Immediately after Secretary of State George Shultz's sit-down in Moscow with Soviet Leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, word circulated that the leader of all the Russians had given Shultz a proper dressing-down. It was said that not only had Gorbachev insulted Shultz, but he had shown himself ignorant of the American political system. With that, they all slammed their briefing books and returned to Washington, an appropriate scowl on their respective faces. Who can blame them? Gorbachev had quoted -- brace yourself -- Eisenhower.
Yes, Dwight David Eisenhower. In one of those briefings in which the identity of the government official is never revealed, it was disclosed exactly what Gorbachev had said that sent everyone into a deep and, as these things go, profound depression. He said that "extremists" in the government and the "military-industrial complex" dominate American policy and were trying to stop efforts to improve U.S.-Soviet relations.
That it appears is the sum and substance of Gorbachev's anti-American tirade, delivered, it should be added, in a gruff manner and by way of interruptions. Still, those of us who were expecting something out of the Nikita Khrushchev era -- a hammering of a desktop with a blunt shoe -- were keenly disappointed. Gorbachev did not even say anything about "Negroes in the South" to counter references to slave labor. In fact, it is hard to see exactly what he did say that was so awful and represented so profound a misreading of American politics.
Nevertheless, the effect on the administration was both swift and inexplicable. The senior official described Shultz as "disappointed but not surprised." The president, though, reacted as any real American would. Gorbachev's remarks had Reagan's "adrenalin going," the senior official said, and he warned that should Gorbachev talk that way to the president himself, Reagan would be "vigorous" right back. And then the senior official compared the middle-aged Gorbachev to the young Stalin.
Of course, words alone may not fully communicate the tone of the meeting, and it is possible that you simply had to be in the room with Gorbachev to understand why he so steamed the Americans he addressed. For surely, the words themselves are, by Soviet standards, not only fairly mild but, worse than that, fairly accurate. That line about the "military-industrial complex" was coined for Eisenhower by a speech writer, Malcolm C. Moos, and used by the president in his 1961 farewell address. The good general was not the first, nor the last, to warn that the defense industry was a powerful force in its own right -- capable of creating policy if only to sustain profits.
As for "extremists" in the government, once again Gorbachev is in the general vicinity of the target. It's hard to know what to call Richard Perle, the extremely influential assistant secretary of defense. Perle is already on record as saying that with the possible exception of the Rush-Bagot treaty of 1817 limiting Canadian and U.S. armaments on the Great Lakes, he can't think of another that's worth the paper it's written on. Perle is not only the No. 1 arms control adviser to Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger; he also repesents an important school of thought within the Reagan administration.
It is not necessary to defend Gorbachev's statement, manners or, for that matter, his probably slim understanding of America to appreciate, nevertheless, how he might have come by his views. The administration speaks with two voices when it comes to arms control. One can rightfully be called extremist -- so hostile to the Soviets that it rejects the very notion that an arms control agreement with them is anything more than a sucker's game. The other, while more reasonable, seems in perpetual disarray, both clumsy and amateurish in its dealings with the Soviets and, as with National Security Adviser Robn of the ABM treaty, likely to reverse course on a dime.
It is not nice to interrupt, and surely Gorbachev knew what he was doing when he did so. But, on the other hand, the real-life equivalent of sticks and stones (MIRVs can really break your bones) are what matters and not names like "extremist." Given some standard Soviet exaggeration, Gorbachev mirrored what U.S. policy looks like to him. Take a good look. It won't look all that different to you.