Well, this is a bold statement from Scott Walker, Republican governor of Wisconsin and presidential frontrunner…
In August 1981, after contract talks between the federal government and the union for the controllers stalled, nearly 13,000 controllers walked off the job. Just seven months into his first term, Reagan called the strike illegal and demanded they return to work. When more than 11,000 didn’t, Reagan fired them in what was an unprecedented action.
In his MSNBC interview, Walker asserted that the move was one of the most important foreign policy decisions “made in our lifetime,” showing allies and adversaries around the world “that we were serious.”
Then he added this:
“Years later, documents released from the Soviet Union showed that that exactly was the case. The Soviet Union started treating (Reagan) more seriously once he did something like that. Ideas have to have consequences.”
Foreign policy? How could firing American air traffic controllers influence relations with the Союз Советских Социалистических Республик? What, is Walker making an argument the PATCO strike influenced Korean Air 007 on 1 September 1983?
When we asked for evidence to back the claim, both the governor’s office and Walker’s campaign cited statements from a variety of people. Each essentially said the firings showed Reagan meant what he said, and that he was to be taken seriously.
Reagan special assistant Peggy Noonan wrote in her White House memoir that George Shultz, who became Reagan’s secretary state a year after the firings, had called the firings the most important foreign policy decision Reagan ever made. Joseph McCartin, the author of a book on the strike, wrote that when House Speaker Tip O’Neill, a Democrat, visited Moscow not long after the strike, “he learned that the Soviet leaders had been deeply impressed by Reagan’s actions.” And Reagan biographer Edmund Morris wrote: “Former Soviet apparatchiks will tell you that it was not his famous ‘evil empire’ speech in 1983 that convinced them he meant strategic business, so much as photographs of the leader of the air traffic controllers union being taken to jail in 1981.”
Those are perceptions of Americans, however. Walker’s claim was the Soviets treated Reagan more seriously after he fired the controllers, and that Soviet documents prove it.
But he did not provide us anything referencing Soviet documents.
And apparently there are no such documents that have been made public.
I’m detecting #2…
…not to mention:
Kevin Drum calls a spade a spade. But maybe Politifact is onto something here:
Five experts told us they had never heard of such documents. Several were incredulous at the notion.
McCartin, a Georgetown University labor history expert who wrote the book about the strike that Walker cited, said: “I am not aware of any such documents. If they did exist, I would love to see them.”
Svetlana Savranskaya, director of Russia programs at the National Security Archive at George Washington University, told us she “had to listen to the Walker interview twice, so ridiculous is the statement about the air traffic controllers. There is absolutely no evidence of this. I would love to see the released Soviet documents on this subject that he has apparently seen.”
James Graham Wilson, a historian at the U.S. State Department, also told us he was not aware of any Soviet documents showing Moscow’s internal response to the controller firings. He speculated that there could be such records, given how some Soviet experts characterized the firings.
Wilson and other authors have noted the perspective of Richard Pipes, professor emeritus of Russian studies at Harvard University. Pipes said the firings showed the Soviets that Reagan was “a man who, when aroused, will go to the limit to back up his principles.”
But even as the firings gained the attention of the Soviets, there were other U.S.-Soviet matters during 1981 that were also important. With his first budget, Reagan added $26 billion in defense spending, accelerating the placement of new tanks and warplanes, and he embarked on a modernization of the nation’s nuclear weapons. Reagan also wrote to Soviet leaders imploring them to alleviate Cold War tensions and negotiate arms reductions.
Oh, just more stupid people. The Reagan myth continues, when in reality Ronald Reagan had no clue what he was dealing with and we are lucky we are all alive.