Like some contagious mental disorder, Gorbomania has struck the United States and Western Europe. In West Germany, they're selling hammer-and-sickle neckties and boxer shorts stamped "proletariat" Maggie Thatcher has succumbed to the birthmarked dictator's charms, declaring him "a bold, determined, and courageous leader" much like herself. And Ronald Reagan…well, he makes Mikhail Gorbachev sound like a paragon of tolerance, a fellow who can live "with other philosophies in other countries."
Gorbomania has hit the news media particularly hard. Oh, reporters ask the mandatory questions about emigration and Afghanistan, but their analysis reveals a consistent determination to polish the facts. Consider the following, from a presummit biography of Gorbachev published in the New York Times:
"When Mr. Gorbachev was born in 1931, the hardship of collectivization was at its worst, and the local children might have grown up hearing stories of farms being confiscated and local families deported to labor camps, of rural children starving as grain was shipped off to meet harsh procurement quotas."
The Times goes on to note that "Mr. Gorbachev has made farming a testing ground for his policy of economic decentralization"—the implication, of course, is that his reforms stem from childhood memories of oppression. Judging from the Times's own account, however, little Mikhey's family actually backed the policies that wrecked their neighbors' lives. His grandfather was chairman of one of the region's first collective farms, and his father served as a local Communist Party official.
And then there's Raisa. This Moscow girl really knocks them out. She shops with credit cards! She wears fur coats! And earrings! She must be a democrat, and a feminist to boot. And all those nasty guys back in the USSR don't like her, just because she's a woman. What a bunch of male chauvinist comrades.
But Raisa Gorbachev is no U.S.–style First Lady. She has more in common with Imelda Marcos. She's the wife of a dictator, whose stylish clothes and shopping sprees are the perquisites of power. Her husband's rivals and her fellow citizens have reason to fear her not because they haven't absorbed their Betty Friedan but because she wields power in a system where power is nearly absolute.
Gorbomania reflects a dangerous though endearing American trait: naiveté. "What will you do in America?" human rights activist Natan Sharansky asked a fellow inmate in the gulag, a swindler who hoped to emigrate to the United States.
"Some of my colleagues are already there," the man replied. "They write that America is the best place in the world for those of our profession. The Americans are good businessmen, but otherwise they're as naive as children."
Superpower summits are no place for children, and arms control negotiations represent, at best, the triumph of hope over experience. Again and again, we sign treaties and the Soviets break them. Again and again, both sides find loopholes that leave the world with more dangerous weapons. Only the Nuclear Test Ban has succeeded—largely because a nuclear test is pretty damn hard to hide.
This latest treaty looks like a reasonable deal, assuming (a big assumption) that it's obeyed. But treaties must be treated as just that—deals. Not charity giveaways, or public relations ploys. Not Christmas presents for a First Lady with visions of Peace Prizes dancing in her head.
As Sharansky's prison mate admitted, Americans do know how to make business deals: both parties benefit, but you try to do as well for your side as you can. Reagan's hang-tough strategy got him the treaty he wanted.
Unfortunately, the treaty has a loophole: The Soviets can transfer their warheads to long-range missiles aimed at the same targets in Europe. With a bit more difficulty, both technical and political, the United States can do more or less the same thing.
So it may be time for treaty number two. And therein lies the danger. Reagan has only a year to go, hardly long enough for another round of hanging tough.
Despite the current love affair with Gorbachev, Americans are worried. In a CBS/New York Times poll, 45 percent said they thought Reagan would make too many compromises with the Soviets, and only 35 percent thought he would be tough enough to protect U.S. interests. (The glasnostniks at the Times buried this nugget in the 23rd paragraph of a story headlined "Gorbachev a hit with the American public.") Whether Reagan fulfills these prophecies and rushes into a second deal, a bad one, depends largely on the political climate.
The Gorbomaniacs are right about one thing—Mikhail Gorbachev is no dummy. And he hasn't signed an arms control treaty because he's a nice guy who wanted a free trip to the States.
As Vladimir Bukovsky has written, the Soviets know that to break a wire, you have to bend it both ways. So they play hard cop/soft cop, signing a treaty here and invading a neighboring country there. Right now, the soft cop is in charge, and he's softening up the suspect pretty effectively. Unless we exchange the current cult of personality for a hardheaded approach to dealmaking, the world may be in for another Afghanistan.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Gorbomania".