In 1976, the then-Director of Central Intelligence, George H. W. Bush, commissioned an “Experiment in Competitive Analysis.” Its purpose was to expose to critical scrutiny the assumptions and factual basis underpinning the official assessment of the totalitarian ideology that confronted America at the time: Soviet Communism. That official assessment was rooted in the belief that, through a policy of engagement known as “détente,” the United States and the USSR could not only avoid horrifically destructive conflicts, but could peacefully coexist permanently.
DCI Bush invited a group of known skeptics about détente to review the classified National Intelli- gence Estimates and other data concerning Soviet objectives, intentions and present and future military ca- pabilities. The object was to provide an informed second opinion on the U.S. policy toward the Kremlin that was, ostensibly, warranted in light of such information. The conclusions of this experimental initiative – which came to be known popularly as the “Team B” study – differed sharply from those of the Ford Administration and the intelligence community.
Team B found that the Soviet Union was, pursuant to its ideology, determined to secure the defeat of the United States and its allies and the realization of the worldwide triumph of Soviet Communism. As a re- sult Team B found that not only was détente unlikely to succeed the way the U.S. government had envisioned, but the U.S. national security posture and policies undertaken in its pursuit were exposing the nation to grave danger.
The effect of this authoritative alternative view was profound. Among others, former California Gov- ernor Ronald Reagan used the thrust of its findings to challenge détente and those in public office who sup- ported this doctrine. Drawing on the thinking of Team B with regard to national security issues, Reagan nearly defeated President Gerald Ford’s bid for reelection in the 1976 primaries. Four years later, Reagan successfully opposed President Jimmy Carter, with their disagreement over the latter’s detentist foreign and defense policies towards Moscow featuring prominently in the former’s victory.
Most importantly, as President, Ronald Reagan drew on the work of Team B as an intellectual foundation for his strategy for destroying the Soviet Union and discrediting its ideology – a feat begun during his tenure and finally accomplished, thanks to his implementation of that strategy, several years after he left of- fice.
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