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Much ink has been spilled by scholars, journalists, and former government officials from both the United States and the Soviet Union in efforts to explain how the Cold War came to an end and the Soviet system collapsed. Yet little consensus has emerged regarding these historic events. In this unique contribution to the debate, Dick Combs brings his many years of experience as an academic researcher, policy analyst, and government insider to bear on these questions and finds the answer primarily in the destabilizing impact of Mikhail Gorbachev’s effort to modernize the Kremlin’s Stalinist mind-set.
Part I of the book sets the stage by affording the reader an “existential feel for the reality, including the psychological atmosphere, of Soviet communism” in everyday life as the author himself experienced it while serving as a young diplomat in the U.S. legation in Sofia, Bulgaria, in the late 1960s and later during eight years of diplomatic service at the U.S. embassy in Moscow. Part II then builds on this direct exposure to the Soviet mind-set to develop an analytical perspective on the causes for the Cold War’s end and the USSR’s disintegration as arising “essentially from Gorbachev’s attempt to reform the regime’s official conception of governance” once the Stalinist fixation on international class struggle had proven no longer viable as a basic rationale for policy-making. Part III, finally, deploys this perspective to explain the unfolding of events that led to the ending of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet system, to reveal the relationship between the two, to point out the relevance of this explanation to current U.S. foreign policy, and to show how it can help us better understand what is happening in today’s Russia.
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Dick Combs spent many years as a Foreign Service officer, from 1966 to 1989, with three tours of duty at the U.S. embassy in Moscow during the height of the Cold War. He later served as a Congressional foreign policy adviser to Senator Sam Nunn and as research professor at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.Review:
“Dick Combs was by training and experience a leading analyst of Soviet doctrine and behavior within the U.S. from the early 1960s until the late 1990s. His book combines scholarly exegesis with historical narrative. It will interest anyone seeking to make sense of the sudden collapse of the Soviet state. Its account of decision-making and advocacy within the Department of State and the National Security Council is equally compelling. In short, Mr. Combs has made a significant contribution to the international history of the twentieth century.”
—Richard H. Ullman, David K.E. Bruce Professor of International Affairs, Emeritus, Princeton University
“Synthesizing memoir, history, and policy analysis, Dick Combs’s book combines an instructive inside account of a high-ranking American diplomat’s years in the Soviet Union with a critical analysis of the evolution of Soviet thinking about world affairs. It also analyzes American thinking about the USSR and applies the lessons of all this to understand post-Soviet Russian politics and foreign policy, and American misperceptions thereof.”
—William Taubman, Amherst College
“Dick Combs’s study is a welcome addition to the many memoirs and scholarly studies devoted to the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union. Readers will be rewarded with a fresh view, penetrating insights, and—equally important—a very good read.”
—Jack F. Matlock, Jr.
“Throughout the post-Soviet period, the Nunn-Lugar program has been a primary vehicle through which the new Russian-American relationship has evolved. Dick Combs was one of the original conceptualizers of that program, born of his understanding of the deep-seated social and psychic strains unleashed by the Soviet collapse, but also a major facilitator of the policy’s application through his mastery of the Russian language and his appreciation of the sensibilities of the Russian people and their leaders.”
—Senator Richard Lugar
“I greatly benefited from Dick Combs’s deep understanding of Soviet culture and thinking during his service as my U.S. Senate foreign policy advisor. His depth of knowledge and balanced judgment are clearly reflected in this book, which offers fresh, persuasive analysis of the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union. Policymakers, academics, and the public can draw important foreign policy lessons from Combs’s insightful account.”
—former U.S. senator Sam Nunn
“Overall, Inside the Soviet Alternate Universe is a sophisticated, well-reasoned argument about the demise of the USSR and the problems of dealing with different mindsets and cultures. As such, Combs’s book deserves study by historians, analysts, and politicians alike.”
—Jonathan M. House, History: Reviews of New Books
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