Paul Lettow, Ronald Reagan and His Quest to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (New York: Random House, 2005), 254 pp., $25.95.
Jack F. Matlock, Jr., Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended (New York: Random House, 2005), 327 pp., $27.95.
One of the many puzzles with Ronald Reagan is why so many people found such an articulate man so puzzling, or rather, why so few people listened to what this supremely eloquent man was actually saying on some of the most profound issues of his time. This conundrum is at the heart of both of these valuable books. They deal with the same issue, but from rather different perspectives. They agree that the prime roles in ending the Cold War were played by Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev; that the obsession with the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) shared by the two leaders (from contrasting standpoints) was both exaggerated and invaluable in pushing forward the peace process; and that from first to last, Reagan made no secret of his grand strategy, which never deviated in essentials, though the circumstances in which it was implemented certainly did. Why then did so many apparently well-informed people fail to appreciate what he was up to?
Ambassador Matlock has provided a distinguished example of history from the engine room. From his days at the beginning of the 1980s as the senior officer in charge of the U.S. embassy in Moscow, through three years as the National Security Council expert on European and Soviet affairs, to his appointment at the end of 1986 as ambassador to Moscow, he was at the heart of American policymaking on the Soviet Union-both a uniquely privileged observer and a participant during the critical times.