Although Ronald Reagan referred to the Soviet Union as an "evil empire" to discredit its government, Mikhail Gorbachev's policies of glasnost and perestroika have accomplished what Reagan could not.
Such are the sentiments of Kenneth L. Adelman, former director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, who spoke at Kansas University Tuesday night as part of the J.A. Vickers Sr. Memorial Lecture Series.
As director of the arms control agency from 1983-87, Adelman accompanied Reagan on arms talks with Gorbachev in both Geneva and Reykjavik, Iceland. Although Adelman referred to Gorbachev as a "transforming figure in history," he said the Soviet leader was facing rough times. Hence the title of his lecture: "This Week's Crisis for Gorbachev and What it Means for the U.S."
ADELMAN SAID one of Gorbachev's biggest crises was the lack of confidence in the Soviet government brought about by greater freedom of expression. One debate he attended in the Soviet Union dealt not with whether to believe communist doctrine, but questioned whether anybody ever really believed it.
And while some people thought Reagan's epithet for the Soviet Union was outlandish, Adelman said, "none of us could have conjured up the kind of criticisms you hear daily in the Soviet legislature today."
Adelman said another of Gorbachev's crises is economic in nature.
"He hasn't been able to deliver the goods in terms of making life better for the average citizen," said Adelman. "If Gorbachev were to face the Reaganesque question `Are you better off today than you were four years ago?', the answer would be a resounding `no.'"
Adelman said that 1,000 of the 1,200 main consumer items in the Soviet Union are either being rationed or are in short supply. He also cited figures that say 45 percent of Soviet citizens are living below the poverty level.
ADELMAN SAID that because of those and other problems, Gorbachev probably would be out of office within a couple years, or he would at least cease to promote sweeping reforms. But instead of being replaced by a harsh communist regime, said Aldeman, "a post-Gorbachev leader will be somebody who can say, `I can deliver the goods.'"
Adelman is much more optimistic about the political reforms occurring elsewhere, saying that he thinks "the countries of East Europe are going to make it in terms of being full-fledged democracies."
Aldeman said he grew up with a generation that believed "in order to have a functioning democracy, you had to have a democratic tradition. I guess I no longer believe that."
The fledgling democracies in East Europe are bound to thrive because the governing regimes will need legitimacy to survive, said Aldeman, and "free elections give the only legitimacy. When given the chance, the people almost always vote the rascals out."
THE CHANGES in East Europe mean the ideas that America's founding fathers espoused over two hundred years ago are finally being acknowledged worldwide, said Adelman.
"The countries that have tried to keep those thoughts out are the countries that are most explosive today," Adelman said. "The ideas of America free government and free enterprise caught fire and were accepted everywhere."
One member of the audience asked Adelman if he thought the instability of the Soviet Union would cause a growing tide of nationalism among its satellite republics.
Adelman said that, unfortunately, nationalism was bound to grow. However, he said, "I didn't like the stability of Europe for the last 40 years. We want people who are free, and untidiness goes along with freedom."
Adelman said that anybody who preferred East Europe's stability during the last 40 years to today's political unrest should be in jail.
"That's a very stable environment," he said.