]]]]]]]]]]          POOR U.S. MEMORY AIDS GORBACHEV        [[[[[[[[[[ 
                           by Louis Rukeyser             (12/20/1988)
                    (Syndicated column 12/18/1988)

               [Kindly uploaded by Freeman 07656GAED]

  NEW YORK -- The horrors of the Armenian earthquake shortened Mikhail 
S. Gorbachev's triumphant tour of New York, but the tremors of his 
American visit will reverberate into the next decade.
  From an economic perspective, the beginnings of a sensible reaction 
may be found in two earlier incidents involving communist chieftains 
seeking change.
  First, in the Nixon era, when China was initially acknowledging that 
Americans might not all be the hopeless devils long decried by 
Chairman Mao Tse-tung, Premier Chou En-lai worried aloud that it might 
take years to forgive and forget. Not at all, a U.S. journalist 
assured him: "We Americans have no memory."
  This appraisal, which may even have been intended as a compliment, 
turned out to be devastatingly accurate; Americans were soon embracing 
everything Chinese.
  And the patent eagerness of so many in this country now to take Gor-
bachev entirely at his word, to put the cold war comfortably behind us 
and to be great friends with this swell guy in Moscow, suggests that 
the American yearning for ideological nepenthe -- for a pleasurable 
feeling of international forgetfulness -- is thriving still.
  A more rational response might be found in a second incident.  It 
occurred during the last previous visit of a Soviet leader to the 
United Nations, the 1960 appearance of Nikita Khruschev -- who, 
despite his "We will bury you!" bluster, was widely described at the 
time by wishful U.S. thinkers as a marvelous improvement over Joseph 
Stalin.
  Many recall Khruschev's switch of the old cliche about putting your 
foot in your mouth.  Khruschev instead put his shoe on the table, 
pounding loudly to express displeasure with speakers who offended him.  
What is less remembered was recounted for me once by a fellow who 
happened to be speaking when Khruschev angrily banged his shoe: 
Britain's urbane Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.
  "I said, 'Could I have that translated, please?'" Macmillan recalled 
drily.
  It's not a bad line to keep in mind today.  Before we substitute our 
wishes for his deeds, it would be useful to seek a translation of 
what's really going on in the Soviet Union and what Gorbachev's entic-
ing words may really mean.
  Such a translation would quickly reveal, for example, a nation on 
the edge of financial ruin.  In the eighth decade of the great 
Marxist-Leninist experiment, few people anywhere with an IQ over 65 
would describe that experiment as anything but an unmitigated failure.
  While foreigners on every continent were discovering the joys of 
private competition and market incentives, the Soviet citizenry had to 
live not just with political repression but with an economic regimen 
of shortages and austerity, with a diet involuntarily top-heavy in 
star-ches, with the historic shame of having to import wheat into 
Mother Russia, and with housing that literally wouldn't meet the 
standards of an American prison.  Only in the resource-draining Soviet 
military is the country today truly a superpower.
  Even the much-ballyhooed perestroika has so far resulted in a sharp 
increase in inflation (unofficially nearing 10 percent) and in the 
budget deficit, which in relation to the size of the economy is nearly 
four times as large as the one that worries us so much here in 
America.
  So the military gestures made by Gorbachev translate into acts of 
desperation necessitated by economic decay that can no longer be 
ignored.  In this context, the proposal slightly to reduce what would 
still be a dramatic edge in European forces reads like something less 
than a thorough change of heart.  Moreover, many of his apparent con-
cessions were so carrefully hedged that they could easily be abrogated 
by the next Soviet leader.
  The American response should be encouraging but deeply cautious, 
economically as well as militarily.  The end of the Cold War has been 
proclaimed too often, and there is no evidence yet that Gorbachev can 
deliver even the limited gestures he has promised.  Meanwhile, the 
troops are still in Afghanistan, Soviet civil liberties are still a 
cruel joke, and the Wall still deforms Berlin.  Even with our 
notorious lack of memory, we would be wise to await a further 
translation.

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