Ronald Reagan was born in 1911 and served as the president of the United States in a delicate period between 1981 and 1989. It is termed as a rather delicate period as it was the climax of the cold war. During this period too, the publics confidence in the presidency and its ability to unify and inspire Americans had been shattered by the Richard Nixons tenure in office. Ronald Reagan came on to the public limelight by capturing the attention of the media as a Hollywood star. He emerged from the entertainment industry having cut for himself an insurmountable personal profile. His popularity was from the conservative wing that saw him as representing conservative traditional values.
His leadership in the workers unions and rather strong sentiments against communism plunged him into politics. His charisma played well with the public who were inspired by his calls for a free enterprise system. He ran for governor in 1966 winning with a landslide. He ran for presidential nomination in 1968 on a Republican ticket but lost, he also lost to Gerald Ford in 1976. He successfully ran for president in 1980, be coming the 40th president of the United States. His tenure in office had notable achievements in both foreign and domestic policies, though still riddled with controversies and scandals; the hall mark of his presidency was his prowess in diplomacy.
President Ronald Reagan was an avowed anti communist, his rhetorics and campaigns against communism had led to the rise in his popularity with people seeing him a president who would restore a sense of patriotism and reassert the position of the United States in the global scene. By the time be assumed office dtente was in place. Reagan exhibited rather a radical shift from his predecessors; his views on dtente and the reigning foreign policy of isolationism and appeasement were in the negative. He had an inner drive to cripple communism on the mere ground that it was repressive and immoral. His diplomacy was driven by the need to achieve this (John P. D., 2007).
The hallmark of Reagan diplomacy was in thawing the relationship with the Soviet Union through his close interaction with the then General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. This is rather ironic considering Reagan was committed to undermining the Soviets interests and influence in the world. His denouncement of dtente policy was seen as having aggravated the already sour relations with the Soviet, this however was not to be as the end would justify him. Shifting form dtente, Reagan immediately ordered a massive military build up and running any stalled military program that would have demonstrated the undeniable military might of the United States; it is the Strategic Defense Initiative Program (SDI) that would remain controversial and box the Soviet Union to a corner readying it for open diplomacy.
The Strategic Defense Initiate was a controversial project that was supposed to step up the United States military defense in its ability to defend itself against any ground or space missile attacks. The program was dubbed Star Wars and was led by Reagans belief that with such a program in place the United States would fend it self off any nuclear attacks. Russia was quite apprehensive of this program and these concerns were certainty voiced by the then Russian leader Yuri Andropov.
Before the coming of Mikhail Gorbachev into power President Reagans attitude to the USSR was rather lacking in any hint of diplomacy. His policy towards USSR and its cahoots was one of open hostility and filled with imperialistic tendencies. Many
Analysts referred to him as a warmonger. He had rather harsh words for USSR referring to it as an evil empire. A shift in policy and attitude was however witnessed as the USSR began also to shift towards the ideas of free market under Gorbachev, moves that would bring the cold war to a close. In achieving this, Reagan did not apply diplomacy solely; rather it was a multifaceted approach that included even arms building.
Reagan was optimistic that the Soviet Union would not match the United States in an all out arms race. True to his words, the economic crisis that later faced USSR impeded on its ability to compete in the race. USSR was going through a tough time in its economic backyard as a result of both its own undoing and the overbearing influence of the United States (Paul Kengor, 2006).
One outstanding fact that comes up is the willingness of Ronald Reagan to meet with the leader of an enemy faction. Many had scoffed at such as an idea but Reagan was particularly interested in meeting Gorbachev, who was coming up as more accommodating to the western values than his predecessors. He was also younger than the earlier leaders and had initiated reforms towards free enterprise to cope with the economic crisis facing the nation. Reagans strategy had been to strengthen the military so that he could have an elevated position in the diplomatic talks (Michael S., Gale W., and Lila F., 1987)
His skills emerge clearly as the talks were not held during the usual summit sessions only but also after. According to Edwin Meese, an attorney general during Reagans tenure, Reagan waited to establish a personal relationship and to break what he viewed as the barriers of mistrust that divided our countries. (http://www.heritage.org/Press/Commentary/ed061404c.cfm)
When finally Reagan and Gorbachev met, a cordial relationship was founded and would blossom signifying the start of the end of the cold war and history took a new shape. The first meeting between the two leaders came in November 1985, in Geneva; it was later to be followed by a series of meetings in Washington and Moscow. In these meetings, these two most powerful leaders then did not exhibit arrogance and bitterness rather they displayed tact and skills. What he was able to achieve silenced critics. It is Margaret Thatcher who puts his achievements in diplomacy more accurately when she said that Reagan won the cold war without firing a shot (LaFeber, Walter, 2002)
In 1987 for example, President Reagan and Gorbachev were able to negotiate their way to the destruction of all intermediate range nuclear missiles as well as agreeing on the need for inspections.
The whole diplomatic turnaround of President Ronald Reagan is though full of contradictions. He came into office on a bedrock of demonization of communism having referred to it as an evil empire discouraging any diplomatic ties between the two nations, as Michael s. et al. (1987) notes his administration could not offer to review the official cultural exchange programs, denied visa to many would be Soviet visitors and increased restrictions on the movement and activities of the Soviets it did allow to visit. This changed however in 1985 (Matlock, Jack, 2004).
One key fact that emerges in the analysis of Reagans diplomatic skills is how he had a well mapped out strategy of combining negotiations with military strength. The congress stepped up military spending; this though could not happen after 1984 as congress declined further increases halting the military buildup initiatives. Negotiations with the soviets after that become quite inevitable.
Reagans diplomatic skills stemmed from his earlier positions he held. He had refined his charismatic skills as an entertainer and media personality. He was also the president of the Screen Actors Guild and had toned up his negotiating skills especially as he sought to strike better deals for those he represented.
Carnes Lord and Helle C. (2007) in their article Public Diplomacy and the Cold War: Lessons Learnt, notes how the public diplomacy was re-invigorated under the presidency of Ronald Reagan. Prior to Reagans regime, few presidents had perfected the institutionalization of public diplomacy as an effective tool of winning the cold war. Canes and Helle note that reagan placed renewed emphasis on psychological operations and public diplomacy in tandem with his military build up.
Reagan gave impetus to the public diplomacy with an intention of publicizing the ideological flaws of the Soviet Union. Skeptics were expecting little from this strategy but it is hailed for having hastened the end of cold war. Public diplomacy according to these two scholars is the multifaceted approach of promoting a countries ideals and superior attitudes to both within its citizenry and across the borders.
In addition to personal diplomacy, Ronald Reagan had perfected the art of public diplomacy having brought together a think tank comprising of competent propagandists and foreign policy makers. He combined aptly both propaganda and diplomacy hoping to win public and international support. Reagan formed what came to be known as project truth and project democracy. This was a combination of both domestic and international policies aimed at winning the support of the citizen at the domestic level as well as at the international front.
Despite the fact that Ronald reagan is hailed for having brought diplomacy to a new level by agreeing earlier in his governor days to meet with the USSR leaders, his administration was not without a number of diplomatic breaches and scandals that would taint his established image. For example he failed to initiate diplomacy in negotiating with the air controller workers in 1968 instead he relieved them of their duties. Reagan went against his political advisors opinion and sacked all the striking workers presenting to the public another face of his administration.
His diplomatic skills also failed to see him wriggle his way out of the Iran Contra Affair. Iran Contra Affair is a scandal that involved top level government officials who oversaw the selling of weapons with an intention of funding insurgents. The International Court of Justice highly criticized Reagans administration for participating in the covert operations.
Reagan pleaded ignorance claiming that the scandal was going on without his consent. A commission was set up to investigate the ongoing. They could not find a direct link to Reagans involvement, but he was highly criticized for his hands off style of staff management. He was also criticized for his handling of the affairs and of his intention to attack other countries driven by his sheer hate for communism. The Iran-Contra Affair became the biggest scandal of the 1980s. This scandal would lead to a number of his high profile staff being charged and convicted.
President Ronald Reagan had a special interest in the countries Latin Central America not only due to its proximity but also due to the encroachment of communism in the region. This was the reason the Iran Contra Affairs scandal got there in the first place. Reagans representatives claimed that the help accorded to the insurgents was to stop the flow of weapons to the wrong hands in Nicaragua.
The handling of the Iran Contra Affair not only put Reagan on a bad spotlight but also his diplomacy team. His public diplomacy efforts were seen as aiming at misrepresenting information especially in regard to the Iran Contra Affair, with an intention of influencing the opinion of the public. Reporters and congress members were in constant attack from his diplomacy team. Carla Binion (1990) notes this team did not limit their attacks to out of step members of congress, they also attacked journalists who wrote anti contra stories
This however is how President Reagan worked, he believed in diplomacy and strength. The diplomacy that he helped built stands up to today and has helped the United States stand where it is today. His diplomatic strategies in Latin America and central Europe have been consistently followed almost three decades later.
His regime though was largely criticized for selective application of diplomacy. His administration infringed on the sovereign rights of nations especially in the third world especially those with despotic leaders and leaning towards the east.
His diplomatic tact was not seen when it came to the small and non strategic states. A bit of diplomacy was seen in some of the Latin American countries though most of them tasted the wrath of the United States military which assisted topple some of third world regimes. In spite of these flaws in his administration, his charisma and negotiating skills helped elevate his profile compared to that of those in power during the cold war era, the likes of Jimmy carter and Lyndon Johnson.
When Ronald Reagan won the presidential elections in the early 1980s not many would have thought he would make great strides in both domestic and foreign policy. By the time his tenure came into completion, he had made a name for himself mostly due to his prowess in both personal and public diplomacy. He came to power at the height of cold war.
His first move was to make it clear that his administration would not pursue Dtente and isolationism rather it would go on a military build up. With such a policy in place, the US relations with USSR became more strained. His diplomatic skills would be demonstrated when he was able to negotiate the scaling down of nuclear weapons and missiles in the historic summit meeting with the then USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev. These negotiations would put an end to a war that had been ranging on for years highlighting his diplomatic skills to the world.
Paul Kengor, 2006. The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism. New York: Regan Books, an imprint of HarperCollins publishers.
John Patrick Diggings, 2007. Ronald Reagan: Fate, Freedom, and the Making of History (New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
LaFeber, Walter, 2002. America, Russia, and the Cold War, 19451971. New York: Wiley.
Matlock, Jack, 2004. Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended. New York: Random House.