Ira Straus: “Richard Pipes RIP”

Lit Candle with Reflection and Dark Background

Subject: Richard Pipes RIP
Date: Fri, 18 May 2018
From: Ira Straus <>

Richard Pipes, who passed Thursday May 17, was a great scholar and thinker who served America well. He was a prophet whom we should honor today, the more so as he was not honored for it when it counted by the America he served.

In his two years at the National Security Council, 1981-3, Pipes was one of the few people, alongside President Reagan himself, who thought and talked about the possibility that Soviet Communism would come to an end. He projected a possible this-era timeframe for it, and said it could be a volatile, risky situation.

It took real courage to say that in those days. It was something that people were told they were not supposed to say. The media and progressives piled up on him for it, representing his comments, with reckless disregard for truth, as a call for nuclear war. They ran him out of the Reagan Administration.

On one level, this was a part of the campaign of personal destruction that was waged against any and all Reagan advisers, and against the President himself. Reagan had to give up several of his advisers and nominees in face of the smear campaigns against them. His enemies used their domination of the media without scruple, and in those days the media’s smears easily became the public truth, even more than today when there is an internet and a Fox News for getting correctives to a significant minority of the public. Reagan had courage, and part of that courage was he knew he would have to make cruel sacrifices to keep his Administration afloat. Pipes was one of the sacrificial victims.

On another level, it reflected the visceral defensiveness of progressives about Communism and the Soviet Union. It as a part of their narrative to demand that everyone must respect the USSR as a permanent reality. The remarks of Pipes and Reagan – the straightforward observation that Communism could end and was probably doomed to end – hit them with shock, as a violation of one of their most primal social taboos. It was also a threat to their global strategic chessboard, one on which the Soviet Communists served as a big bad cop Left, which Western progressives could playing off against as a good cop that America would have to give in to more often if it didn’t want more people to go over to the bad cop. That was a deep, genuine, chronic collusion, and Pipes and Reagan were putting it in doubt. But above all, the remarks were attacked because it was a settled part of their group social policing mechanisms to attack people for being “an anti-Communist”. That was a phrase they uttered with a sneer, as a mark of moral and intellectual inferiority. It was one of the worst of their terms of deplorement, a major part of the 1980s version of today’s “basket of deplorables”. Richard Pipes fit the description well. They dumped him into their basket, deplored him without constraint, and drove him out of the government.

On a third level, it was a personal slander that had massive public consequences.

If Pipes had been treated with honesty and decency, he would have been in government a full eight years or longer. And thanks to him, the U.S. would probably have been significantly better prepared for what to do when the Soviet empire did in fact come to an end.

As it turned out, the U.S. was totally unprepared. It had barely even thought about the possibility. It lacked policy plans and options for what happend; it didn’t even have significant speculative scenarios. A whole slew of crises and opportunities leapt into view in 1989 and 1991, as if out of the blue. The government had no idea of what to make of them. Rudimentary preliminary thinking about it finally got underway in 1990 and 1991. With active planning having been done only for the Cold War, active policy focused in those years on the closing-out fights of the Cold War, which were becoming like liquidation sales, while the policy responses to the issues of building a new era remained sub-rudimentary. The period of maximum opportunity was mostly wasted.

The transition out of Communism proved a miserable experience for its people, one shown in surveys in 1992 to have already re-alienated the Russians and left a strong if lesser disillusioning mark on all the Eastern Europeans. Half the opportunities were eventually taken up, in nearer Central-Eastern Europe; the other half were left to die on the vine, and worse, morph into crises.

From the distant sidelines, to be sure, there were other who developed many of the needed scenarios and policy options. Some of them even developed policy plans, which had to stay on the plane of virtual plans, without the benefit of being in the loop.

Professor Alexander Yanov above all deserves credit in this regard. He wrote profoundly from 1978 on about the situation that would arise in the course of a transition out of Communism, projecting it as likely to take place in that generation or even (in 1984) under the next General Secretary. And he wrote courageously about the Western involvement that would be needed if it were to avoid being a bad experience. He was read in the field of Russian studies, but beyond that only in Russia itself, where he was indeed an important name in the public consciousness.

I would also credit – perhaps I am biased in this – the Association to Unite the Democracies, which from 1985 onward published scenarios that turned out accurate about the desire that would arise throughout the Soviet bloc including Russia itself for joining the EU (then EC) and NATO in the event of an ending of Communism, and the ways the EC and NATO were unprepared and needed to prepare themselves so they could give a constructive response. They didn’t prepare themselves. Jacques Delors, as head of the EC, spoke in 1989 of the need to start speeding up in face of the speed-up of history; NATO got around to thinking about it only in 1993, after the main opportunity – the opportunity for catching the long and deep pro-Western evolution in Soviet and Russian sentiment – had already passed and gone into reversal. AUD ceased writing about this in 1991, and I started forming the Committee on Eastern Europe and Russia in NATO as a better venue for that work. CEERN has been equally out of the loop, despite a brief period of 1993-4 when Pentagon offices were reading its work and passing it around.

Richard Pipes was, by contrast, in the central loop of the government, if only briefly. And, to the extent possible under an ideologically restrictive media and academia, he was in the loop of the national discussion and the scholarly discussion. The loss of him from the government in 1983 was our national loss. The loss of his person today is a loss to all of us who had cherished hopes for better, and to all who had known him and learned from him.