Bringing Up Buckley

In his response to Jack Trotter’s essay on William F. Buckley, Jr. (“Defense of Bill Buckley,” Polemics and Exchanges, June 2020), Tom Pauken writes that Ronald Reagan as president “orchestrated an effective strategy that won the Cold War and dismantled the Soviet Empire.” This is a common misconception among both the right and the left. As a person intimately involved in Reagan’s strategy to cure the stagflation that afflicted the United States economy and to end the Cold War, I would like to correct the record.

Reagan had two goals. One was to cure the economy of the worsening Phillips curve trade-offs between inflation and employment. The other was to use this restoration of the U.S. economy to force the Soviets to the negotiating table by threatening them with an arms race. Reagan was convinced that a supply-side policy would bring an end to the malaise of the American economy, and that the Soviet economy was unfixable.

As Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy, my job was to get Reagan’s supply-side policy out of his administration so that Congress could vote on it. Later, as a member of a secret presidential committee, I was part of Reagan’s effort to assess the Central Intelligence Agency’s claim that, if challenged, the Soviets would win an arms race. The CIA’s reasoning was that as the Soviet economy was centrally planned, the Soviet government could put a far higher percentage of its economy into the military than could the U.S. Reagan disagreed and formed a secret committee to weigh the CIA’s claim. The committee concluded that the Soviet economy was broken, could not be fixed, and lacked the resources for a new arms race. The CIA opposed Reagan’s policy of ending the Cold War because the CIA’s budget and power depended on the Cold War.

Reagan told us that the purpose was to end the Cold War, not to win it. Reagan hated what he called “those godawful nuclear weapons.” His purpose was to remove the tensions that could result in nuclear war.

Reagan did not cause the Soviet collapse. The Soviet government collapsed in 1991 after Reagan was out of office. The Soviet government collapsed because hardline communists, alarmed that Mikhail Gorbachev was liberalizing too rapidly, placed him under house arrest. The coup against Gorbachev resulted in the rise of Boris Yeltsin. It was Yeltsin who allowed Washington to dismantle the Soviet Empire.

As a contributor to National Review for many years, I was a guest at Bill Buckley’s Thatcher Weekend when Buckley embraced William Kristol and the neoconservatives. With this strategic mistake Buckley destroyed the conservative movement he had worked so long to build.

—Paul Craig Roberts

Inlet Beach, Fla.


Mr. Pauken Replies:

I respect Paul Craig Roberts. He was one of the stalwarts of the Reagan administration, particularly with his work on developing the Reagan tax cut plan and getting it approved by Congress. It led to a spurt of economic growth for our private sector economy. He also has been prescient in warning about the hollowing out of our U.S. manufacturing base. 

That said, I beg to differ with his conclusion that Reagan’s purpose “was to end the Cold War, not win it.” I believe that President Reagan put a strategy in place to dismantle the Soviet Empire and entrusted CIA Director Bill Casey, National Security Advisor William Clark, and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger to execute that policy. Peter Schweizer’s 1994 book, Victory: The Reagan Administration’s Secret Strategy That Hastened the Collapse of the Soviet Union, explains how it was done. A key component of that strategy was to undermine the Soviet economy. Roger Robinson, Jr., a senior staff member of Clark’s NSC at the time, was tasked with that assignment. “More than any others, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clark won the Cold War,” Robinson told Paul Kengor and Patricia Clark Doerner in their biography, The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand (2007).

The 2016 anthology The Grand Strategy that Won the Cold War: Architecture of Triumph contains the accounts of many of those who worked on Cold War strategy in the Reagan Administration. They were involved in what the book’s introduction describes as “the coordinated use of the diplomatic, informational, military, and economic instruments of national power, and that grand strategy led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.”

I agree with Paul Craig Roberts’ statement that Reagan hated nuclear weapons and wanted to make a deal with Gorbachev to end the Cold War. But it was on our terms, not theirs.

As for Bill Buckley, I talked at length in my letter about Buckley’s fatal mistake in allowing the neoconservatives to take over his magazine—and ultimately destroy it. But, Buckley did great work leading up to Reagan’s election as president, which he helped make possible. In the end, Buckley came to regret his flirtation with the neoconservatives. By then, it was too late.

We human beings all have feet of clay, and Bill Buckley had his, too.

—Tom Pauken

Vice-Chairman of Charlemagne Institute
Port Aransas, Texas


Backfiring in Sweden

Dear Editor, Prof. Trifkovic’s piece on Sweden’s COVID-19 response, (“Monocultural Resilience,” June 2020), was premature or misinformed in regards to the results. Recent evaluation has shown that death rates are significantly higher than in surrounding countries, including Norway. The death rate is nearly six times higher in Sweden than Norway as of mid-June. The goal of herd immunity was not reached. Herd immunity in New York City is estimated to be around 20 percent; in Stockholm it is below 10 percent. Public health officials in Sweden have acknowledged the failure or at least the lack of achieving the goals hoped for.

There may be other reasons to commend Sweden’s approach, but the data on the effectiveness in responding to the COVID threat do not suggest it was a success.

—Edward Whealton

Norfolk, Va.

Prof. Trifkovic Replies:

Mr. Whealton is right regarding the numbers. My column was written in the first week of May, and the information was based on Drs. Dan Erickson’s and Artin Massihi’s April 22 press conference which subsequently went viral on the internet. Dr. Erickson, a Norwegian by birth, said that Norway (which shut things down), with a population of 5.4 million, had 7,191 confirmed cases, while Sweden (which did not), with a population of 10.4 million, had 15,322 cases.

I acknowledge that since my column was published, Sweden’s number of cases and deaths have far outpaced those in Norway. However, since Mr. Whealton does not dispute the larger point of my column, only the specific data on Sweden and Norway, I would add that within the U.S., there appear to be only statistically minor differences in the outcomes in cases and deaths between the anarcho-tyrannical Democratic Party-controlled states and the normal ones. I maintain that ethno-culturally homogenous communities at home, and diversity-free nation-states abroad, are verifiably better equipped to weather the storm.


Pennsyltucky Epistle

I read with interest and nodded in general agreement with Mark Brennan’s depiction of New York elites (“Deep North Privilege” April/May 2020), but his contrast of Deep Southerners’ devotion to kin and country with Deep Northerners’ efforts to “eradicate such retrograde thought” paints too broad a brush and neglects a vast swath of Northerners who, in their own way, show just as much, if not more, devotion to kin and country as their Southern brethren.

I was born and raised in a hotbed of “duty and obligation to kin and country,” right in the middle of central Pennsylvania or, as many of us affectionately refer to it, Pennsyltucky. I grew up in a large extended family where everyone lived within a 30-mile radius. We all got together for every cousin’s birthday party and participated in rec leagues together. When my grandparents’ home flooded, my aunts, uncles, and cousins were there to help them clean up, and one of my uncles, a professional contractor, remodeled their basement and bathroom.

After my immediate family moved to California when I was a teenager, I came back east for college. My Pennsylvania family (grandparents, uncles, and aunts) helped me move into my first apartment in Virginia. With my mother in California, her oldest sister became my East Coast mom.

Beyond blood relatives, my neighborhood in Elizabethtown felt like an extended family. One of our next-door neighbors recently joined us for a family birthday party in California, almost 30 years after we met. Another set of neighbors would bring us homemade candy. I’ll never forget when I got my Phillies cap stuck in a tree how a Elizabethtown College student I had never met walked up, stopped what she was doing, and climbed up to get it for me. Or when two of my younger cousins and I were trying to play baseball together and about half a dozen college students came by and invited us to play ball with them.

I have the deepest respect for the strong sense of familial obligation Southerners have. I spent my undergraduate years at Washington and Lee University in rural Virginia. I married a Southern woman and have experienced first-hand the importance they place on family. It reminded me of what I learned about how families, neighbors, and communities take care of each other up in the Deep North.

—Michael Leaser

Vienna, Va.

Prof. Brennan Replies:

Rigorous scholars reject anecdotes as pseudoscientific. Cognitive biases vitiate evidence. My respondent started off like Pennsylvania’s very own Ben Franklin, moved to California à la Tom Joad, and studied at Washington and Lee where, a Furman professor once told me, “Northerners go to pretend they’re Southern.” Now he has rooted himself in Vienna, Virginia, where swamp creatures pretend to be patriots.

During my seven years of graduate study at the University of Pennsylvania, I irreverently sported a red and blue hat I custom inscribed “Pennsyltucky.” Penn is the deep blue Mariana Trench in a grotesquely blue city. Insecure Deep Northerners frequently reprimanded me for wearing it; Pennsyltuckians from Cedar Run and Altoona applauded it. Many hat haters also boasted of friends who served in foreign militaries.

Sadly, Pennsyltucky may be doomed: Ben Franklin was born in Boston.