From David Remnick, whose book, Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire, is on my current reading list, this analysis. I have very conservative friends who will say that Gorbachev does not deserve the praise he is getting. I disagree. Of course, he stumbled into the right path and it could be said that his mistakes – rather than his intentions – more than anything led to the fall of the Soviet Union, but I think Remnick is more accurate and fair:
Gorbachev, of course, made mistakes, serious ones. He tried, for too long, to reconcile irreconcilable ideas and power bases. He failed to reform the K.G.B., which led a coup against him, in August, 1991. And so on. Yet he possessed both the idealism and the political skill to generate something in the world that is, at this dark historical moment of global illiberalism and malevolence, exceedingly rare: a sense of decency and promise. Here was someone raised in a totalitarian system who came to believe in democracy, the rule of law, and the peaceful and orderly transfer of power. Imagine. The hope is that, around the world, his example will prevail.
A propos, here is a very good piece by an incredibly smart fellow (who happens to be my partner).