TWENTY YEARS ago this week, three courageous Soviet republic presidents, led by Russia’s Boris Yeltsin, met near Minsk to plot the destruction of their country. Less than three weeks later, on Christmas Day 1991, their decision forced the end of a once great and powerful empire that splintered into 15 new states as the communist hammer and sickle was lowered from the Kremlin. Early that morning, as a young National Security Council aide, I listened in as a notetaker from my home phone in Virginia as President George H.W. Bush made a farewell call to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
It was a stunning event — one of the most important in American history. The most powerful foe we had ever faced had collapsed and gone out of business forever. Our 50-year struggle with the Evil Empire was over and with it the threat of nuclear annihilation that had hovered over us, as President Kennedy said so memorably, like the “sword of Damocles.’’