The global lead­ers who helped take down com­mu­nism

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. -

More than a quar­ter of a cen­tury on, it is al­most im­pos­si­ble for those who were not of age at the time to re­call the mirac­u­lous trans­for­ma­tion that Pope John Paul II, U.S. Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan and Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatcher achieved in the his­tory of the world in the brief pe­riod from 1978 to 1982.

In 1978, as the Is­raeli writer Ephraim Kis­hon then wrote, the world seemed fated to slide un­der the proven in­com­pe­tence and bar­barism of Soviet com­mu­nism: The great na­tions of the West ap­peared in­ca­pable of de­fend­ing them­selves even in the last ex­trem­ity, let alone de­ter­ring com­mu­nist ag­gres­sion around the world. Yet within four short­years,com­mu­nismwa­son­the ter­mi­nal de­cline ev­ery­where, in­clud­ing in the Soviet Union it­self.

Thein­ter­ac­tionof­thethree­global lead­ers who were the mas­ter­minds be­hindthi­sex­traor­di­naryre­ver­sa­lof for­tune has been noted on of­ten be­fore, but never so well as by Bri­tish jour­nal­istJohnO’Sul­li­van­in­his­new book. In the in­ter­ests of full dis­clo­sureIac­knowl­edge­herethatMr.O’Sul­li­van is an old boss of mine at United Press In­ter­na­tional and re­mains a cher­ished friend.

That hav­ing been said, this is the book Mr. O’Sul­li­van was born to write. He was a se­nior pol­icy ad­vi­sor to Mrs. Thatcher dur­ing her epochal 11 years in Num­ber 10, Down­ing Street. For the past quar­ter­century,hehas­beenaleadin­gin- tel­lec­tual fig­ure in the “big tent” of Amer­i­can con­ser­vatism. For more than a decade he edited Na­tional Re­view with dis­tinc­tion. And he is also a tra­di­tional Catholic with ex­cel­lent po­lit­i­cal con­tacts in Rome.

All that ex­pe­ri­ence and ex­per­tise is ev­i­dent in this re­mark­able work. For this is far more than any ha­giog­ra­phy or even skilled but tra­di­tional his­tory of the three lead­ers. Mr. O’Sul­li­van in­stead does for the three­great­est­mod­ern­lead­er­softhe free world what Richard Ovary has done so well with Hitler and Stalin, the two dark­est fig­ures of mod­ern his­tory: He com­pares their ca­reers and brings out re­mark­able themes, par­al­lels and con­trasts in their ca­reers that have pre­vi­ously been undis­cov­ered or just over­looked.

Mr.O’Sul­li­vanis­espe­ciallystrong onun­der­stand­ingth­e­p­ro­ces­sof­gov­ern­ment, and ex­plain­ing how the great pope, pres­i­dent and prime min­is­ter learned those skills, and how im­por­tant im­ple­ment­ing them was to their achieve­ments.

At the be­gin­ning of the 1970s, he noted, all three lead­ers were “tal­ented mid­dle man­agers” in their sys­tems that were “qui­etly anx­ious about the weak­ness of their re­spec­tive in­sti­tu­tions in a drift­ing world that seemed likely to weaken them fur­ther.” Mrs. Thatcher, Mr. O’Sul­li­van ac­knowl­edges, served with­out dis­tinc­tion as ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter in the “wet,” de­featist Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment of Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Ed­ward Heath.

Car­di­nal Karol Wo­jtyla as the Car­di­nal-Arch­bishop of Cra­cow, Poland’s sec­ond city, served “in a Church that was still dom­i­nated by an Ital­ian Pope and Ital­ian cler­i­cal bu­reau­crats.” In the United States Ron­ald Rea­gan seemed even fur­ther out of the loop as the ag­ing, sec­ond-term gov­er­nor of Cal­i­for­nia, far out of step with the pre­vail­ing neo-New Deal or­tho­dox­ies es­poused by the likes of Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon and New York Gov. Nelson Rock­e­feller that then dom­i­nated the Repub­li­can Party.

How­ever, as Mr. O’Sul­li­van can­nily notes, it was the very fa­mil­iar­ity of Mrs. Thatcher and Wo­jtyla with the in­ter­nal work­ings of the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment and the Ro­man Catholic Church, es­pe­cially at their oft-ne­glected mid­dle man­age­ment lev­els, that proved cru­cial to their later ex­tra­or­di­nary suc­cess. In con­trast to so many of their pre­de­ces­sors,both­ofthemknewhow­to­press thelever­sof­powerand­work­the­bu­reau­cra­cies of their re­spec­tive in­sti­tu­tions in or­der to get things done.

It also was a skill learned out­side the bu­reau­cratic war­rens of the U.S. fed­eral gov­ern­ment by the ever-un­der­es­ti­mated Rea­gan dur­ing his eightyearsas­gov­er­no­rofCal­i­for­nia. Non-Cal­i­for­ni­ans al­most in­vari­ably fail to grasp the vast scale of that state, its im­mense state gov­ern­ment re­source­sortheover­whelm­ing­com­plex­ity of its in­sti­tu­tional struc­tures.

Thede­mand­ing­na­ture­oftheCal­i­for­nia state sys­tem gives its gov­er­nors ex­cep­tional lee­way to run the sys­tem with out­stand­ing dis­tinc­tion — as Rea­gan and now Gov. Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger­haveshown,or­with ex­cep­tional in­ep­ti­tude, as Mr. Sch­warzeneg­ger’spre­de­ces­sorGray Davis dis­played.

Mr.O’Sul­li­vanal­so­bring­shis­life­long en­gage­ment with the great po­lit­i­cal and moral is­sues of our time to this work. It is fine-tex­tured in its dis­cus­sionofthe­con­tro­ver­sies,great and small, leg­endary and forgotten, with which Rea­gan, Mrs. Thatcher and the pope had to con­tend.

The heroic par­al­lels be­tween the three lead­ers were re­mark­able and many: None of them was ever ex­pected to come to the top; each of them was shame­fully un­der­es­ti­mated for years as a re­ac­tionary joke, or fool, or both; each of them used that un­der­es­ti­ma­tion to vast ad­van­tage. Each of them was a grand­mas­ter on the global chess board; each of them ex­celled at tak­ing bold, un­prece­dented ini­tia­tives that caught their op­po­nents com­pletely by sur­prise.

TheSovi­et­sn­ev­er­recov­ered­from Rea­gan’s drive to de­velop strate­gic mis­sile de­fense, his close part­ner­ship­with­SaudiAra­bi­a­to­keep­global en­er­gyprices­low(and,in­ci­den­tally, bank­rupt the en­ergy-ex­port-de­pen­den­tSovi­ete­con­omy)orU.S.sup­port for the anti-Com­mu­nist guer­ril­las in Afghanistan.

Mrs. Thatcher’s op­po­nents never ex­pected her to hang tough against the Ir­ish Repub­li­can Army guer­ril­las in North­ern Ire­land, smash the coal min­ers union when it tried to top­ple her gov­ern­ment through an ex­tended strike to run out Bri­tain’s elec­tri­cal en­ergy gen­er­at­ing re­serves, or go to war with Ar­gentina tore­claimtheFalk­landIs­landsinthe South At­lantic.

She de­feated them all. The pope’s sup­port of the Sol­i­dar­ity work­ers’ move­mentinPoland­took­theSoviet lead­ers so much by sur­prise that they never came up with any ef­fec­tive an­swer to it while their le­git­i­macy was be­ing ir­re­vo­ca­bly eroded from within through­out Cen­tral Europe.

At a time when West­ern lead­ers are once again stum­bling in ei­ther re­solve or cre­ativ­ity in com­ing up with ef­fec­tive re­sponses to the latest gen­er­a­tion of deadly en­e­mies to the civ­i­liza­tion and val­ues of the West, Mr. O’Sul­li­van’s work is more valu­able and timely than ever. This is a great book, for lovers of free­dom to read, reread and cher­ish. It cheers the spirit and nour­ishes the soul. It also boosts the street-smarts — for none of the three lead­ers Mr. O’Sul­li­van re­counts was any­one’s fool.

Again and again, Mr. O’Sul­li­van records their ex­cep­tional shrewd­ness at avoid­ing pit­falls and max­i­miz­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties. When­ever things went wrong, as some­times they in­vari­ably will, they were all also adept at turn­ing things to their ad­van­tage: They could turn lemons into lemon­ade. Pope John Paul, Mrs. Thatcher and Pres­i­dent Rea­gan were lead­ers for the ages. In Mr. O’Sul­li­van, they have found a chron­i­cler for the ages.

Martin Si­eff is na­tional se­cu­rity correspondent for United Press In­ter­na­tional.

Pho­tos from the book cover

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