Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Anyone who thinks that Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" program is dead should read this shocking book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Fitzgerald (Fire in the Lake, etc.). The former president's "Star Wars" plan--for laser weapons and space-based missiles intended to make the U.S. invulnerable to nuclear attack--was pure science fiction, writes Fitzgerald, and she notes that no technological breakthrough has occurred that would make Clinton's modified SDI program remotely feasible. Yet the U.S. has spent $3 to $4 billion a year on "Star Wars" in almost every single year since Reagan left office (and, as Fitzgerald observes, there has been almost no public discussion on this issue for several years). Why? The answer, suggests Fitzgerald in this painstakingly detailed study, lies partly in the way "Star Wars" was sold to the American public. By her reckoning, Reagan adroitly filled the role of mythic American Everyman endowed with homespun virtues. Prodded by the Republican right, by military hardliners such as limited-nuclear-war advocate Edward Teller and by deputy national security adviser Robert McFarlane (who, ironically, intended SDI primarily as a bargaining chip with the Soviets), Reagan wholeheartedly embraced the Star Wars concept for ideological reasons; he persuaded the people of its necessity by tapping into America's "civil religion" rooted in 19th-century Protestant beliefs in American exceptionalism and a desire to make the U.S. an invulnerable sanctuary. Part Reagan biography, part political analysis of "his greatest rhetorical triumph," Fitzgerald's study offers a withering behind-the-scenes look at the Iran arms-for-hostage crisis, the Iran-Contra scandals, Reagan's sparring with Gorbachev, arms-control talks such as the Reykjavik summit (at which both leaders almost negotiated away all their nuclear arms but were stalled over SDI) and the grinding of the wheels of the military-industrial establishment. Her book is sure to trigger debate. Agent, Robert Lescher. Author tour. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review
Pulitzer Prize'winning historian and journalist FitzGerald (Cities on a Hill, 1986, etc.) mixes comprehensive detail and tart observation in this account of high-tech meeting high-touch'the promotion of the Strategic Defensive Initiative (SDI) by Ronald Reagan. The first two years of the Reagan administration were characterized by a foreign-policy paralysis, in which the amiable but remote President was unable to choose between hard-line anticommunists and pragmatists searching for an accommodation with the Soviets. By 1983 the administration had launched the largest US military buildup in peacetime history, thereby dividing NATO and igniting the nuclear-freeze movement. In that year, Reagan called on scientists to perfect a technology that would render ballistic missiles 'impotent and obsolete.' The ensuing 'Star Wars' initiative of lasers and particle-beam hardware was formally unveiled in 1985. It was, FitzGerald believes, 'Reagan's greatest triumph as an actor-storyteller,' defanging the freeze movement at one stroke and garnering congressional votes from both Democrats and Republicans despite widespread doubts as to its feasibility. FitzGerald untangles the origins of Reagan's views on SDI, sketches the ferocious Washington infighting it set off (between George Shultz, Caspar Weinberger, arms-control negotiator Paul Nitze, and others), and depicts the four groundbreaking summits it incited with Gorbachev. She disputes that SDI caused the Soviets to make the concessions that produced the INF treaty and START I, though, noting that Gorbachev dismissed the program as a military threat. Still, she credits Reagan, the most saber-rattling of postwar presidents, with enough prescience to recognize (long before many of his most devoted followers) that the Cold War had reached its end. A difficult subject, endowed with enough drama, irony, and political perception to match its importance. (Author tour)
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