Hail the Unconquering Hero : Russia: Mikhail Gorbachev, who failed all his policy goals, is apotheosized in America. What is wrong with this picture?

<i> Vladimir Pozner, a Russian journalist and television celebrity, is based in New York. </i>

As Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachev wound up their triumphal tour of the United States last week, I marveled.

Here is a man who for years was portrayed in political cartoons with a birthmark that, depending on the artist’s imagination and the passions of the day, was rendered as a hammer and sickle, a swastika or a pool of blood. Here is a man who was reviled by the Establishment for “still being a communist,” for attempting to put down the independence movement in the Baltics through the use of force, for siding with the “hard-liners” in the Soviet Parliament.

With him was a woman who was disliked for being arrogant, cold, bossy, catty--in short, unpleasant.


Last week that very same Establishment was falling all over itself as it fawned on the Gorbachevs.

During their visit, I co-hosted an evening where the ex-president and his wife were awarded the Albert Schweitzer Leadership Medal. The grand ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria was packed with people who had paid as much as $25,000 just to be introduced to the former Soviet leader. These were, for the most part, solid Republicans who had deliriously applauded--and still applaud--Ronald Reagan’s policies. Now they gave the Gorbachevs not one, not two but three standing ovations.

I found it hard to believe my eyes--or my ears, for that matter. But, as the Russians say, those were just the buds; the flowers were still to come.

After having received the Albert Schweitzer award Gorbachev was presented with the key to the city of New York. The presenter was none other than Mayor David Dinkins. Dinkins is a Democrat, so I was hoping he just might touch on some of the devastating hardships the people of Russia are experiencing as they deal with the dramatic and traumatic events that have changed their lives. Nary a chance. Not only did the mayor ignore that subject--one that relates most directly to Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies as president--he praised the initiator of perestroika , calling him the greatest president in the history of the Soviet Union (of course, he was the only president that country ever had).

Dinkins then took a flying leap and compared Gorbachev with “the greatest of all American presidents, Abraham Lincoln.” I cringed mentally, expecting laughter, but none came. The mayor embroidered on this theme, reminding the mesmerized audience that, as Lincoln had kept his country together and thus saved it, so had Gorbachev kept the world together and saved it. The audience rose to its feet, applauding wildly, while Gorbachev stood on the stage drinking in the tribute.

This was more than a week ago, but I’m still reeling.

Let me make myself clear: Americans from Washington to Wall Street are applauding Gorbachev for what he knows are his failures, not his achievements. For those who have forgotten, some reminders:


-- On many occasions, Gorbachev stated that the Soviet system was superior to all others; however, it had been misused, somewhat akin to a fine-tuned motor fashioned to run on high-octane fuel that had been forced to run on tar. Once that was changed, said he, the system would prove itself.

-- Gorbachev repeatedly called himself a communist, a supporter of creating “a truly socialist society.” That was, he said, his goal--not the creation of a capitalist system in the Soviet Union.

-- On all the priorities Gorbachev most supported, he ranked none higher than preserving the union, the Soviet Union, at any cost. He let it be known that the one thing he would never accept, the only thing that would force him to resign, was the unraveling of the Soviet Union.

Now let’s look at the bottom line:

-- The Soviet system proved to be a disaster. The more Gorbachev attempted to “reform” it, the worse it functioned; the more he “fixed” it, the faster it broke down.

-- Far from leading his country into “true socialism,” Gorbachev led it nowhere. He unleashed forces which, once freed, took over, forces he did not prove adept at controlling.

-- The union, as we all know, was not preserved. The empire (which is what it was, and had Gorbachev acknowledged that and acted accordingly, there is an outside chance he might have succeeded in keeping it together as a confederacy), disintegrated with stunning speed, leaving in its wake a growing nationalism that thus far has been held in check, but could make Yugoslavia look like Little Lord Fauntleroy’s playroom, should it get out of hand.


In short, Mikhail Gorbachev failed in all of his main domestic policy objectives. Had he succeeded, then I believe it is fair to say that the American Establishment would hate him as passionately as it now adores him. Had he, indeed, been able to “fix” the system, establish “true socialism” and preserve the Soviet Union, the very people who cheer him today, the media that laud him, would fear and detest him.

So what we have here is a man given hero status in America because of what he failed to achieve. Say what you will, America is an interesting country.