Why the Soviet Union is history


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Cold War junkies will find affirmation, and anticommunists will get validation from Louis Sell's new book From Washington to Moscow (Duke University Press).  
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Sell retired after 27 years in the foreign service.  Sell spent most of his time at the American embassy in the Moscow and at the Soviet desk in the State Department.
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Sell recounts the last two decades of the Soviet Union and its East European client states, from the reign of Leonid Brezhnev until its disintegration under Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991.  
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Sell says that the Soviet system collapsed from internal rot.   The Soviet Union was governed by a succession of old, sick men.  The economy was burdened with excessive bureaucracy.  The military was over extended with the war in Afghanistan.
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Sell depicts President Ronald Reagan as a smart, strong leader, who knew what he wanted to do.   He tells how Reagan encouraged Saudi Arabia to increase oil production, causing a drop in world oil prices.   The Soviet Union's revenues from oil exports thereby dropped, adding strain to the Soviet economy.  
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Louis Sell
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He writes how the Reagan Administration, the American labor movement, and the Vatican supported the Solidarity movement in Poland, which led to the unraveling of the Communist system in Eastern Europe.  
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Sells recounts the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and how the Soviet leadership bungled crisis management.  He discusses the tedious arms control negotiations which led to agreements helpful to both sides.  
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In Moscow, Sell acted as liaison to Soviet dissidents.  He discusses Reagan's diplomatic efforts for human rights, which widened cracks in the Soviet system.
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Sell gives a rapidly moving account of the collapse of the Soviet client states in Eastern Europe. Particularly exciting is his telling of the disintegration of the German Democratic Republic and the opening of the Berlin Wall.
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He praises the restrained but firm leadership of President George H. W. Bush.
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Sell's writing is fresh and in most places fast paced.  He interjects his personal experiences.  He adds a bit of humor.
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He first visited the Soviet Union as part of a student summer tour.  He learned that easy money could be made by bringing currency into the Soviet Union.  
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He and a classmate were stopped by Soviet customs inspectors.   Sell and his companion thought they were in big trouble.  It turned out that they had written their birth dates on their transit papers in the American (month/date/year) rather than the European style (date/month/year).  They were required to fill out new forms.  
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Little did the customs officials know that they had stuffed currency, but I won't tell you where.