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Back in January 1977 Richard V. Allen went to visit Ronald Reagan. “Dick,” Reagan told him, “my idea of American policy toward the Soviet Union is simple, and some would say simplistic. It is this: We win and they lose. What do you think of that?” Allen thought enough of the idea to scrap his own plans and help Reagan win the presidency. And this idea forms a running theme through Paul Kengor's thoroughly scholarly but highly readable account of Reagan's role in the end of the Evil Empire.
Reagan didn't do it single-handed, Kengor emphasizes. He had many comrades in arms, ranging from members of his own administration (notably Bill Clark and Bill Casey) to European leaders (Pope John Paul II, Margaret Thatcher) to brave freedom-seekers behind the Iron Curtain (Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel). He also had the partial cooperation of Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev had no intention of closing down the Soviet Empire, but he very much shared Reagan's goal of preventing nuclear war. Above all, Reagan himself would insist, he had the guidance of Divine Providence. But it was Reagan who articulated the vision, Reagan who believed it could be done.
Kengor tells this story beautifully, starting with the events he believes formed Reagan's extraordinary “can-do” attitude: the seven summers he spent as a lifeguard on the treacherous Rock River in Illinois, saving lives one by one. From the Oval Office, he had the opportunity—and took it—to save the lives and liberty of hundreds of millions.
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