Judge Bill Clark (right) served as President Ronald Reagan’s national security advisor for just under two years, from January 1982 to October 1983. These crucial years marked the foundational period in Reagan’s Cold War policy. During this window, Reagan began to implement his strategy for confronting the Soviet Union and bringing it to a point of negotiations and collapse. Reagan’s strategy, highly controversial at the time but now more appreciated in hindsight, depended on Clark to channel the president’s vision and translate it into doctrines and specific policies.
Clark was Reagan’s alter ego. Rejecting the prevailing conventional wisdom that the Soviet Union was stable and destined to coexist with the United States as a perpetual rival, Reagan and Clark instead saw the USSR as vulnerable and sought to exacerbate its internal contradictions. The pillars of this strategy included launching a massive arms buildup that would stress the fragile Soviet economy in a failed effort to keep pace, highlighting the Soviet Union’s illegitimacy through ideological and economic warfare and active support for political and religious dissidents, and transforming the perverse nuclear trap of mutually assured destruction. At the National Security Council, Clark developed these insights through an ambitious series of national security decision directives and implemented the strategy through new measures as varied as the National Endowment for Democracy and the Strategic Defense Initiative.
“Not long ago I had dinner with a former Reagan NSC staff member who had served under several of Reagan’s NSAs. I asked his assessment of Clark. Without hesitation came his firm response: ‘Bill Clark won the Cold War,’” Inboden writes.
“An exaggeration, perhaps, but not as much as the prevailing neglect of Clark’s legacy would have you believe.”