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Mikhail Gorbachev

The Soviet Union had a new leader in 1985: Mikhail Gorbachev promised glasnost and perestroika (1986), which mean openness and restructuring. Partly to be able to compete more effectively with the West, the Soviets began to shrink their military spending and concentrate on long-overdue civilian improvements.

In 1987, Ronald Reagan stood in front of the Berlin Wall, which divided East and West Berlin, and said, "General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace . . . open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" Later that year, the two leaders signed the INF Treaty (1987) banning all intermediate-range nuclear weapons from Europe. Two years later, the Berlin Wall came tumbling down.

Iran-Contra and other problems

In an illegal and morally challenged international trick, Reagan administration officials later agreed (1985) to sell arms to the desperate Iranians in return for secret payments that these officials channeled to anti-Communist rebel forces in Nicaragua that Congress had officially rejected American aid to.

In making their secret deal, the Reagan administration officials weren't only helping a regime that had kidnapped Americans; they were also acting against the expressed direction of Congress. This kind of action is grounds on which Congress can impeach a president. Reagan pleaded ignorance of the plot; his Secretary of Defense and several other officials were charged with criminal behavior. An investigation found that Reagan knew or should have known about the bad deal.

Other holes appeared in the ethical shell of the administration elected with the support of the Moral Majority. Environmental Protection Agency officials resigned in disgrace after they misused staff and gave special deals to polluters. Three of Reagan's cabinet members, including the attorney general, were investigated for lying and stealing; Reagan's personal White House aide was convicted of perjury.

His last days in office were clouded by a stock market crash, but he remained sunny and optimistic. When he died in the early 21st century, his burial site was inscribed with his own words: "I know in my heart that man is good. That what is right will always eventually triumph. And there's purpose and worth to each and every life."

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