(I wrote this under a pseudonym four years ago today. Another reminder of the present mess.)

Apparently the Soviets were really concerned about Ronald Reagan; I guess they believed the propaganda that the liberal US media put out about low intelligence, fanatic anti-Soviet stance, ignorance and all round crazy unreliability. In fact Reagan was quite different and maintained at least one alternate source of information as Suzanne Massie retails in this fascinating memoir. She acted as a confidante, teacher and emissary and had many meetings with him. He wanted a different view of the USSR than he got from his advisors and she gave it to him.

Of course, I knew nothing of this at the time; I sensed relations were tense but, at my low level, I wasn’t aware of how dangerous it actually was in the early 1980s. Fortunately we were in touch with a Soviet undercover agent – Oleg Gordiyevskiy – who told us how worried and nervous the Soviets were. The story that I heard later was that the Soviets feared that a planned NATO exercise around this time might be a cover for the real thing – a surprise nuclear attack (remember the Western liberal press was saying Reagan was crazy enough to nuke ‘em). I already knew that, for the Soviet war doctrine, surprise was so important an advantage, that it could not be permitted. In short, if they really thought that we were about to strike them, they would face enormous pressure to make a pre-emptive strike. When all this was understood, the exercise was greatly scaled down so as to assuage the Soviet fears. In those days Reagan and other Western leaders understood that Moscow’s point of view was important.

Going back to Massie’s memoir, “So what was different about President Reagan’s approach and what is its relevance to today? From the beginning Reagan, who was always an extremely courteous man, treated Gorbachev with respect – as an equal. He did not scold him as if he were a bad child who didn’t do his homework – but as partner with whom one could talk and work out problems.”

Let’s compare this with President Obama’s approach as revealed in his interview with The Economist last month. “We had a very productive relationship with President Medvedev. We got a lot of things done that we needed to get done.” It’s clear who the first “we” is, who’s the second? Probably the same as the first: ie Washington. Doesn’t it sound as if Obama is saying that, at long as Washington got its way, relations were good? Then there’s “But I do think it’s important to keep perspective. Russia doesn’t make anything…” Doesn’t that sound like he’s saying that Russia isn’t important enough to bother taking its point of view into account?

Quite a different approach, isn’t it? From Reagan’s respect and mutual effort to casual dismissal.

No wonder Washington’s policies are failing across the board and a Gallup poll finds the USA heads the world’s choice as the “greatest threat to peace”.