The hawks in Reagan’s administration assured him he couldn’t reason with communists. One adviser, the historian Richard Pipes, told Reagan the Russian mind worked in ways fundamentally different from our own. The peasant mentality of the Russian muzhik, Pipes had written in 1977, held “that cunning and coercion alone ensured survival: one employed cunning when weak, and cunning coupled with coercion when strong. Not to use force when one had it indicated weakness.” Reagan disagreed. Ignoring the advice of hard-liners like Pipes and the neoconservative strategist Richard Perle, Reagan preferred jaw-jaw to war-war. “We must and will engage the Soviets in a dialogue as serious and constructive as possible,” he insisted in a 1984 address. ~Dan McCarthy
There is something very powerful about the idea that it is impossible to reason with an adversary, especially one as genuinely perverse as the Soviets. What is striking about this excerpt from Dan's interesting review of Diggin's book is how this episode of Reagan and Richard Pipes compares with the present administration and its acquiescence in the theories of those who embrace such works as The Arab Mind. Whether it is the muzhiki of Russia or the Arabs, you have to deal with "those people" with a firm hand (i.e., threats, weapons build-ups or military action). One is reminded of the ivory tower rationalisations of mass murder by the fictional Dr. Garrigan from The Last King of Scotland: "This is Africa. You have to meet violence with violence. Anything else, and you're dead." Neoconservatives seem to be of the mind that Dr. Garrigan's approach to problem-solving is applicable on every continent. Perhaps the good doctor would have concluded along with certain latter-day enthusiasts of the ends justifying the means that you must get your hands dirty in a good cause. But I digress.
What is especially striking is just how wrong the neoconservatives were then, and generally how wrong they have been about the Arab world as well. Indeed, so frequent and gross have their errors been that it is not entirely clear how they manage to get to advise American Presidents about anything more important than what sort of wine to have with dinner (even this they would probably get wrong out of reflexive distaste for all things European).
Nuclear disarmament treaties have been successfully concluded and the Cold War came to a peaceful end. Meanwhile, the Near Eastern Arab nations, treated to cluster bombs and invasions by the U.S. and allied states, seem even less amenable to American goals than they were before. Noticeable differences between the two administrations in which the neocons served in prominent positions appear at once: they did not always get their way under Reagan, and Reagan is regarded as a successful and widely admired President; they frequently got their way under Bush (perhaps not in every single instance, but often enough) and Bush will go down in the record as a magnificent failure who was widely loathed. Coincidence? I think not.
Had Reagan followed the reflexively "hard-line" (which is not so much hard as it is foolish) view, the Cold War might have been prolonged and might have ended with much more bloodshed. Had Bush marginalised or challenged the people offering the easy assumptions that "the only thing these people understand is force," who knows what might have resulted? As unremittingly hostile as I am to Mr. Bush, I must recognise that his Presidency did not have to become the shambles that it has. He did not have to embark on a uniformly misguided and foolish foreign policy. He had choices, and he had alternative policies he could have pursued. Some of us opposed to the neocons speak of Mr. Bush being "captured" by the neocon view, but this gives Mr. Bush too much credit--he was a willing participant in the disaster that unfolded, and he was the one who made it possible by heeding the advice of people whom Reagan wisely ignored when he deemed it necessary.
It is therefore most unfortunate that the "amiable dunce" label, which was so completely wrong for Reagan, seems to be more than a little apt for Mr. Bush, which has made him easy pickings for the "intellectuals" who surround him in his administration.