatism and all its various iterations. it also questions whether or not the reagan years were actually the triumph of conservatism. i actually don't think is true. i actually think the 1990s, in the wake of the gingrich revolution. i actually think the clinton administration achieved many, many of the things -- maybe not on purpose, right, maybe begrudgingly after looking at polls. but they get welfare reform and the budget, et cetera.
many, many conservatives did not see the 1980s as a triumph of conservatism at least in the 1980s. finally the book examines the interconnectedness of politics, memory and myth building among american conservatives and attempts to explain the creation of the reagan legacy and the evolution of that legacy and the creation of the reagan myth. so i've got this slide here that tells you sort of where the sources come from. i was lucky enough to visit a vast number of archives, including ronald reagan's presidential library, which is a great place to do research for two weeks. like, fly out to california. hard times, right? it was excellent going to simi valley and going through the reagan papers, specifically the morton blackwell files. if anyone has any questions about the evidentiary basis and where the sources came from, we can return to this at the end of the talk during the q&a. just sort of as a primer so everybody here is not upset with
me, there are four schools of thought in the historical profession about what ended the cold war. and the first is probably the most dominant that gorbachev through his policies deserves most of the credit for the end of the cold war, because he undermined the system, the communist party and in doing so destroyed the fabric that held the soviet union and its satellites, right, together basically, the control, the threat of coercion, right. and that's probably the largest school of thought within the historic profession. within this school of thought reagan is given very little credit for the end of the cold war. there's another school of thought that claims that ronald reagan actually prolonged the cold war, right? not only did he not contribute to it, he prolonged it because his sort of fiery rhetoric simply emboldened the hard liners within the soviet union and made it more difficult for someone like gorbachev to enact his reforms. the third school is what we call the reagan victory school. this is mainly made up of
conservative historians who claimed ronald reagan won the cold war by basically forcing the soviet union into bankruptcy because of there military buildup in the united states to put pressure on the soviets, right, they couldn't keep up. as a result they had to enact reforms. those reforms ultimately undid the soviet union. and finally, there's a sort of emerging school of thought, which is the school i want to belong to, right, that reagan and gorbachev worked together to set the foundation for a peaceful end to the cold war and the dissolution of the soviet empire. i think gorbachev deserves most of the credit although he probably wouldn't like to take it, right? he was a valid socialist, but i think his policies ultimately are what undid the soviet union. but i think reagan deserves a lot of credit for working with gorbachev in order to basically establish better relations to enable gorbachev to carry out those reforms at home. that's where i fit into the
historiography. i know i'm speaking to a more conservative audience, so i'm not either one of the first two. so don't be too angry with me, right. all right. let's go ahead and jump into the 1980s. so conservatives were frustrated with reagan's foreign policy throughout the 1980s, but they were also really frustrated with other things reagan attempted to do in the foreign policy arena in the first two years of the reagan administration. so some conservatives were upset with the sell of advanced airborne warning and control systems to saudi arabia. they felt this violated sort of israeli national security. and the israeli prime minister even came out and condemned reagan for this sell. this was reagan's first sort of foreign policy accomplishment or legislative accomplishment while he was in office. he actually stood up to the israeli lobby, and also the prime minister of israel, and basically told the prime minister, listen, i'm the president of the united states. other countries don't make our
foreign policy. you can imagine how that went over with neoconservatives when reagan made that type of comment. also on taiwan, he accepted china's nine-point plan on taiwan. which included reduced weapons sales for the united states. conservatives for historical reasons were very whetted to taiwan and still are in some ways. and so many conservatives criticize reagan as sort of being soft on china here. thirdly, reagan was criticized specifically by neoconservatives for his lack of a public response to sort of the imposition of marshal law in poland, the crack down on solidarity. neoconservatives claim reagan should have done more. he should have pushed back against the soviets with massive embargoes and technology and things like that. we know now because there was just a new book released on sort of reagan and the cia and poland. we now know that reagan behind the scenes was very active actually in helping support sort of dissident groups within the eastern bloc and he was doing
quite a bit in poland, but conservatives at the time didn't know that because it wasn't public knowledge. so they're criticizing him for that. they're also criticizing him because they thought they'd elected him to pursue a more aggressive policy towards the soviet union, and in the first two years they just don't see that really materializing. they don't see that materializing. let's get to some specific criticisms. so in 1982, right, norman writes a piece in the "the new york times." norman podhoretz is a neo conservative figure in which he writes a piece entitled the ne-yo conservative's anger towards foreign policy, which he pretty much systematically dismisses the idea that the president had any accomplishments in the first year and a half of his presidency. he argued they didn't outline a clear vision of what they wanted to accomplish in the cold war. they had to focus on the economy during the first year, right? obviously when reagan comes to
office that's their number one concern is getting the economy back on track and they do get the tax cuts in 1981, they do get some spending cuts initially in the first year. but by and large foreign policy conservatives, neoconservatives feel reagan is really focused on economic matters and hasn't really defined, right, a conservative foreign policy. the result according to podhoretz, was a vacuum into which come pouring all the old ideas and policy against which ronald reagan himself has stood for so many years. he continued then in the first two years of the reagan administration reagan had followed a strategy of helping the soviet union stabilize its empire rather than a strategy aimed at encouraging the breakup of that empire from within. his criticism was so piercing reagan actually picked up the phone and gave him a call. and they had an extended conversation in which reagan tried to convince he was not pursuing a policy of detaunte.
you know, that is of course the idea of cooling of tensions with the soviet union that nixon and kissinger had outlined in the early 1970s, which was widely criticized by conservatives, including president reagan. you know, listening to the president, podhoretz tried to justify what he had done to this point, politely a couple of times of trying to get off the phone, finally says, thank you so much. hangs up the phone and writes down later in his memoir after he'd hung up with reagan he was pursuing what he would call detaunte. even if it wasn't what reagan himself would call detente. in 1982, the new right, accomplishes an edition of "conservative digest," in which they systematically criticize the president. they criticize him on social issues for not getting the school prayer mandate passed. they criticized him for not getting a right to life amendment passed.
you have social conservatives, budget hawks criticizing the president because of the imbalanced budget, the budget deficits that had been run up in 1982. you also have supply siders mad with reagan because reagan had raised taxes or was on a path to raise taxes. and you have foreign policy conservatives who are the people we're going to focus on in the next slide who are really criticizing reagan for not really outlining a clear vision in terms of his cold war foreign policy. the title of the magazine, "has reagan deserted the conservatives." where's the best of me, right? a play off of one of reagan's films. where's the best of me? has reagan deserted the conservatives? like i said this magazine or this edition of the magazine, this volume has criticism across the spectrum. right. if you were like i don't buy your argument in the book that conservatives had major problems with the reagan administration.
i would just somehow find this, which i haven't been able to do on ebay or amazon, and i would just hand it to you, because it's that good of a source. it's that convincing, i think. here are just a few quotes from that magazine on foreign policy. general daniel graham, chairman of the coalition for peace through strength asserted there's, quote, very little difference between reagan's policy and carter's policy. joseph chundra, former analyst for reagan's arm control agency lamented we have no strategy for the soviet threat. general knight who had served on the reagan transition team, declared, i'm not disappointed, i'm disgusted. and when asked to rate reagan out of 10, he said i'd give him a 2 out of 10. midge decter who i had the great pleasure of e-mailing with just the other week said, quote, reagan was pursuing the same policy of detaunt. if reagan were not in office now he'd be leading the opposition. he'd be leading the opposition to his own policies. there's a cartoon of the piece.
it has reagan standing there sort of chaz -- chastising him all about the human right abuses of the soviet union and he's taking it from him seemingly and reagan is like, what did you want? we want to buy some grain. and reagan looks at him and goes, will that be cash or credit? and this is the sort of criticism that reagan cared more about revitalizing the economy, right, and the american farmer than he did about standing up to the soviet union and casting sort of the cold war in moral terms. i think it's really important, in order to understand sort of where we're going to go in the next few slides, i think it's really important to understand like what drove ronald reagan in terms of foreign policy. ronald reagan was an adamant anti-communist. he's probably got the best in credentials in the anti-communist movement.
he can quote witness and he does so. he'll just from memory will recite the first page of the witness in cabinet meetings. he's deeply influenced by that and going all the way back to his time in hollywood he's an adamant anti-communist. he believes the soviet system is socially and economically bankrupt, and that eventually socialism will collapse upon itself. most americans knew he was an anti-communist. that's something most people knew. something that a lot of people missed, though, was that ronald was a nuclear abolitionist. despite being an adamant cold warier, he absolutely detested the theory of mutually shared destruction. he and margaret thatcher deeply disagreed about this. reagan thought that it was a policy that basically held the american people and the soviet people as hostages in this conflict. he thought it was fundamentally
immoral and he wanted to move toward a policy that would not just freeze weapons. he always opposed a nuclear freeze. but eliminate nuclear weapons. these two things, right, his anti-communism and nuclear abolitionist are going to come into conflict with one another when he's in office. he in his memoir, in his autobiography, these are two things that come into tandem with one another. i think that's wishful thinking looking back. there are times how do you get to abolishing nuclear weapons. you probably have to work with the soviets in one capacity or another if you're going to get there. he's going to run into some problems because this sort of seemingly paradox of ideas. now, conservatives do in 1983 really begin to praise the president. 1983 is the year that conservatives feel like ronald reagan, really sort of comes into his own in terms of embracing a conservative foreign
policy. and that's of course the year that ronald reagan announced the strategic defense initiative, right? dubbed star wars by the very critical press. so reagan's vision with sdi was to, of course, create a missile shield so the united states wouldn't be under the threat of nuclear war. he saw it as a means to abolish those weapons because in reagan's mind he always tells gorbachev later on i'll share the technology with you, and gorbachev looks at him like who is this guy? you're just going to give me the technology? you're going to give the soviets the technology? that's not going to happen. so reagan viewed sdi by a means of which to abolish nuclear weapons, but the soviets didn't see it that way. the soviets already had this conception of reagan rightfully potentially so, that he was adamantly anti-communist and that he wanted to destroy the soviet system and that he and his administration would be willing to launch a pre-emptive, and this is where they kind of go off the rails, a preemptive nuclear strike in order to destroy the soviet union. in that context the kbg and the people in moscow view this very
much as a means by which reagan can enact the policy they fear he wants to enact, which is a preemptive strike against the soviet union. and so sdi turns out to be extraordinarily destabilizing for the cold war. it's somewhat ironic the time 1983, the year the conservatives are most satisfied with reagan's foreign policy, is also the year we dub in history, the year of fear because of how close the world came to nuclear conflict. reagan also in 1983 deployed 108 missiles, and 462 cruise missiles to western europe, in keeping with the promise of the carter administration to counter the ss 20s, the soviets had deployed. and of course reagan escalated his rhetoric in 1983. the best example is the 41st annual convention of the national association of evangelicals where reagan gets up before the crowd and says, listen, you cannot be ambivalent about the cold war. you cannot join the nuclear freeze movement.
you have to stand with us. this is a moral war, right. and he casts the soviet union as the evil empire, right. and he frames the cold war as a conflict between good and evil, right? good and evil, stark, stark sort of rhetoric. and so 1983 is the year that conservatives feel like reagan's really embracing their vision for what his foreign policy should be, very combative, take it to the soviets. but it also has a major sort of destabilizing effect upon super power relations. the year of fear that's what i called it. and i call it the year of fear for several reasons one which is sdi, which presented a very real danger at least in the minds of the soviet union but also because the shooting down of flight k-l 007. some of you may remember this. a korean airliner strayed into soviet airspace where it strayed for two hours.
the soviets sent fighters to go in and inspect this because they thought it was an american spy plane initially thinking -- i'm not sure what they were thinking. it's interesting because it had windows, there were lights, it looks like a commercial airliner but nonetheless the soviets ultimately shoot down the plane and onboard there were 269 passengers including 63 americans, including congressmen, conservative congressmen all die in the shooting down. in response to that, conservatives immediately -- conservative activists immediately hold a press conference denouncing the soviet union and calling on ronald reagan to enact an embargo on technologies, to demand the release of prisoners in the soviet union who were imprisoned for sort of like -- basically human rights activists who were imprisoned. and to embargo grain shipments to the soviet union immediately in response to this. reagan is on vacation when this happens. he has to cut his vacation
short. but he and secretary schultz talk about it on the phone and he goes, we've got to be careful. this could escalate very, very quickly. and so once again, right, reagan comes forward and gives this great speech. he denounces the soviet union. he calls them barbaric. he uses -- it's probably the best sort of framed argument to denounce the soviets -- it's extraordinarily harsh, but it's not enough for conservatives. they say we didn't elect a dictionary. we elected a commander in chief. and there's the frustration in 1983 reagan does really good, he does really well at talking the game but doesn't seem to be willing to really, really embrace what they think are his actual values and principles when it comes to foreign policy. kl is also going to really rattle reagan when taken into effect with -- sort of in conjunction with the soviet response to able archer. reagan couldn't understand how the soviets could be basically flying next to a korean airliner
for two hours and never contact the united states. it was such a demonstration. what if this had been something bigger? would they not have given us a call? would they not have gone through a back channel? this was problematic, right? this could lead to major consequences if it was on a larger scale. on november 2, 1983, the united states and the nato allies conducted a military exercise known as able archer which simulated the use of nuclear weapons to test command and control procedure and designed specifically to entail the highest rankings of west german sort of government. margaret thatcher and reagan were all supposed to be a part of it. they decided correctly, at the last minute that might trigger the soviets. they might get a little concerned if they were involved. but nonetheless, they went ahead and went through with it, with sort of the lower, still high ranking but lower officials to run sort of able archer. and even though it wasn't reagan and thatcher being involved,
this really, really -- the kgb immediately says this is it, this is the preemptive strike, this has got to be it. and they basically activate cold red. right. they're ready. they're on high alert. nuclear war is coming. we've got to be ready to launch. and so for the duration of able archer i think nine days there's this tension. word about that gets back to reagan because the united states has a double agent in the kgb is in london, and he reports to london, right, this is happening. and so by the end of november, by the end of november, early december, reagan is getting this information that the soviet union is comprised of people who actually believe the united states is capable of a preemptive strike and their command and control procedures in the soviet union are so poor for the kl 007 incident it might actually lead to nuclear annihilation. so reagan questioned how hard he should push the soviets.
reagan was also influenced by abc's the day after, which was a made for tv movie which basically demonstrated what would happen in the case of a nuclear conflict. after he gets an advance copy from abc and he watches it at camp david, and the president was amazingly influenced by film. it resonated with him in a way, right, that like all the briefing books wouldn't. that's not a knock on reagan, it's just if you gave him a briefing in film he'd understand it, hold onto it and sort of repeat it later on. and so the film seems to have had a major effect on how reagan viewed sort of how he understood things. so the day after was actually really, really significant at least according to reagan as sort of giving him an idea how things would look in the midst of the kl 007 flight, in the midst of the able archer, sort of stuff getting back to him, he's also watching "the day after". he said after he watched the
movie it left him, quote, greatly depressed and he was aware of the need for the world to step back from the nuclear precipice. later on he was also briefed for the first time on the united states nuclear war plan. by the way, reagan wanted nothing to do with the football. in his last days in office he was like can you take that away, and they're like not yet, mr. president.lu president bush has to be sworn in before we can get rid of that. doesn't want anything to do with it. he's briefed though on the nation's nuclear war plan and he recorded, quote, that it was a sobering experience. and in his memoirs explained in several ways the sequence paralleled with those in the abc movie. and so i think all of these things came together to really resonate with reagan by the end of 1983 his administration needed to take a different tone with the soviets. not because they were wrong about calling the soviet union an evil empire, necessarily, but because it wasn't bringing about the results they wanted to achieve. the day that able archer ended, november 11th, reagan made his first public appeal for the
total elimination of nuclear armaments. made this directly. he says, i believe there can only be one policy for improving and preserving our precious civilization in this modern age and nuclear war can never be won and never be fought. i know i speak for people everywhere to say our dream is to see the day when nuclear weapons will be banished from the face of the earth. pretty radical rhetoric. i wonder how radical conservatives would respond if jimmy carter had said those things, right? i'm not sure. in january of 1984, schultz and reagan over christmas break basically they talked with one another and reagan said put together a policy. we want to have a new policy to announce in the new year. so in january of 1984, the reagan administration shifts its public tone regarding the soviet union. during a press conference reagan asserted the two super powers must establish a better working relationship. marked by greater cooperation and understanding. i think this is really, really important because if i take you
guys back to that slide, right, at the beginning of the talk where i talked about the different groups of historiography there's one group that says reagan didn't play any role at all in sort of the end of the cold war. well this policy shift took place 15 months before gorbachev becomes secretary. reagan was willing to play ball. it's not his fault that andropov dies shortly after this. it's not his fault they think the best policy is to hope mondale wins the 1984 election. that sort of makes it to where he has to wait. nonetheless, it's evident from me that reagan in conjunction with secretary schultz, that reagan initiated this public policy shift in 1984. and so once mikhail gorbachev is the general secretary and comes into power, right, thatcher famously tells ronald reagan this is someone we can do business with.
mickell -- mikhail gorbachev, sort of the social reformer. mikhail gorbachev, the man who comes into power when the soviet union has dismal economic numbers, massive drunkenness problems, massive cultural and social decline, afghanistan, a war in afghanistan raging, which the americans are making extraordinarily difficult on the soviets, he has to do something about the condition of the soviet union. so his goal is to, right, implement these policies, to try to emphasize more consumer goods over military spending. but in order to do that he's got to have an easing of tensions with the united states. he's got to have an easing of tensions with the united states. another thing pushing gorbachev in this direction, of course, is the decline of oil prices. the soviet union had sort of rode the oil high in the 1970s, but oil prices had declined dramatically in the second half of the 19 80s,
forcing the soviet union because of their loss of revenues to come to the table. and so reagan and gorbachev decide to meet at geneva in 1985. and like i tell my students not a great deal was accomplished at geneva in terms of policy outcomes or prescriptions, there were no reductions or anything like that. but what happened at geneva is that gorbachev and reagan got into the same room together and begin to talk to one another. and they develop a relationship with one another. and they began to sort of develop this relationship and this trust that would matter so much, so much until the end of the cold war. as reagan said, right, we don't have these weapons because we hate one another necessarily. we have these weapons because we mistrust one another. we don't trust one another. if we can have the trust then we can start to really work towards some type of agreement. but reagan leaves geneva and the administration is hopeful, schultz is hopeful this went better than expected. reagan got along with gorbachev sure he probably told some soviet jokes that gorbachev didn't appreciate, right. but by and large they got along. gorbachev is always complaining
about reagan making these soviet jokes that were extraordinarily offensive to him. he's like the guy is an artifact, i don't know what to do with him, but he seems to be genuine when he talks about nuclear disarmament so we should continue to work with him. so there's this hopefulness in the administration that they're going to be able to sort of come back in 1986 and maybe make a deal. conservatives are also hearing this, and they're extraordinarily scared this might actually be the case, that reagan might sort of give away sdi, that he might bargain away the strategic defense initiative in exchange for nuclear reductions. so conservatives, actually, they're writing the administration, they're publishing sort of op-eds and criticizing the administration. reagan actually has to have the grassroots leaders to the white house and the major sort of conservatives in the senate and the house, he has them to the
white house, and he stands up in front of the group and gives this nice, eloquent speech about how mikhail gorbachev is a new type of leader and they can trust him, right. and he's mr. conservative. and he finishes and there's silence. and he's not used to that. not from the people supposed to be his most adamant supporters. and when he leaves the room there's a real disconnect between conservative activists and president reagan himself. he promises them, though, that he will not -- will not bargain away sdi. and so when he shows up and he and gorbachev, it goes swimmingly well. i mean, the two are like talking about reagan at one point quips, yeah, we can meet back here in like ten years and we'll destroy the last nuclear weapon together, right. and it'll be just wonderful because all nuclear weapons will be gone. right. that's how optimistic reagan is they're going to get something big, and they pretty much
outline a deal that would have been a major reduction or a complete reduction in intermediate weapons. but they break up and they go -- sort of each group goes a separate way for a moment to regroup, talk it out, figure it out before they come back to the table to make a deal. and when they come back to the table gorbachev says i have one condition. sdi must be limited to the laboratory for ten years.'rfvìá% if you will agree, mr. president, to limit sdi to the laboratory for ten years we can sign this agreement today, go out and announce it to the press. reagan is furious. reagan is absolutely furious. he feels betrayed. there weren't supposed to be any conditions. and so reagan puts on his sort of iconic white coat, right, and he leaves. he walks out. and conservatives hail reagan for this achievement, right, for saying no, for sticking up for sort of sdi, and the conservative vision and the missile shield and whatnot.
the reality, though, i think is that most people in the pentagon would have told reagan and secretary schultz sdi was probably more than ten years away from being out of the laboratory anyways. so i'm not convinced that walking away from the deal really had any significant value, but it did for reagan. he had promised conservatives he wasn't going to sell them out. he didn't sell them out. and conservatives cheer. they think this is great, right, we didn't get an arms control agreement. we didn't get rid of sdi, this is fine. and so reagan walks out of rakevic. but the teams continue to talk, secretary schultz continues to talk with his counterpart, they continue to negotiate. and eventually agree to have another summit in washington, right. and in response to reports that the reagan administration is going to -- is going to sign an intercontinental ballistic missile treaty with the soviets, national review, under the head
of william f. buckley, runs an edition titled "reagan's suicide pack," in which they criticize reagan and the inf treaty. it featured criticism from jack kemp and their criticism really took three forms. one, the treaty was not verifiable. two, it left the soviets with a significant advantage in conventional weapons, and they questioned whether or not the treaty was actually motivated by domestic political concerns. does anybody know what i'm talking about? everybody knows what i'm talking about. iran contra, right? that president reagan was actually making this deal not because he believed in it but rather because he was so unpopular in that moment that his poll numbers were so far down, that he was making this deal for political reasons. nixon and kissinger for their part -- by the way, i believe to my knowledge this is the first time nixon and kissinger had released a joint statement since watergate. they thought it was that
important they come out together and criticize president reagan for his naive foreign policy. nixon and kissinger insisted that any western leader who indulges the soviet's fantasies of a nuclear free world courts unimaginable perils. and in their piece they concluded that while the president probably wanted to be remembered as a peacemaker reagan needed to remember however he may be held in today's headlines the judgment of history would severely, severely condemn a false piece. national review wasn't the only organization that was criticizing the inf treaty. the new right took out under the leadership of howie phillips, the president of the conservative caucus, they took out a full page ad in conservative newspapers across the country. and this has got to be my favorite source. this is my favorite source in the entire book because it's got a picture if you take a look at it of neville chamberlain,
it has a picture of ronald reagan, adolph hitler, and a picture of mikhail gorbachev, and it says, appeasement is as unwise in 1988 as it was in 1938. help us defeat the reagan, gorbachev inf treaty. if a conservative calls you neville chamberlain, that's the biggest insult you could be given, that you're going to sellout the world to hiltler. and so this comparison of reagan to chamberlain i think is quite profound. senate conservatives propose hold back amendments and modifications to torpedo the inf treaty. they're ultimately unsuccessful, and i think part of that was strategy. right. i think they were trying to show the president we might not be able to defeat you this time, but you better not go for any more reductions, because we'll adamantly oppose them.
with the exception of vice president george bush, every gop hopeful opposed the treaty, many of them running to the right, actually, in 1988 of reagan. and jack kemp our good friend over on the left with the football because he's a former quarterback, blasts the proposal during a speech at the heritage foundation labeling reagan's treaty as a nuclear munich, pretty harsh rhetoric. here's some wonderful, wonderful quotes from our good friends who are sort of in the new right, our social conservative friends. howard philips exclaimed ronald reagan is a very weak man with a strong wife and a strong staff and added reagan was a useful idiot for soviet propaganda. richard vigry another new right activist, a direct mail guy, asserted that reagan is now in aligned with his former adversaries, the liberals and the soviets. we feel alienated, abandoned and rejected and exclaimed it'll be a splitting of the blanket,
conservatives will file for divorce and never reconcile again. didn't turn out to be the case. paul wirerich another activist, labeled reagan a weakened president, weakened in spirit and clout and not able to make decisions about gorbachev. and so conservative outrage, conservative criticism of the inf treaty was pretty much uniform. it's across the ideological spectrum of reagan's inf treaty. ultimately the inf treaty gets passed overwhelmingly in the senate and ultimately reduces the soviet and american stockpiles by about 5%, okay. which doesn't sound like that much, but this is the first time in the cold war that we've reduced nuclear weapons. a major, major achievement setting the united states and the soviet union on a path towards other treaties such as stark. the inf treaty was one of reagan's principle foreign policy achievements. i would say it's the principle
foreign policy achievement. but in order to get that agreement with the soviet union, he had to ignore his harshest critics, who were conservatives. he had to ignore them. he had to ignore their complaints and go his own way. gorbachev, schultz and reagan all in their memoirs credit inf and that treaty and the relationship reagan built with gorbachev for enabling a peaceful end to the cold war. they said this was key for setting the stage for the end of the cold war. this is probably the best quote in the entire powerpoint courtesy of george will. writing in "newsweek" near the end of president reagan's second term, george will lamented how wildly wrong reagan is about what is happening in moscow. reagan has accelerated the moral disarmament of the west, actual disarmament will follow and by elevating wishful thinking to the status of political
philosophy. we'll exclaim december 8th, the day the inf treaty was signed, will be remembered as the day the cold war was lost. that one didn't hold up very well, george. but nonetheless by the time reagan leaves office many conservatives are looking at one another and they're writing and saying what did we achieve? what did we achieve? we got tax cuts, got tax reform but did we fundamentally change the trajectory of the united states? and many of them conclude, no, we didn't succeed in this endeavor. and not only that, george h.w. bush is about to be elected president and that's only going to further, right, sort of frustrate them because many of them are going to be shown the door in the bush white house. and so there's this sort of belief that, you know, they haven't really achieved what they setout to achieve. they haven't transformed the country in the same way that fdr had, say, in the 1930s.
i want to pivot now to show you a little bit about -- i don't have a ton of time, but to show you a little bit about how reagan wanted to frame his own legacy. because it is also very different from what conservatives claim the reagan legacy should be today. let's take a look at how go ronald reagan think about his own foreign cold war legacy and what does that mean? in order to sort of -- in this part of the book, i actually went to the ronald reagan library museum and i studied the exhibits. reagan actually worked with the archivists to create the museum. exhibits. he wrote the text. a lot is taken from his diary and memoirs. but he played an active role in putting together the museum. i also draw from his autobiography and public speeches at the time. let's take a look at how reagan wanted to form his own cold war foreign policy legacy.
so in november 1990, reagan gives his brotherhood of man speech, which, of course, happens after the fall of the berlin wall. he's standing at sections of the berlin wall. in discussing that, reagan credited, quote, the brave men and women on both sides of the iron curtain who devoted their lives and sometimes sacrificed them so that we might inhabit a world without barriers. and so he gives credit to the people on the ground in eastern europe for rising up and resisting communism and oppression. he also gives margaret thatcher, helmut kohl and mikhail gorbachev for their role in enabling human freedom to emerge. reagan told his audience, he wasn't sure if gorbachev had listened to him when he said, mr. gorbachev, tear down this wall. he wasn't sure if gorbachev listened to him, but he nor the rulers of eastern europe could ignore the much louder chants of demonstrators in the streets and
in the churches and the schools and factories and on the farms, a once silent people found their voice and with it a battering ram to knock down walls, real and imagined. because of them, the political map of europe has been rewritten. what about the museum? well, if you go to the reagan museum, which i highly recommend, i think it's wonderful. i've been to many of them, i think the reagan museum is exceptional. when you go there, you come upon -- you get to a large foreign policy section, and once you get through it, there are these doors, as you can see here from my amateur photography, and as you look through it, this big sort of video playing of reagan and gorbachev and what they did to basically bring about an end to the cold war through peaceful negotiations, and there are exhibits all around the room that sort of talk about how did this end? why did the cold war end? and all of those exhibits emphasize reagan working with gorbachev. reagan talking with gorbachev. negotiating.
doing what they could to try and develop the trust that would ultimately lead to disarmament, right, and a new detente that would actually bring lasting peace. by the way, the iran contra exhibit is right here, just conveniently located. where like you might miss it -- i'm not saying it's put there strategically, but you might just miss it as you're on your way to see the statute and film. it's actually a well-done exhibit. i'm not criticizing the exhibit itself, it just happens to be right there where you just might walk past it. reagan on the end of the cold war, right? president reagan never, ever claimed to have won the cold war. indeed, reagan consistently gave credit to others, especially the people of eastern europe and the people of the soviet union who ultimately demanded an end to the cold war status quo, and who ultimately rejected communism. i don't want you guys to leave here and think that i don't
think ronald reagan played a positive end in the cold war. i think he contributed significantly to the end of the cold war, but the way in which he contributed is not the way in which conservatives today think he contributed to the end of the cold war. he does take credit for believing in the banking of the soviet system and for inspiring a nationalist movement such as solidarity, and for negotiating with gorbachev. i think ultimately reagan, like lincoln, should be praised not because of his rigid adherence to principles, but praised because he was willing to take new information, digest that information and strategically change how he wanted to address the situation based upon that new information. in short, i think he should be praised because he was a statesman. he wasn't rigidly idealogical. he was a pragmatic conservative who took what he could get, right? if you can get 80%, take it. get the other 20% later.
over the course of the 1990s, however, many conservatives began to claim that reagan had single handedly confronted the evil empire, demanded that the berlin wall be torn down, stuck to his principles and in so doing won the cold war. if you want to understand the myth, you should buy the book, which is available right now on pre-order from amazon.com. with that i'll go ahead and take questions. yeah. >> given what you have spoken about and correctly, ronald reagan's actual policies in the 1980s, how do conservative republicans get back to that from the trump era now? >> so the question was, if you didn't hear it, the reagan years
are very different in terms of policy than what we see now in the trump administration, especially on issues, i assume you're talking about immigration and trade? >> immigration, trade, nato? >> support of international organizations. how does the conservative movement sort of get back there. it has to happen electorally. we don't support anti-legal immigration, that's not what conservatism is. i think that's happening, right? i recently attended a meeting at the philadelphia society and there is great debate over whether or not trump's tariffs are effective, whether trump's tariffs will bring about the economic goals that he has. i think there are many conservatives who are still idealogically and principally opposed to those things. i just think they need a standard barrier. i think you may not like this answer, but i think the best thing that could happen to the conservative movement is if donald trump lost in 2020.
if you believe in sort of those principles, four more years of a trump presidency the republican party will probably move more in the direction of trump's vision, key people appointed to the state parties and what not. if you're a reagan-style republican you will have to think long and hard about what you care about, power or principles. yeah. >> i was interested in the conception of going around [ inaudible ] and giving presentations about people that either contributed to the narrative you're talking about. >> yeah. so the question is how do i respond to people who lived it in the reagan administration or people part of constructing the narrative. i've never spoken with denesh de souza. i haven't had the pleasure. i don't know what he would say. he's one of the key people that
created the narrative of his biography of reagan in the late '90s. i haven't had the pleasure of speaking with grover norquist. i requested an interview and i didn't get it. what i usually say to folks in the administration because i have spoke with some in the administration and what they usually tell me is, yeah, these people were out there, but they're just a bunch of bomb throwers, right? they didn't actually represent the grassroots, they didn't represent the people in the administration, the conservatives in the trenches doing the hard work. we supported reagan. i think they're right. there's a disconnect between the people. if you're going to be in the republican party, you have to work with the democratic house. that means you're not going to get everything that you want. i think they were right, there were significant achievements, right? some of this was just disillusionment on the part of conservative activists and whatnot. i definitely don't want you to leave here today that every single conservative right in the 1980s was always angry with the
reagan administration. the purpose of the book is to push back to the absence of that criticism, right, and to inform people about the absence of that criticism, and try to reframe reagan and his legacy along the lines of what he actually did rather than sort of what we misremembered that he did. yeah. >> i was wondering if you think maybe part of the revisions [ inaudible ] criticized on the left and sometimes unfairly, unfairly or fairly, [ inaudible ] natural response of conservatives. [ inaudible ] similar thing happened. [ inaudible ] conservatively by democrats in time in an era where the '90s was the best ever and there were great things that happened and now you wonder have they lost control of that narrative because you start to
see a greater reconciliation from their respect. >> yeah, so the question is, to what extent did conservatives create a myth of reagan because liberals and progressives basically created their own myths of reagan. i think that's part of it. i mean, the first generation of scholarship from historians was actually quite poor, and the first generation's scholarship from activists was pretty poor, as you can imagine. reagan was the actor in chief and the no nothing president and that's all been debunked by the work of martin anderson and skinner is the other author on that where they published sort of his own -- his speeches that he wrote in his own hand until he became president. he wrote all his own speeches, all his own radio stuff. he was a thinking conservative. when i get into the sources, when you go to the reagan ranch, right, a lot of his books are there and you can pull the books down or at least you can with permission, pull the books down and look inside of some of them and notice like lee edwards is
telling me, i haven't found it yet but wanted to, that reagan had a copy and underlined it and dog eared it and engaged with the text. they tried to push back against these things. you're very correct that the left has imagined and sort of created a myth of reagan that is far worse, right, than the reality, right? sort of this view that reagan was elected because of dog whistling dixie, other backlash, things like that. i think that's part of it. but i think it was a conscious decision in 1996, if you read the book, 1996 after dole was defeated to try and sort of establish, right, a common language and a common sort of history and a common set of policy prescriptions in the wake of the cold war. so as alan mentioned at the beginning, right, the cold war and anti-communism held the conservative movement together up until 1991. but after 1991, what is holding a libertarian and a social conservative together?
yeah. i mean, there's not much, right? i think conservatives consciously used the reagan legacy, and they did it really well, to try to bring all these desperate conservatives and people on the right together to keep them in the party, if you will. right. i think it was largely successful until around 2016. do you have a question in the back, still? >> [ inaudible ]. >> sounds great. thank you guys so much. [ applause ] weeknights this month, we're featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what's available every weekend on c-span3. tonight american history tv and washington journal look back 75 years to one of the cold war's most iconic speeches. fulton, missouri's westminster college invited winston churchill to speak on march 6, 1946.
not long after, the british prime minister who guided england through world war ii was voted out of office. towns people welcomed churchill and harry truman with a parade, they gathered in a gym to harry winston churchill talk about how an iron curtain has descended across the continent. we talk with timothy riley, museum director and chief curator. watch tonight starting at 8:00 eastern and enjoy american history tv every weekend on c-span3. next, on the presidency. ronald reagan gives his first press conference nine days after taking the oath of office on january 20th, 1981. questions about the recently resolved iranian hostage crisis and its aftermath dominated a discussion that ranged from domestic affairs to the new administration's foreign policy priorities. president reagan met with the press in the old executive office building next door to the white house. th