Another lesson of Mr. Sestanovich’s book is that diplomatic engagement with U.S. enemies is a fool’s errand unless it’s aimed at achieving a deeper strategic purpose. Take Ronald Reagan’s personal diplomacy with Mikhail Gorbachev. Progressives today point to that diplomacy to defend their own concessions to U.S. adversaries. But such thinking, Mr. Sestanovich suggests, misses the essence of Reagan’s strategy.
For Reagan, the author writes, the purpose of engagement “was to get others to see issues at hand ‘though my eyes.’ Until they did so, he was not prepared to compromise America’s competitive position. (Once they did, of course, compromise became less necessary.)” Thus, while Reagan’s relationship with Mr. Gorbachev grew ever warmer, particularly in his second term, the Gipper gave up almost nothing substantive in their talks. Most issues, from the deployment of Pershing missiles in Europe to the fate of Soviet dissidents, were “resolved in exactly the same way: the Soviets folded, and the Americans prevailed.”
“Maximalist” also makes clear that the U.S. has never achieved strategic continuity. American strategy has frequently shifted, sometimes over the course of a single administration, and these disruptions have often proved beneficial to our national security. After a decade of American drift, Reagan came to office with a new formula: “We win, they lose,” the president told an aide early on. The simplicity of this one-liner masked its profundity. The Cold War was no longer something to be “managed” but a moral conflict with a zero-sum outcome. “No previous president had imagined the decisive outcome that he did,” the author writes. “Reagan proposed success.”
—Sohrab Ahmari (via InstaPundit.) Of course, there is absolutely nothing that should have prevented foreign policy realists–and I write this as a foreign policy realist–from seeing what Reagan saw in terms of what the geopolitical landscape looked like when he became president. Alas, many failed to do so.