The Corner

Reagan@100: He Knew How to Deal with Dictators

The United States won the Cold War because Ronald Reagan understood that dictators are cowards with big mouths, and he knew how to handle them.

In 1978, when I broke with Communism, I was heading Ceausescu’s presidential house. Soon after that I wrote the manuscript for Red Horizons, describing life at the court of a quintessential Communist dictator. I was having a hard time finding a publisher. No wonder — most dictators know how to blow their own horns. Ceausescu had just completed a hugely successful royal tour around the world, ending up at the White House. There President Carter put the icing on that dictator’s cake, hailing him as a “great national and international leader.” I was standing next to him at the White House, and I could hardly believe my ears. Three months later I defected, but no publishers were willing to touch my “warts and all” description of such a famous man.

It took years to find a way out of this dilemma. In September 1985, I gave my manuscript to Director of Central Intelligence William Casey. In a letter dated December 17, 1985, DCI Casey wrote back: “The president has read it and was impressed.” That president was Ronald Reagan, who called the manuscript “my Bible for dealing with dictators.” Al Regnery, a Reagan admirer, published the manuscript. On Christmas Day 1989, Ceausescu was executed by his own people at the end of a trial where most of the accusations had come from my book, which had just been serialized by Radio Free Europe.

In 1986, my good friend Michael Ledeen, at that time adviser for anti-terrorism in the Reagan administration, told me that the president was fed up with Libyan dictator Qaddafi. Reagan had proof that he was behind the bombing of the La Belle discotheque in West Berlin, a popular hangout for American servicemen, where two American soldiers had been killed and some 200 people injured. Reagan asked me to provide a minute description of Qaddafi’s tents, where I had met the Libyan tyrant many times. Ledeen got my answer. On April 15, 1986, U.S. warplanes attacked the Libyan cities of Tripoli and Benghazi, in the process also destroying the tent of Libyan leader Qaddafi and killing his adopted daughter. According to media reports, Qaddafi had left that tent just minutes before the U.S. attack. It was a long time before Qaddafi again showed his face to the world.

Lt. General Ion Mihai Pacepa was head of Romania’s Presidential House. His memoir is Red Horizons.