Praise Gorbachev - But Don't Overdo It

MIKHAIL GORBACHEV, that man without honor in his own country, has been cutting a curious swath through the world of celebrities, and politicians, and professional fund-raisers in the United States.

Back in Moscow he has no job and a tiny pension. That pension will buy very few groceries in the disastrous economy that is the legacy of Mr. Gorbachev's rule. Ask any Russian what he thinks of Gorbachev and the answer is a sniff of disdain.

But if Gorbachev may be short of a job, and praise and cash, in his own country, he need not fear. In America he is lauded and promised mega-checks for a Gorbachev Foundation that will do something grand but unspecified.

Probably the Russians are too harsh in their criticism, and the Americans too naive in their praise.

Gorbachev, after all, is the man who unveiled glasnost and perestroika in the then Soviet Union. Margaret Thatcher thought he had possibilities. Ronald Reagan liked him.

He is the man who kept the occupying Soviet military forces reined in as one after another of the East European satellites broke with Moscow in pursuit of freedom. Had he been intemperate, World War III might have been upon us.

He deserves praise for all this.

But though Gorbachev talked change and reform, he was hardly a Jeffersonian democrat.

It was Gorbachev, let us not forget, who permitted the savagery of his Russian shock-troops against the brave people of the Baltic states. Gorbachev who backpedaled on glasnost and muzzled Russian press coverage of the assault.

It was Gorbachev who pandered to his right-wing supporters, including the KGB and the military.

And if Gorbachev seems comfortable today in the corporate cloisters of capitalism, he is a very new convert. A year ago, he was seeking to reinvigorate communism and make it work better. His goal was to preserve the system created by Lenin, not abandon it.

It was Boris Yeltsin, the man Gorbachev sought to expel from politics and destroy, who foresaw that communism was discredited and had to go.

In San Francisco, and Washington, and New York, there is a simplistic view that Gorbachev somehow orchestrated the demise of the cold war. Certainly he played an important role. But many others share the credit.

It was a travesty to let Gorbachev stand in the shadow of Churchill at Fulton, Mo., as though to claim credit for ending the cold war Churchill had warned against more than 45 years earlier in his historic "Iron Curtain" speech.

Churchill, with his force and resolve, stood as the giant who had vanquished fascism.

Gorbachev is the manipulator and compromiser who accidentally brought down communism.

The cold war was won by many, particularly leaders like Mr. Reagan and Mrs. Thatcher and others who stood fast against the deployment of new Soviet nuclear weapons in Europe; who kept Western defenses strong when spending on military hardware was not universally popular; who thwarted Soviet international adventurism in such places as Afghanistan, and Africa, and Central America.

Behind them stood the majority of the people of America and other democracies who had the physical will and moral fortitude to stand up to Soviet threats.

Not least of all was the courage of the peoples of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. They longed for freedom although they had not known it for nearly half a century.

Where Gorbachev dithered in his plans for the Soviet Union, tinkering with a Marxist-Leninist system that had failed and brought misery to his people, the Andrei Sakharovs and the Lech Walensas and Vaclav Havels were clear in their commitment to democratic values and free enterprise economies. While Gorbachev was climbing the political ladder as a Communist Party functionary, they had paid for their beliefs with restriction and imprisonment.

Gorbachev is entitled to his niche in history. So are many others who helped bring the cold war to an end.

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