The following article was written by Owen T. Smith, who serves as the Chairman of the Board at The Institute of World Politics.
February 6th, 2015 – Ronald Reagan’s 104th birthday will go almost unnoticed. The Reagan Ranch – Young Americans’ Foundation will have a party for him in Santa Barbara – the site of his beloved ranch. The Reagan Foundation will host a brunch and tour at the Reagan Library.
Widely recognized as one of our nation’s great Presidents, Ronald Reagan devoted his life to the defeat of Communism. From the time he served as President of the Screen Actors Guild until he left the White House as President of the United States, he fought Communism. Although he was not successful in defeating Communism, he was successful in bringing down the Soviet Union. The World assumed that bringing down the USSR would strike a blow to Communism and bring an end to the Cold War.
No one expected the USSR to morph into an expansionist Russia headed by former KGB officer Vladimir Putin. Russia’s reflective intent to disrupt world peace was seen in its invasion of Ukraine, providing the Ukrainians separatist weapons (including the missile that brought down a civilian aircraft carrying 298 people), stationing nine thousand Russian troops on the Ukrainian border, and performing surveillance flights along the U.S. coast. President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, has suggested that the United States will have to arm the Ukrainian Army. That thought gives rise to the 1980s fear of two superpowers each having nuclear capacity.
Why? Oil and gas fuel sixty-eight percent of Russia’s exports. Russia wants to ensure its access to Western Europe, the market for these exports. The Russian economy is hurting because of the precipitous drop in oil prices. Every day the Russian press is replete with stories about the failure of banks and other financial institutions. Despite the drop in oil prices, the Saudis have kept up the production of oil and gas. At $44.00 a barrel, the Saudis can pump their sweet crude oil profitably. In the early 1980s, they rode the price down to $20.00 a barrel. At those prices, it is not profitable for Russia to export oil and gas. The price of oil has dropped in part because the United States and Canada have become net exporters of oil and gas rather than relying on the world market to meet domestic needs.
The current oil market is reminiscent of the oil market during Ronald Reagan’s Presidency. When Reagan was elected in 1980, oil was over $100.00 a barrel. Early in his Presidency, a select group of Ronald Reagan’s advisors set out to bankrupt the Soviet Union by driving down the world price of oil. This group, which included Reagan’s Chief of Staff, Edwin Meese, National Security Advisor William Clark, and CIA Director William J. Casey, worked with the Saudi regime to encourage them to keep pumping oil (bringing the price down to $20.00 per barrel), effectively denying the Soviets the profits that were needed to feed the Soviet military machine and support the domestic economy.
On another front, solidarity was taking hold in Poland, providing the first crack in the Soviet network. Ronald Reagan met with worked closely with Saint John Paul II to support Solidarity. In addition, he was briefed regularly by Clark, Casey or Ambassador Vernon Walters (formerly a DCI) with raw intelligence data. Walters used to tell the story of changing the orbit of the satellite and flying the aerials to Rome in an F16 to meet the Holy Father’s interest in the aerials. During the same period, through the Vatican, the United States helped Solidarity by supplying aid in the form of communications and humanitarian assistance. The Pope’s visit to Poland, his homeland brought about the first break in the Soviet dominance over Eastern Europe.
The Soviet Union did not collapse until George Bush’s presidency. However, the collapse resulted from plans developed early in Reagan’s first term. Various planning documents developed by Reagan, together with the Meese, Clark and Casey Team have since been declassified. They demonstrate that the Soviet Union did not merely collapse. Its fall was the result of a program of concerted efforts developed under the Reagan administration.
Ronald Reagan is cited on many lists as one of the most important Presidents in United States history, joining the ranks of George Washington, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Next week we celebrate Presidents’ Day. Perhaps we may also give due recognition to Reagan’s birthday – a day to commemorate how one man changed history by bringing down the Soviet Union without firing a shot.