Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union

Mikhail Gorbachev. The name, the beaming, birthmarked visage and the outstretched, crowd-caressing hand have become so familiar in the past 33 months that it is difficult to remember the man's predecessors.Vague images come to mind of stone-faced figures frozen in mid-frown atop the Lenin Mausoleum. Gargoyles in fur hats. Perhaps Gorbachev's most obvious accomplishment is that he has reinvented the idea of a Soviet leader. Virtually everything about his country and its place in world affairs seems less ponderous, less opaque than it did before he became General Secretary of the Communist Party of the U.S.S.R.

But one should not get...

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