Inside the Soviet Alternate Universe: The Cold War's End and the Soviet Union's Fall Reappraised

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Inside the Soviet Alternate Universe: The Cold War's End and the Soviet Union's Fall Reappraised
By Dick Combs
Penn State University Press, 2008
384 pp. $29.95
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Analysts and actors will long disagree over the reasons the Cold War ended and even when it ended -- before the Soviet Union collapsed or only with its collapse? Combs weighs in on the side of before and argues that it ended because Mikhail Gorbachev ended it. This puts him very much with those who believe that ideas matter, and when those of Gorbachev and key members of the supporting cast no longer fit the realities they saw within either the Soviet Union or the world outside, not merely their mindsets but their whole political universe began to crumble. Combs argues, based on a long firsthand encounter with Soviet reality as a diplomat, U.S. Senate staffer, and later scholar, that Soviet leaders from Lenin on lived in an "alternate universe" whose character and content took form from the ideology they professed. He compares this "frame of meaning" to Thomas Kuhn's notion of a "scientific paradigm" governing thought in the hard sciences and suggests that, like a paradigm shift, its undoing occurred as a result of the cumulative weight of disconfirming evidence -- not, he stresses, because the pressure imposed by the Reagan administration forced the Soviet leadership to change course.