Along with Franklin Roosevelt,” writes William Inboden in his new biography, “Ronald Reagan was one of the two most consequential presidents of the twentieth century.” An accomplished historian at the University of Texas at Austin, Inboden examines in The Peacemaker: Ronald Reagan, the Cold War, and the World on the Brink the sweep of events that enveloped the 1980s, concluding that, “just as Roosevelt rightly is regarded as the architect of American strategy in World War II, Reagan oversaw the American strategy for the successful end of the Cold War. He brought the Soviet Union to the brink of a negotiated surrender.”

That expression—“negotiated surrender”—is apt. Reagan armed with the intent to negotiate. As he told Pope John Paul II’s representative in December 1981: “[We] could threaten the Soviets with our ability to outbuild them, which the Soviets knew we could do if we chose. Once we had established this, we could invite the Soviets to join us in lowering the level of weapons on both sides.”

Reagan also armed to defeat the Soviet Union, not just to contain it. His goal for the United States, as he told his future national security adviser Richard Allen in 1977, was simple: “We win, they lose.” But winning required neither a crushing military victory nor a preening triumphalism. Reagan wanted to defeat an idea, not a country.

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