Courtesy Reuters

Reagan and Gorbachev: Forty Years of Troubled Coexistence

What wise men had promised has not happened. What the damned fools predicted has actually come to pass," exclaimed Lord Melbourne during one of the British politician’s fits of exasperation over the situation in Ireland. Well, viewing the post-World War II course of Soviet-American relations, one is tempted to echo the nineteenth-century statesman’s sentiments.

To be sure, during the last phases and immediately following the war, some very sensible and knowledgeable men entertained serious animadversions concerning the U.S.S.R. and its behavior on the international scene. But in public such pessimism was usually associated with the die-hard reactionaries, ex-communists with personal grievances about the state which represented the cult that had betrayed their hopes, and those incurably sentimental about lost causes, e.g., Poland. When the guns were finally silenced, the general mood in this country was still that expressed by Walter Lippmann one year before: "Not since the unity of the ancient world was disrupted has there been so good a prospect of a settled peace."

America’s leading publicist was not overlooking difficulties and question marks concerning the Soviets’ behavior. The Polish issue could already be seen as a harbinger of potential trouble in East-West relations. Lippmann addressed this vexing problem with a mixture of realpolitik and hope; the United States, he wrote, "should recognize as valid and proper the strategic system of the Russian Orbit as including within it the states east of Germany and west of the Soviet Union." "Orbit" was of course a euphemism for "sphere of influence," a term grating to the Americans’ democratic virtue. And the hope was that this sphere of influence would be of an old-fashioned nineteenth-century kind, the leading state in the area (one felt also inhibited from calling it the "imperial power")respecting its associates’ internal autonomy. Thus the writer was impressed by the fact "that Marshal Stalin has now repeatedly affirmed the democratic principle in respect to his dealings with his neighbors within the Russian

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