Dr. Tyrus Cobb: Reflecting on Reagan's greatness on his 100th birthday

Who can forget what Ronald Reagan accomplished in his presidency, particularly in restoring our faith in America, and in ourselves? Truly it was "Morning in America" again.

The images - his standing in front of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, demanding, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" His stirring address to the British parliament in 1982 when he charged the West to take a determined stand against communism. His constant appeals to us to help create that "shining city on the hill."

The "greatness of Ronald Reagan" is a comment we hear more often these days, as we recoil from the constant internecine warfare that passes for governance in Washington, as we mourn the passing of an America filled with optimism and hope, and as we lament the absence of leaders with a clear vision of the future.

When Reagan met with the new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, in Geneva in 1985, many doubted that he was prepared for this summit. After all, "Gorby" was the dynamic, young and globally popular new Soviet leader who took over the USSR after years of decrepit rule by aging and sick Communist Party kingpins. Not to worry - Reagan took charge of the summit discussions from the outset, never swerving from his commitment to reach an arms agreement that was fair and verifiable ("Trust, but verify," he often told Gorbachev).

The president also refused to budge from his commitment to building a strategic defense against a missile attack (SDI), reflecting his deep-felt desire to shift away from a dependence on the threat of mutual annihilation as the basis of our "security."

Reagan had a special relationship with Pope John Paul II, a partnership that accelerated, if not caused, the fall of communism in East Europe. The two agreed to support the Solidarity trade union opposition in Poland; the repressive communist government ultimately fell. That was the first rupture in the communist monolith.

He also enjoyed a special relationship and depended on trusted Allied leaders, especially Britain's Margaret Thatcher and Canada's Brian Mulroney.

By standing strong on conviction, by rallying our Allies, and by restoring the American economy, our military forces and our confidence, Reagan witnessed the realization of his major foreign policy goals. Within a year of his leaving office, the Berlin Wall did indeed come down. The two Germanys were reunited and a united Germany joined the NATO Alliance. Finally, in 1991, the Soviet Union itself collapsed, to use the Marxian phrase, "on the ash heap of history."

In his final address from the Oval Office, the president returned to the theme of the shining city on the hill he wanted us to strive for.

"My friends," he said, "We made the city freer, and we left her in good hands. All in all, not bad at all."

I would agree. Happy 100th, Mr. President!

• Dr. Tyrus W. Cobb of Reno served as director of Soviet and European Affairs and as special assistant to President Reagan.


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