Prepare to see a lot of clips in the coming days of Ronald Reagan declaring, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” The 20th anniversary of the Berlin wall’s fall is days away, and in our collective memory, Reagan brought it down with sheer bravado. But that’s misremembering, writes James Mann, author of a book on the president and the Cold War. Reagan’s actual policies were conciliatory, diplomatic ones that conservatives hated.
Reagan met an unprecedented five times with Mikhail Gorbachev and negotiated an arms-control treaty with him. One conservative leader called him a “useful idiot for Soviet propaganda.” The most important part of Reagan’s Brandenburg declaration was the address to “Mr. Gorbachev.” The East Germans officially controlled the wall, and Reagan was telling him, essentially, to stop supporting them. When East Germans rushed the wall 5 months later, Gorbachev did nothing, and “Reagan’s diplomacy had quite a bit to do with that.”