Hit & Run

Man, Them Russkies Were Tricky!

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I once wanted to write a thriller where a detective in the 1990s uncovers that the Russians actually won the cold war, and have secretly been running all our top institutions of government, media, and business, fooling the American people that they have been licked until they can really drop the axe on us (unless they can be stopped in time!). I could never figure out how to make the conspiracy work, and it turns out I should have just turned to Lawrence Martin of the Toronto Globe and Mail:

It was Mikhail Gorbachev, who with a sweeping democratic revolution at home and one peace initiative after another abroad, backed the Gipper into a corner, leaving him little choice -- actors don't like to be upstaged -- but to concede there was a whole new world opening up over there.

As a journalist based first in Washington, then in Moscow, I was fortunate to witness the intriguing drama from both ends.

In R.R., the Soviet leader knew he was dealing with an archetype Cold Warrior. To bring him around to "new thinking" would require a rather wondrous set of works. And so the Gorbachev charm offensive began. The first offering, in 1985, was the Kremlin's unilateral moratorium on nuclear tests. "Propaganda!" the White House declared.

And that part where Gorby cleverly threw the war in Afghanistan, made all the USSR's institutions collapse, then had himself kidnapped by hard liners so that he could come creeping back and bow out to Yeltsin while the system he'd dedicated his life to disintegrated and vanished from the face of the earth… He was just playin' us all along!

Martin's article is interesting, however, for recalling Gorby's charm offensive, which really has been airbrushed out of the record. It was a surprisingly effective effort, and Gorbachev was more charming than history (so far) has admitted. Remember Gorby's slap-happy visit to the Big Apple? Gorby popping unscheduled out of his limo to press the flesh with ordinary Americans? The Saturday Night Live sketch where the Reagans and Gorbachevs do a joint appearance and the Reagans keep getting upstaged as fawning audience members ask Gorby "Couldn't you come here and become president of our country?"

It all happened. I was there when Winston put the evidence down the memory hole.