Re: President Reaganís health said to have deteriorated
RB, my point of contention comes on "willpower." There wasn't a Cold War President who didn't supply a large amount of anti-Soviet willpower. Reagan talked a great game, but there's a few reasons why tough talk and internal spending initiatives didn't add to much.
First, the Soviets had the power to obliterate all life on the planet six times over. SDI, which still isn't close to working, couldn't prevent that and the Russians needed no further arms buildup (though obviously their military efforts continued apace, particularly on the conventional side, where they had us overwhelmed).
Second, Reagan didn't really do much of anything. Invade Grenada here, sell some arms to both Iran and Iraq there, funnel money to the Contras in the backyard. We stepped foot in Lebanon briefly for no foreseeable objective other than to be there and split the second that car bomb hit. In terms of actual, in-your-face pressure Reagan didn't exactly put on the press.
Third, and Beschloss' Americentrism shines through here, there was a much bigger factor that led to Gorbachev's ascension -- the Soviet debacle in Afghanistan. It was every bit as bad for them, probably worse, than our foray into Vietnam. It created a split between the Communist party and the military (which turned out not to like sending good soldiers to die pointless deaths), it drained the USSR's already limited resources and it diverted the Politburo's attention from a larger threat. Specifically that threat was that your average Russian was getting a whole lot more information about life in the west and coming to realize how much better we had it than they did.
For that last part, Reagan's cash and flash economy worked wonders. If you were living in the Eastern Bloc excess probably looked pretty darn good to you. When Gorbachev came into power it was a remarkable confluence of events. Allegiance to the Party was at an all-time low. We forget that Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland and East Germany all tried to break from their bonds at varioius points and the determining factor in keeping them behind the Iron Curtain was the Soviet willingness to roll over dissenters with tanks. Gorbachev inherited a nation that was fragmenting itself and a military that might revolt if it was sent out to bolster another puppet nation.
Reagan's tough talk mostly made us feel good, though it did send the message that our moral opposition to what they were doing would outlast them and that had its value. Certainly you never like to be in a race and gasping for air only to see that you chief competitor looks fresh and ready to run all day. That probably affected the thinking of Russian leadership, which had to enjoy the '70s with Nixon's self-destruction and Carter's Wilsonian collapse (he saw the long-range picture quite well, but he couldn't sell it).
Important to remember that China, still run by Communists willing to crush dissension with their unfailingly loyal military, survived what looked like the worldwide collapse of Communism. We proved impotent when Tiannamen Square went down and it was the same commie-hating crowd running the show during the Bush administration as when Reagan was there. Had Afghanistan, the Information Age and a worldwide Capitalist boom not clocked the Soviets, we'd have likely seen them break out the tanks and secret police as well, and we'd have been nothing more than spectators while it happened. Just like we were with China.
Those are the thumbnail reasons why I think it's specious to assert that Reagan willed the end of the Cold War. The argument relies on believing that his will was palpable entity, which daily affected the leadership on the other side of the Iron Curtain. I give him credit for helping to create a sense of stability in this nation after what had been two fairly tumultuous decades. In retrospect, we needed the breather and Carter's mistake had been challenging a fatigued nation to keep reinventing itself.
But his foreign policy really never moved beyond rhetorical conflict. Oddly, our level of disentanglement and extreme internal focus might have helped simply because when the Eastern Bloc began to sprial we weren't in the way to stop it. Had we been massing forces on their borders or actively fomenting revolt in their nations, it might have pricked their resolve.
Baseball isn't a magic trick ... it doesn't get spoiled if you figure out how it works. - gonelong
I'm witchcrafting everybody.