Last week was the 35th anniversary of the storied summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, between then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, then-General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
In what initially was considered a failure when both men left without an arms agreement, Reykjavik soon became a synonym for the beginning of the end of the Cold War.
Three years later, the USSR split like a giant amoeba and Gorbachev became the last leader of the Communist colossus.
Little known is the role that Human Events, the nation’s oldest conservative news weekly played in the events of the summit of Oct. 11-12, 1986.
Founded in 1944, Human Events was the nation’s oldest conservative publication — and Reagan’s favorite, something on which biographers of the 40th president universally agree.
"I’m addicted to it," then-former President Reagan told me during a visit to his Los Angeles office in June of 1992.
A subscriber to Human Events since 1961, Reagan often turned to his favorite publication while president to address criticism from fellow conservatives that he was somehow not conservative enough. Writing in his diary of an interview with HE’s co-owner and Capitol Hill Editor Allan Ryskind on Feb. 14, 1983, Reagan concluded, "[M]aybe this will help them [conservatives] know I’m not betraying the Conservative Cause."
On Feb. 17, 1984, Reagan met with HE co-owners Ryskind and Tom Winter and editor-at-large M. Stanton Evans over an article in which the publication criticized his budget.
When Reagan walked in to the meeting, he was smiling and quipped, "Fellas, I've been reading you more but enjoying it less."
Like John Kennedy, Reagan had a particular concern about nuclear war and was worried about MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) — the Pentagon’s estimated outcome of a nuclear war with Russia that would leave 150 million Americans dead.
"The idea (or the hope) was that projected casualties on both sides would be so high that no leader would ever push the button," wrote the late Richard Reeves in his acclaimed biography "President Reagan: The Triumph of Imagination." "Reagan was intrigued by another idea a nuclear shield scheme being pushed in Human Events."
This would become the Strategic Defense Initiative — or "Star Wars" as Sen. Edward Kennedy, D.-Mass. would later dub it condescendingly — a missile defense system using existing systems and yet-to-be developed laser guns to bring down missiles from Moscow as they were being launched or in space.
When Reagan met with Gorbachev in Reykjavik, there was optimism in the air. The two had agreed upon elimination of 4,000 missiles and almost 20,000 warheads. This was nothing short of historic, as it was the first time the leaders of the U.S. and USSR had agreed on actually eliminating missiles rather than simply limiting their numbers.
"[Gorbachev] gets his precious ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] Treaty and we get all his ballistic missiles," exclaimed Reagan about the draft of the final agreement. "And after that, we get to deploy SDI."
But the man in the Kremlin saw it differently. He approved a draft in the ABM Treaty section of the final communique with a different ending: "The testing in space of all space components of anti-ballistic missile defense is prohibited, except research and testing conducted in laboratories."
In other words, no SDI for the U.S.
On this, Reagan would not compromise. In his final face-to-face meeting with Gorbachev, he said, "I can’t give in. I have a problem you don’t have. If they [the press] criticize you, they go to jail."
According to notes of the session obtained by Reeves, the President went on to say "the most outspoken critics of the Soviet Union over the years" — he mentioned his favorite paper, Human Events —"the so-called right wing, and esteemed journalists, who were the first to criticize him."
"They’re kicking my brains out," said Reagan, according to Reeves.
Because of the president’s commitment to SDI — "not an accountable request," fumed Gorbachev — Reykjavik ended without an agreement.
"It was at first perceived as a failure when [Secretary of State] George Shultz went into the press room and, in effect, said it was," Lou Cannon, then-White House correspondent for The Washington Post, recalled to Newsmax last week. "Then [U.S. arms negotiator] Max Kampelman cried."
The only bright spot of optimism came from Reagan’s old Hollywood pal and then director of the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) Charles Wick.
"Ronnie, you just ended the Cold War," Wick told him. "They admitted they can’t compete. They don’t have the money to fight the dollar."
Reagan, Reeves wrote, looked up and said, "I hope you’re right."
He was. Reagan, as Lou Cannon noted, "addressed the nation on television and told how close he and Gorbachev came to actually reducing arms." Administration spokesmen, from Shultz to White House Communications Director Pat Buchanan, fanned out to TV talk shows with the message: the two powers were so close to an agreement to reduce arms until Gorbachev killed it over the single issue of SDI.
A Wall Street Journal poll showed that public approval of Reagan’s summit performance was a resounding 71% to 16% disapproval.
Just over a year later, Reagan and Gorbachev were talking about human rights in Russia. On-site inspections, an issue left unanswered in nuclear summitry going back to the Test Ban Treaty of 1963, were agreed to. In 1991, after a string of Eastern bloc countries overthrew their Communist slave masters, the Soviet Union itself had fallen and Gorbachev was out of a job.
Although a lot of circumstances and "ifs" are contained in events leading up to the fall of the Soviet Union, it is inarguable that Ronald Reagan — and Reykjavik — were pivotal in these circumstances. And so was Reagan’s favorite publication, Human Events.
(John Gizzi was a correspondent and later political editor of Human Events from 1979-2013.)
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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