On September 26, The Institute of World Politics cosponsored an event on “John Paul II and Ronald Reagan: The Partnership that Changed the World” with the White House Writers Group, The Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute, The Institute of World Politics, the Polish National Foundation, the Ronald Reagan Institute, and Victims of Communism. The purpose of the event was to explore the dynamic of the partnership between the Pope and President, and to bring to light how their actions impacted the Cold War and ultimately left a lasting impression on the world.
IWP Founder and President John Lenczowski participated as a moderator and as a panel speaker. During the event, Dr. Lenczowski introduced Minister Piotr Naimski of Poland and moderated a panel discussion entitled “Be Not Afraid.” This panel examined the events from 1978-88 from the perspectives of Pope John Paul II, the Vatican, and people from Eastern Europe. Specifically, this panel addressed the actions and messages of dissidents in the period in response to the words of the Pope and the President, and how they helped the people persevere.
Dr. Lenczowski also participated as a panelist in the third panel, entitled “We May Never Get Another Chance Like This.” The panel also featured Steve Hayward and Amb. Paula Dobriansky and was moderated by Peter Robinson. The focus of this panel was to take a look at the period of 1978-88 again, but from the perspective of Ronald Reagan and the White House. The panel focused on the Reagan grand strategy and how it created an innovative opposition to the Soviet challenge through public diplomacy. Additionally, this panel focused on how central the Catholic Church and the Pope were to the thinking of President Reagan, Bill Clark, and others.
Dr. Lenczowski’s remarks began by addressing the situation that President Reagan had inherited: “The Soviet Union in the 1970s was on the march. It was involved in helping to bring about communist takeovers in many countries around the world.” Not only was the U.S. facing a growing threat, but the U.S. was demoralized, divided, and the USSR recognized that the U.S. was weakening. There was no question as to the weight of the global situation when Reagan took office.
Dr. Lenczowski then identified what he saw as one of the greatest material parts of the Reagan Administration’s efforts to grapple with the USSR: The Strategic Defense Initiative. In addition to this initiative, the U.S. focused on depriving the USSR of its currency earnings and on anti-Communist movements in places like South America and Afghanistan. Dr. Lenczowski noted that the USSR was also suffering from its own design, as strikes that took place in Moscow and other USSR controlled regions could not be directly linked to U.S. pressures. Dr. Lenczowski clarified that what was perhaps most important was that Reagan understood fundamentally the nature of the conflict with the USSR – “The Soviets hate us, not for what we do, but for who we are.”
Dr. Lenczowski noted that in the U.S., there was a widely held perception that the USSR was a permanent fixture and had to be accommodated; this policy addressed the symptoms of the problem and not the causes of tension. Reagan did not agree with this approach.
Dr. Lenczowski explained that Reagan’s grand strategy was to harness all instruments of power to compete in the Cold War. Central to this strategy was an emphasis on truth and Presidential speeches. It was these two things that really reached dissidents in the regions controlled by the USSR. Reagan hoped to do away with ideas of communist legitimacy and the feeling that resistance was futile. Reagan’s words gave the hope of moral witness. Though Reagan did not just put forth an anti-communist message, he offered alternatives to communism.
Dr. Lenczowski noted that the most powerful weapon in the Cold War was radio broadcasts which offered truth and alternatives to communism. While the Communist modus operandi was to isolate and crush civil disturbances, radio communication of strikes underground and in real time in places like Poland gave sense of solidarity and hope which was compounded by the efforts of the Pope.
Lastly, Dr. Lenczowski shared a few words on the dynamic of the partnership between the Pope and the President. In the Vatican, there were regular briefings by the U.S. CIA director to the Pope about nuclear balance in Europe. While there was not much direct planning together, there was a mutual respect which allowed for the pursuit of parallel goals of ridding Europe of communist influence.
Dr. Lenczowski recounted a story from Owen Smith, the Chairman of IWP’s Board of Trustees. The former Director of the CIA Bill Casey had once asked Owen Smith if he knew what a mimeograph machine was for. Upon Smith’s confirmation of being familiar with them, Casey had Smith buy fifty of them and deliver them to the Vatican, saying only that “They will know what to do with them.” Years later, Owen Smith had the opportunity to speak with Lech Wałęsa and asked if Wałęsa knew of an order of fifty mimeographs. Walesa heartily confirmed, saying that he remembered having some picked up from a Polish church.