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The Legacy of President Ronald Wilson Reagan

Updated on December 16, 2015

Greetings, please allow me to share with you a recent Political Management assignment that I submitted at George Washington University. The parameters of the assignment presented by our professor, was as follows: Professor’s Statement/Question: Choose an example of political leadership, after you make your choice please thoughtfully respond to the following:

1. Describe why you believe the example you chose is an act of principled political leadership?

2. Explain why you find this act of political leadership admirable?

3. Are there any lesson(s) that can be drawn from this act of leadership? If so, what are they?

Thus, I selected President Ronald Reagan’s monumental role in ending the Cold War:

  1. Describe why you believe the example you chose is an act of principled political leadership.

The seeds of division that separates the United States and Russia were planted while America and the then USSR were “allies” of necessity during WWII. The result of such mistrust and contempt led to roughly 45 years of the USA versus USSR fighting an ideological war for the hearts and minds of the citizens of the planet Earth. The subsequent years following WWII found the United States and the Soviet Union waging a subtle war featuring the stealth and guile that is intertwined in high stakes international espionage.

Consequently, after close to forty years of “spy vs spy” verbal threats of nuclear obliteration and of the utilization of underdeveloped nations such as China, Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan as ideological “sparring” grounds; enter President Ronald Reagan. The man, who world history has documented as the American statesman who ended the Cold War. That being stated, most would agree that the pivotal moment that ushered in the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was the 1985 U.S. President Ronald Reagan and USSR General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev Summit in Geneva Switzerland. Arguably, if not for the Geneva Summit most would agree that the planet Earth may have plummeted into WWIII. (Reynolds) Fortunately, President Reagan although an ardent opponent of Communism, had the foresight to recognize that the rhetoric, bravado and “spy games” only had one outcome, war, pitting the two nuclear-armed super powers against one another in armed conflict. President Reagan was fully aware of the insanity, death and destruction that awaited mankind should such a path had been pursued.

Thus, Mr. Reagan chose to seek a place of common ground with Mr. Gorbachev, thereby displaying principled political leadership in a manner such as “Just suppose with me for a moment that an Ivan and an Anya could find themselves, say, in a waiting room or sharing a shelter from the rain or a storm with a Jim and Sally, and there was no language barrier to keep them from getting acquainted. Would they then debate the differences between their respective governments, or would they find themselves comparing notes about their children and what each other did for a living?” (President Reagan) To reiterate, President Reagan at a critical timeframe in history chose to strive for not only what was best for his fellow American citizens, he selected to let go of pride, ego and vanity and pursue the road that was best for all human beings and the future generations of mankind.

  1. Explain why you find this act of political leadership admirable.

•In particular, you should pay special attention to the elements of leadership (authenticity, 360° thinking, ethical leadership, organizational leadership, etc.) which were addressed during the six-week course.

From a perspective of authenticity, it would be difficult for one to argue that President Reagan’s proposed Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) program was not a stroke of pure genius. That being stated, regardless of all of the detractors of the program, one can ascertain that Mr. Reagan’s motives were in a place of principled political leadership as he clearly and concisely stated “What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest upon the threat of instant US retaliation to deter a Soviet attack, that we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies?” (President Reagan)

Unfortunately, budgetary constraints and concerns with what was at the time considered “far-fetched” technology to include “space- and ground-based nuclear X-ray lasers, subatomic particle beams, and computer-guided projectiles fired by electromagnetic rail guns—all under the central control of a supercomputer system” (coldwar.org) would lead to the ultimate demise of the ground-breaking program.

Nevertheless, again it would be extremely difficult to argue that President Reagan did not have the best-interest of the American people on his heart and mind when he introduced the concept of his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) program.

•How did these elements account for the leader’s success in this instance?

In this regard, President Reagan’s ethical leadership is proven as he displays his humanity and shares “The fact that neither of us likes the other's system is no reason to refuse to talk. Living in this nuclear age makes it imperative that we do talk.” (President Reagan) The aforementioned very logical and humane statement offered by Mr. Reagan, once again displayed his desire to preserve all human life on planet Earth.

  1. Are there any lesson(s) that can be drawn from this act of leadership? If so, what are they?

    President Reagan, also offered to the cause of global peace his humility and ability to work with his key advisors as he considered the counsel of “Secretary of State, George Shultz, a Washington heavyweight now persuaded Reagan to ignore the hawks' objections, and he convinced the Kremlin that America was serious about better relations.” (Reynolds) Thus, presenting a trait that all great leaders must possess, the ability to function as a member of a team.

THE CHOICES BEFORE THE ACTOR: What made the action difficult at the moment of execution?

•Stalwart opposition?

President Reagan encountered stalwart opposition regarding his Strategic Defense Initiative not only from within his own government, he also found antagonism naturally from his Cold War nemesis, the Soviet Union. Thus, verifying the potential effectiveness of the Mr. Reagan’s would be “Star Wars” program.

Thus, “the fear in Moscow was that if America's missile shield worked, the US could mount a nuclear strike on what Reagan regarded as the evil empire without fear of retaliation.” (Reynolds) Thereby, leading one to conclude the SDI program would have proved to be a positive development for America.

POLITICAL STRATEGY AND MESSAGE: How did the leader garner support for the act in question?

•Coalition building? •Solitary defiance? •Some combination of these things?

In conclusion, President Reagan realized that the success of the Geneva Summit was imperative, thus coalition building was needed to overcome internal defiance in the form of “Shultz managed to stop Weinberger going to Geneva, but Weinberger found a way to strike back. Weinberger wrote to the president advising him to make no concessions on SDI or arms control, and his letter was leaked to the press. White House aides fumed that the Defense Secretary was trying to sabotage the summit.” (Reynolds) Fortunately for the citizens of the United States and mankind as a whole, President Ronald Reagan overcame obstacles and formed the crucial alliances needed to bring the Geneva Summit into fruition successfully and for that civilized humanity owes President Ronald Reagan, a genuine American statesman, our gratitude.

References:

Reagan and Gorbachev Geneva Summit 1985, PMGT6404_Reagan and Gorbachev Geneva Summit 1985, Narrated by Professor David Reynolds

The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI): Star Wars, http://www.coldwar.org/articles/80s/SDI-StarWars.asp

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