Reagan had an historic moment as the Soviet Union crumbled during his presidency. I think Reagan certainly deserves credit for the Soviets fall but other Presidents such as Ike, JFK, and Nixon deserve some credit on the Cold War front.
IMO, Reagan and then Truman get the lion's share of credit on the Cold War.
Reagan had the understanding that the Soviet Union was a paper tiger when a lot of others didn't. Nixon and Kissinger operated on the basis that the Soviet Union was much stronger than it was. Reagan saw otherwise and started pushing down on the pressure points, including:
1) Aggressively funding defense, thus daring the Soviet Union to try and catch up
2) Announcing the Star Wars initiative. Whether it would have worked or not, ex-Soviet officials have acknowledged that at that point, they asked themselves, "how can we compete with this?"
3) Halting Soviet advances across the world by funding anti-Communist forces, and occasionally using U.S. forces, including Grenada
4) Pushing for nuclear missiles to be stationed in Europe
5) Pushing back against the nuclear freeze movement
And other foreign policy-specific examples.
You also have to look at the economy that he led in reviving, with tax and regulatory relief and more critically supporting Paul Volcker's monetary policy, who was willing to make the tough monetary choices that people like Bernanke seem incapable of. All of this IMO put pressure on Gorbachev and helped lead to the economic reforms, the 1987 INF treaty and the Soviet Union's ultimate downfall, because once the ball started rolling, Gorbachev couldn't stop it.
Truman gets a lot of credit because he stopped Stalin in Korea, issued the Truman Doctrine, implemented the Marshall Plan which blocked Soviet influence in Western Europe, oversaw the Berlin airlift, formed NATO (including the shrewd call to take in both Greece and Turkey) and appropriately interfered in European elections to block Communists (namely Italy). Extremely underrated and laid the framework for victory in the Cold War.
Eisenhower and Kennedy were good but they basically held the line. That's important but they don't compare to Reagan and Truman. I actually think with Nixon we went backwards in terms of the Soviet Union. Lost opportunities.
This post was edited on 2/17 at 7:33 am