"Mikhail, welcome sir." With those three words President Bus greeted Soviet President Gorbachev upon his arrival at the Group of Seven economic summit in London yesterday to become, in effect, a de facto eighth member of the prestigious club. That an American president could welcome the leader of the Soviet Union in such a warm and respectful manner is the measure of how far this remarkable man, Mikhail Gorbachev, has brought the world in his six years in office.
It is curious that Gorbachev could enjoy such immense respecamong world leaders and yet still be held in such deep suspicion by the tattered brigades of old cold warriors in America. Only last week Sen. Jesse Helms spoke of the Soviet Union as if it were still 1950, when Josef Stalin ruled Russia.
But the world leaders readily understand that no one, not even a political miracle worker like Gorbachev, can simply wave a wand and overnight convert the Soviet Union into a market economy even to the limited extent that the Czechs, the Hungarians and the Poles have done with their heavy Western orientation. The leaders recognize that Gorbachev is not merely the best hope but possibly the last hope for a peaceful transition of the Soviet Union to a Western-style industrial democracy.
Without him, the Soviet Union could quickly degenerate into the out-of-control atomization that threatens Yugoslavia today. But only a fool or a madman would risk the prospect of a Yugoslav-style disintegration in the Soviet Union, with its 30,000 nuclear weapons studding the countryside like the windmills of Holland. It is frightful to contemplate the result of a free-for-all civil war in the Soviet Union, with warring republics using nuclear bombs as if they were mortar shells, or, worse yet, with a Stalinist general in charge of missiles which are still aimed at America.
It is not to save Gorbachev's skin that the Western powers seek so desperately to keep him in office; it is to save our own skins.