Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said Ronald Reagan won the Cold War without firing a shot. But that victory might never have ever happened without Nancy Reagan.
Throughout Reagan’s first term, he was adamant about one thing. He did not want to just coexist with the USSR, as had all of his predecessors, but to defeat it. He said on many occasions that his plan for the Soviet Union was simple, “We Win, They Lose”. He called the Soviet Union an “evil empire.” Critics seized on those remarks to say, “Ah-ha, Reagan is a war monger. He wants war with the Soviet Union.”
But that was the furthest thing from his mind. Reagan wanted to us to win the Cold War, but not on the battlefield. He wanted to win it through economic pressure and diplomacy. But when he took office in January 1981 those goals were so ambitious they were laughable. So Reagan’s first term was devoted to fixing the U.S. economy, rebuilding our military, and restoring relations with our allies.
Once he had the United States in a position of strength, Reagan reversed gears, and pursued a policy of peace and arms reduction with the Soviet Union. Critics once again jumped on Reagan, how could he pursue peace with a nation he had just months before called an evil empire?
It took enormous courage for Reagan to ignore those critics, and Mrs. Reagan was responsible -- more than anyone else -- for urging him forward. She not only worked behind the scenes with Reagan’s inner circle of advisers to urge the change of direction, but played a major diplomatic role in bringing the Soviet Union to the negotiating table.
In September 1984, just two months before Reagan’s landslide reelection victory, the president took the first step. He invited Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko to visit the White House for a small working luncheon. It was the first time a Soviet official was publicly received at the White House, and sent a signal that Reagan would have a different approach to the USSR in his second term.
Mrs. Reagan had been privately urging the president in this direction for some time, and worked behind the scenes with White House Chief of Staff James Baker, National Security Adviser Bud McFarlane and Secretary of State George Shultz to make it happen. They arranged for Mrs. Reagan to have her own, separate role in the landmark event.
She welcomed Gromyko to the White House at a reception prior to the lunch. When she greeted Gromyko, he leaned down to her and said, “Does your husband believe in peace?”
She responded, “Yes, of course.”
Gromkyo responded, “Then whisper ‘peace’ in your husband’s ear every night.”
Without missing a beat, Mrs. Reagan replied, “I will. And I’ll also whisper it in your ear.”
Gromyko repeated the story many times over the years. It was a clear and unmistakable message coming from President’s Reagan’s closet and most influential adviser -- his wife -- that they had turned a new page in the relationship.
The rest is history. President Reagan and Soviet President Gorbachev reached historic arms control agreements. Reagan went to Moscow. Gorbachev visited the United States. They ushered in a new era of peace that had been unequalled in modern times.
Feminists today look at Nancy Reagan as an example of the old world, when women worried more about frivolous things like clothes and dinner parties.
Nancy Reagan had more to do with successfully winning the Cold War than all the generals, diplomats and politicians ever could.
Nancy Reagan may have been tiny in size, but she was a giant in stature. We have peace in the world today because that indomitable first lady took the first step.