The Who2 Blog

An Interview with Mikhail Gorbachev

Got a spare hour? Watch (or listen) to an interview with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at the LBJ Library and Museum.

Last week Mr. Gorbachev visited the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum for several events, including a long video interview. An hour-long interview sounds like a pretty hefty meal these days, and I’ll admit that my original plan was to listen to only part of it.

But Mikhail Gorbachev is a good storyteller (even through a translator), and his take on the fall of the U.S.S.R. and the roles of Presidents Reagan and Bush is an important part of Cold War history. I watched part of it and listened to the rest.

Gorbachev praises Ronald Reagan for his role in the agreements worked out to limit nuclear weapons, but he’s not interested in making President Reagan the hero of the story. In fact, he makes it sound as though they could have gone further toward disarmament, but for Reagan’s unyielding support of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). That was the crazy “Star Wars” idea about shooting down missiles from space that the U.S. spent (spends?) billions on for… well, nothing.

Gorbachev says he thinks “Reagan loved only Nancy more than SDI.”

That gets a good laugh from the audience, as does his answer to the question of how he reacted to President Reagan’s famous declaration about the Berlin Wall, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Gorbachev says that back in the Soviet Union they didn’t attach much importance to the statement, because “we were very well aware that the president had another profession, as an actor, so….”

When asked why he was able to reach agreements with both Reagan and President George Bush, Gorbachev’s not shy about claiming the credit: it was because Gorbachev kept his promises, unlike his predecessors.

Gorbachev also offers his views on the world today (he heaps praise on President Barack Obama), but it’s his opinions on the Cold War that are fascinating, especially the question of what went wrong.

He blames the United States for the “wrong assessment” as to what caused the end of the Cold War. Gorbachev thinks it was a big mistake for the United States to “declare victory,” and today’s most serious problems in world affairs are a result of U.S. unilateralism, triumphalism and an effort to build an “American empire.”

But Gorbachev likes what he sees in President Obama’s “vision.” For what that’s worth!

For more background — before you settle in for that video interview — read the Who2 biographies of Ronald Reagan, President George H.W. Bush and, of course, Mikhail Gorbachev.

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