Archive for March 12th, 2009

Reagan and Gorbachev

Having seen Frost and Nixon last week, I wonder how long it will be before a film is made on the two unlikely partners who created the conditions which allowed the Cold War to end peacefully.   To any film makers out there, go ahead and steal my idea for the film, I don’t need any royalties, I just want to see this as a movie!   Here is a real bear bones outline:

Opening: Series of newsclips and narratives, setting up the state of the Cold War and the context of the story — missile modernization, the freeze movement, morning in America, the European peace movement, major stories, Andropov and Chernenko, and some cultural things to set the mood of the day (Rambo, Red Dawn, music, etc.).

Section 1 (early 1985): In the US Reagan makes quips about the evil empire, there are protests, real fears of war.  Reagan’s staff is talking about winnable nuclear wars, or this era as a ‘pre-war’ rather than a ‘post-war’ era (Weinberger).

In the USSR things are different.  The economic collapse first noticed in the 70s by the KGB is becoming hard to ignore, yet sick, elderly leaders have meant stagnation when the USSR needed action.   In a meeting the bleak economic outlook is discussed, and the Politburo decides to take a chance and elect a young reformer, Mikhail Gorbachev, to replace recently deceased Konstantin Chernenko.

Section 2: (Washington), 1985.  In the White House aides watching Gorbachev on television promise glasnost and perestroika mock him as a ‘clever’ and ‘dangerous’ communist.   Reagan is silent, and watches Gorbachev closely.  “I wonder if he means it,” Reagan asks to nobody in particular.

(Moscow): Gorbachev is fighting with his generals.  “We can’t devote more money to consumer goods,” they insist, “this maniac Reagan wants to destroy us.”  Gorbachev insists that to survive, the Soviet Union must make cuts.  “Not until Reagan is tamed,” they insist.   “I must meet with Reagan soon,” Gorbachev tells his top advisors.

Section 3:  Geneva, Switzerland, November 1985. The first summit meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev.   A lot of time here, covering their conversation, the start of the relationship, everything from Gorbachev sharing scientific information about an overdue earthquake in California, to some friendly moments alongside strong disagreements.  Signs of growing mutual respect.   Cut to discussions of advisors, some skeptical of the conversation or worried that Reagan (or Gorbachev) is getting too chummy.  Satisfaction at other times, use advisor discussions to fill in context.

Section 4: (Washington), early 1986. Growing debate about Gorbachev’s reforms, and fears that the Europeans are too friendly towards him.   Concern by conservatives that some at the State Department aren’t letting “Reagan be Reagan.”  Reagan listens to some of Gorbachev’s speeches, gets updates  on reforms.  Reagan still wonders, “is he for real?”   The US side prepares for the Reykjavik summit.

(Moscow): Gorbachev is pushing reform, the bureaucrats resist.  Soviet Generals warn about SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative — the space based missile defense system proposed by Reagan in 1983), and the need to build massive amounts of missiles in order to overwhelm any SDI shield.  Skepticism that Geneva summit did any good.   Preparation for Reykjavik.

Section 5: Reykjavik Summit, October 1986. High drama as the two near a major arms agreement to virtually eliminate nuclear weapons, only to have it falter due to SDI, as Gorbachev realizes that no agreement would be acceptable to his Generals without the US abandoning its “star wars” program.  Many of Reagan’s advisors are relieved; European leaders worry that the Soviets and Americans were about to make agreements with major strategic implications, and they were not consulted.

Section 6: “Mistakes were made.” 1986-87. The Reagan administration is caught up in the Iran-Contra affair.   Scenes from both Moscow and Washington, as hearings and the scandal grow, and the Soviets try to figure out what it means for their relationship with Reagan, and how to respond.   In reverse, the Soviets deal with continuing problems in Afghanistan, while the Reagan administration discusses how it’s using Afghanistan to undermine Soviet power.

Section 7: ” Tear Down This Wall,” 1987. As negotiations continue with the Soviets, Reagan puts increased hope on Gorbachev to reform the Soviet Union.  “Better to win this one without dead bodies,” he notes.  Conservatives are angry as defense spending ceases to increase, and worry that Reagan is going soft.  Reagan chooses to pressure Gorbachev with principle, rather than with military threats or higher spending.   Reagan challenges Gorbachev over the Berlin wall.

Section 8: “Reagan is tamed.” 1987. Gorbachev argues with his generals that more money has to go to the economy, that Reagan has stopped his bombast and in fact US defense spending has flattened.  The Soviet military surprises Gorbachev with a volte-face on SDI.  “It is not a threat,” they conclude, realizing that the technology behind SDI is no where close to ready, and may never be.   This gives Gorbachev the capacity to shift spending away from the military to the increasingly ailing domestic economy.

Section 9: “Shaking Hands,” 1987. At the Washington summit in 1987 the relationship continues to develop.  Gorbachev makes headlines leaping out of his security protected car to shake hands with well wishers.  A look at US opinions on the relationship, conservative frustration with Reagan’s friendliness to Gorbachev, and the continuing Iran-Contra scandal.   Reagan and Gorbachev get closer, start to realize they are changing the world.

Section 10: “Signing the INF Treaty” 1987. — Gorbachev and Reagan sign the INF treaty in December 1987.   Arguments about whether this is wise are abundant, Reagan stares down conservative critics, believing Gorbachev can be trusted.  Gorbachev continues to push reform, even as opposition to his policies grow.

Section 11:  “The Cold War is Over,” 1988. Reagan declares the Cold War over on the Red Square at the 1988 Moscow summit.   Reagan is awed by Moscow, and the two leaders continue to cement their relationship, and talk about visions of the future.  They are starting to realize the historic role they are playing in ending one of the fiercest and most expensive arms races and international rivalries in history, and discuss it, as well as their different views on history, human nature, and freedom.

Section 12: “Governors Island,” 1988. — The last official meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev, the two reflect on what was accomplished, joined by President-elect George H.W. Bush.  Pundits and news analysts show different interpretations of the time, and reflect back to how much the world had changed since Reagan took office.

Section 13:  “1989” Out of office, Reagan watches with amazement as events change rapidly, and the Berlin wall falls.  He communicates with Gorbachev and urges restraint.  Gorbachev is under increasing pressure to clamp down, but realizes that it would be immoral, and endanger all that has been accomplished.  When the Berlin Wall becomes irrelevant on November 9, 1989, Gorbachev smiles, “There you have it, Mr. Reagan.  The wall is down.”

Epilogue – Reagan’s mind is deteriorating from Alzheimer’s disease, and a 1991 coup briefly removes Gorbachev form power.   After the coup Gorbachev’s rival Boris Yeltsin is ascendant and Gorbachev is forced to resign as the Soviet Union ceases to exist.   Reagan and Gorbachev meet, and talk about the world they inherited, and the world they are leaving behind.   One realizes they were partners, even political soul mates in this venture.


OK, that’s rough.  Add drama, dialogue, interesting historical tidbits and scenes, and I think you have a cinema hit!