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tv   Reagans Foreign Policy  CSPAN  September 7, 2015 8:35pm-9:01pm EDT

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>> recently american history tv was at the society for historians of american foreign realizes in arlington, virginia. we spoke with professors, authors and graduate students about their research. this interview is about 20 minutes. james gray wilson, the a author of a new book on reagan, gorbachev, but also the historian for the state department. let me ask you about that first. what is your job? >> i'm one of the number of historians at the state department led by our elite historian dr. steven randolph. we work on a project called the foreign realizes of the united states series, which is a congressionally mandated documentary record of u.s. diplomacy and daughter of foreign relations. we currently work at about 45 covering the reagan administration from everything such as the soviet union to
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central america to policy also towards south africa. and it's a very exciting project to be working on. we're hopeful to have the first volume come out later this year on the falklands crisis of 1982. >> let's talk about ronald reagan's foreign policy. we are a generation removed. kind of look back and see what worked and what didn't. your book is is based on one of the most high-profile sum mitts that took place with gorbachev in raikkonen. what was the goal? and why that location? >> the summit was going to be a nonsummit. there will be a prelude at the end of 1986 for gorbachev coming to the united states. compromised country between the east and west. we will have an informal conversation it turned into is a
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dramatic few days in which they spoke about getting involved in nuclear weapons. and the stumbling block right at the end was gorbachev's asking reagan to limit testing on sdi, something that was very dear to reagan and to the people around him. and so this encounter ended with scenes of reagan slumped over george schultz, gorbachev looking very disappointed. i think ultimately as the two sides realized what had gone on there that it should be regarded as a great break through of extreme arms control and the end of the cold war. >> we talked about reagan's mid in 1980 and one of the main reasons he wanted to run was to end the cold war. but he didn't have a plan. >> that's right. i think reagan, who is a supreme
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optimist, saw a mission of his political career, which really skyrocketed in 1964 as finding some way out of the cold war. as i try to say in the book, i don't think he had necessarily a clear idea of what to do. he had two great big aims, some day get rid of nuclear weapons. of course he had trouble reconciling the two of them. and i think it was the arrival of gorbachev and his -- their interactions that was the key moment. but trying to rationalize some of the contradictory impulses reagan had. >> 1979, president carter's national service adviser getting a call from norad thinking there
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were nuclear missiles. >> the first one was from his military adviser saying we are tracking a couple hundred soviet incoming. he said, okay, call me back in amen. a minute. he gets a call. we're not only talking a couple hundred. we're talking about a couple thousand. his response, as he tells it later on, okay. at least i know what to do here. a call comes back in a minute and the whole thing had been a computer error. that moment in november 1979 is 10 years before the wall came down in november 9th, 1989. in between those two moments something incredible handled
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very quickly that nobody expected. and i think there is a great opportunity to try to figure out the causes for this in the cold war. one of the exciting things about the conference this week is that here at schaeffer in 2015 we have at least 20 papers that are on this period of the late carter, reagan, and early bush administrations. and the big issues that were going on at the end of the cold war. >> had he had a chance to talk to former president carter in researching this or talk to ronald reagan's aides? >> i have not met president carter. i have spoken to per chin sky, poindexter. and i had a lot of interaction with jack knotlock who plays a very big role in the period of
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1983 to 1986 as the top security adviser and ambassador to the soviet were union. and it's one of the really fun parts about my job working for the state department, although the book is my own scholarship and not necessarily the official policy of the state department of the u.s. government. but one of the wonderful things working on this project is getting to encounter these people who are now retired and often have a lot of stories to say we are not necessarily captured in the official records at the time. >> can they be a lot more open? >> yes. yes. >> let me ask you about one of the most iconic moments of the reagan presidency. he travels to west berlin and says, mr. gorbachev, tear down this wall. getting beyond that important speech he delivered and how significant it was in terms of reagan's approach to the cold
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war, the fall of the berlin wall, and the demise of the soviet union. >> it is an important day, of course. there was no operational policy that flowed from it in the reagan administration. that is to say they didn't follow up by coming up with a policy for how to bring down the wall approximately and the basic tenor in reagan's conversations toward the end of his administration is maybe this is something that could happen in several decades. to give another example about the berlin wall, i met him in november that henry kissinger said to him in november of 1988 that he thought maybe -- the biggest thing that would happen on his watch would be the very gradual start of a very gradual diminution of control.
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and the wall might come down sometime in the next few decades. and of course it happens within a year. and it wasn't because reagan said tear down this wall. when it came down that night it wasn't because gorbachev gave a specific order. but i think even more important in terms of reagan's rhetoric in 1989 and the end of the cold war was what he said when he went to moscow in the supper is of 1988 when asked whether the soviet union was still an evil empire, he said he was talk building a different time, another era. and i think that that really neutralized the sort of perception of threat in the safety union when it came to the americans. and it allowed for events to proceed very quickly in the year that followed. >> when the wall fell in 1989, johnson, former chief of staff to herbert walker bush,
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basically said president bush did not want to rub in the face of mchale gorbachev. looking back, was that the right u.s. response? >> absolutely. and i think one of the things that was not so clear at the time about president bush and i have learned to appreciate is that in his role -- as vice president over two terms, he was in charge of a crisis management group. and he was often presented with scenarios of things that might go bad -- bad scenarios. it could be in the future. and i think that a lot of times one of the worst fears amongst u.s. planners was what would happen if there were a quick collapse of soviet power. would would they respond?
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and the expectations always was before with gorbachev that there would be a harsh reaction from the kremlin. so i think if you look at bush on the night of november 9th, 1989, you see somebody who is very, very cautious about saying anything. even with his body language that might be interpreted in the broadcasts in the soviet union as hostile. and i think it was very unfair the way he was portrayed i think on the floor of the house the next day, criticizing the president for not taking a victory lap. so i agree. >> let's talk about two other what you might want to call seeds to the fall of the berlin wall. the elevation of a polish pope, pope john paul ii and nick walesa in poland. >> i think both are instrumental
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figures in the cold war. there is a famous line from stalin who said the pope, how many division does he have? when pope john paul ii goes to poland at the end of the '70s, it is is a sensational moment. it is viewed by a billion people in the world. i think that he was -- he played a big role in keeping solidarity alive and keeping support for lek walensa. he debates one of the members of the government and shows what a charismatic figure he is. and i think that history will regard him as one of the giants of the 20th century. poland is a very important, confusing but relevant story in
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the early '80s. one of the scholars is greg don ver from the late '70s to early '90s. many of the things we hear about going on in ukraine, a lot of debates are very much like some of the arguments that -- political arguments and tensions perhaps between the united states and western europe. once you have a series of strikes in poland in the late '70s and the possibilities that the soviets might go in as they had done in shebg czechoslovakia in 1968. >> in this book you described the scene with gorbachev and reagan. what about the personal reaction between these two men. what was it like and how did it evolve over the eight years of
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the reagan presidency? >> it certainly evolved, i would say. the first encounter was perhaps -- i don't think it was as warm as it then came. gorbachev made a joke about reagan being in a bunch of b movies. he tried to say, well, i was in some good ones too. a wonderful moment when they 50s encounter each other. and gorbachev gets out of the car bundled up. reagan without the jacket, much older but more vigorous figure bounding down the stairs. their very first encounter, which we could watch clips of it on tv, but what gets lost so they had -- gorbachev said i hope you don't catch cold. since reagan had outrun his interpreter, he had no idea what he was hearing. so he just stood there and smiled. it is a microcosm for some of
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the initial encounters. over time, they can really saw somebody he hadn't expected. he thought gorbachev believes in god. he has a wonderful family, a beautiful and very educated wife. and he was not at all what reagan expect issed from the leader of the communist world. and he began to put that together with his confidence and strategic defense initiative for star wars. and by the second and third encounters, started to conceive of a really grand vision where the united states would build sdi, it would share it with the soviet union, and that would be sort of an insurance policy toward having a really blockbuster deal that would long-term make nuclear weapons. but the two sides would keep this defensive system in case somebody like gadhafi would get
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his hands on a palm. >> really with a series of soviet leaders from the late 1970s until gorbachev took over, didn't margaret thatcher say we could do business with this guy? >> so thatcher hosts gorbachev in december of '84 in london and she's tremendously impressed by him and famously says this is a man we can do business with. and goes and tell reagan as much. another point to this story is that -- one of the things i think that was not so well known at the time was that reagan was always reaching out to soviet leaders from the first two months in office, he wrote handwritten letters saying, you know, we need to sit down and try to find a way out of the cold war. so he always had this impulse in him to reach out to a soviet leader. but obviously gorbachev was the real break through. >> what was the cold war all
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about? >> the cold war was about three things, i think. the division of germany and europe more broadly, nuclear weapons and a real unsettable i'd logical question at the end of world war over what was the fair and most fair and most freeway of organizing society. and i think that all three of those questions were settled to some extent in the period of 1979 to 1991. they didn't go away, but there was at least an answer to, you know, how to arrest the nuclear arms race. we knew that communism doesn't work, which is not to say that free market is the answer to everything. and we see very quickly from '89
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to '91, '89 to '90, the peaceful unification of germany open europe. >> i realize you can't give your opinion, but i wonder if you can apply what you learned in researching this topic to how we deal with putin specifically or russia generally today. are there lessons that can apply to diplomats, the administrations moving ahead? >> i think that one of the lessons is as we go forward, just to keep in mind that this history, this period at the end of the cold war is much fresher in the minds of people in russia and in eastern europe that to them this is something that could have happened last week. it's very much on their minds. where people who are my age know, they were kids when the soviet union was a super power
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and they hear a lot of these things from their parents pap. and they look at a world in which the country doesn't have the same status. and that has really nothing to do with what our proper policies should be in term of ukraine and russia more broadly. i do think as we go into the presidential cycle, it's something to keep in mind. this is a very recent history in this part of the world. >> why is this an area of study for you? >> i got very interested, ale as everyone my age is, the formative events in our lives were the attacks of september 11th. i was at vasser college sitting in the library. and i think in the months after that and as we went into iraq in 2003, i really became just interested on several levels in
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trying to get at what were the situations that led to this conflict. why did i get to grow up, be a teenager and not have to worry about getting under the desk for nuclear deals. i never had to deal with this. and my parents did and i was very lucky to go through a period of the late '90s where the sense of threat at least for a brief period was not there. >> you talk about gorbachev 's adaptability, reagan's engagement in the cold war. did the men make the moment or did the moment make these two individuals? >> these two individuals and then i spent a lot of time talking about the role of schultz and george bush. >> secretary of state george
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schultz. there were clearly changes in the 19 80s, the collapse in the price of oil which had a devastating effect on the economy. there were the technological revolution, the information age. these things were all important. even more important were decisions made by individuals in power, the two most important were reagan and gorbachev . at the end of the day the individuals made the moments. >> how did gorbachev become adaptable and how did ronald reagan engage? >> i think gorbachev because of his time in the 1970s traveling to western europe and elsewhere, he saw that there were -- the promises that he was told and he believed in come
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mic communism. i think he was embarrassed by a lot of the stagnation, anti-semitism on the part of leaders in the kremlin and he was willing to try new things. so some of his slogans, common european home, to him, these were to pursue. a bit like franklin roosevelt to try anything he could do save captain tall lichl. he saw the changes happening in the world and he tried to adapt his ideology to adapt them. and reagan's engagement, from the very start, he was trying to engage the soviet leaders. it was a function of his incredible optimism, that he really believed he could sit down and talk to anyone and persuade them in the end. and he retained that confidence through the very end of his
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presidency. >> as one of the historians for the state department, is it a fun job? >> it is the best job that there is. it's a lot of fun. i learn something new every single hour of every day. >> what's your next project? >> we have -- the first foreign relations vine on the soviet union of the '80s should come out at the end of this year, 1981 to 1983. i think there's going to be a lot of interest in it. and this very week i'm trying to finish up one treaty, and i think it's an interesting story. >> james graham wilson, thanks for being with us. >> thank. you're watching american history tv, 48 hours of programming on american history every weekend on c-span 3. follow us on twitter at c-span history. for information on our schedule of youp coming programs and to keep up with the latest history
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new news. he was a nazi and he was responsible for the murder of thousands of jews. >> on qa and, jean fer teeg ga on her grandfather, the butcher of pla saw. >> you would see a tremendously cruel person, a person -- i mean he was capable. he had two dogs, and he trained them to tear human apart. i think this sums it up really good. he was a person who -- there was a pleasure that he felt when he killed people.
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and this is, yeah, something when you're normal if you tonight have this aspect in your personality, it is very, very difficult to grasp. >> sunday night at 8:00 eastern and pacific on c-span's q&a. september 2nd marked the 70th anniversary of the japanese surrender to forces ending world war ii. next, in washington, d.c., a ceremony featuring world war ii historian and author richard frank and former senator bob dole, cohosted by the national park service and the friends of the world war ii memorial. this program is about 50 minutes. thank you all for being here today to komen rate this special day at the world war ii memorial. ladies and gentlemen, please rise for the presentation of colors, the playing of the
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national anthem and the invocation.

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