Refuting the myth of Reagan the Peacenik
Ronald Reagan was such a successful President that, unsurprisingly, many people want to claim his legacy as their own. Many people, usually falsely, claim he would’ve supported their policy and ideology if he were alive today. Many falsely claim he implemented this or that policy instead of that one.
The Gipper was, depending on whom you ask, a neocon, a paleocon, an isolationist, an interventionist, a conservative, a liberal, a free-marketer, a welfare stater, a free trader, a protectionist, a warmonger, a peacenik, etc. The list goes on.
But if you read and listen to Reagan’s own words – rather than anyone else’s claims – and analyze’s Reagan’s real actions, a clear and correct image of Reagan prints itself.
Despite the Left’s, and a certain isolationist Senator’s, pathetic attempts to depict Reagan as a nuke-hating, pro-disarmament, war-weary pacifist, Ronald Reagan was very much a hawk, even though he was careful about when and where to intervene militarily in the first place.
But intervention was so rarely necessary BECAUSE Ronald Reagan had built up America’s military strength so much that America’s adversaries usually retreated in the face of that military might.
Rebutting Rand Paul’s Lies…
“This [foreign policy – ZM] is where many in my own party, similar to Perry, get it so wrong regarding Ronald Reagan’s doctrine of “peace through strength.” Strength does not always mean war. Reagan ended the Cold War without going to war with Russia. He achieved a relative peace with the Soviet Union—the greatest existential threat to the United States in our history—through strong diplomacy and moral leadership.
Reagan had no easy options either. But he did the best he could with the hand he was dealt. Some of Reagan’s Republican champions today praise his rhetoric but forget his actions. Reagan was stern, but he wasn’t stupid. Reagan hated war, particularly the specter of nuclear war. Unlike his more hawkish critics—and there were many—Reagan was always thoughtful and cautious.”
Paul is attacking a straw man here, as well as conveniently omitting an important fact. The straw man attack is “Strength does not always mean war.” Nobody in the Republican Party wants war, Senator, or thinks that “strength” means war. In fact, it is the Democrats, not Republicans, who are most likely to involve America in wars and interventions around the world, usually for reasons unrelated to US national interests.
Need I remind you, Senators, that it was the Democrats who involved the US in two huge wars in Korea in Vietnam which they were not willing to win nor to end? Wars which Republican Presidents extricated the US out of?
Or that, more recently, Presidents Clinton and Obama involved the US in pointless humanitarian crusades in Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Libya, and Obama wanted to do that in Syria as well?
Yes, Ronald Reagan was much more cautious than Democratic Presidents about intervening militarily abroad. But when such invasions WERE necessary, he did not shy away from them. He intervened to stop Communism’s spread in the Carribean. He sent US troops to Lebanon. (He made a huge error by withdrawing from there after the Beirut bombing of 1983; America’s retreat from there emboldened Islamic terrorists in the region.) And most importantly, he conducted powerful strikes against Qaddafi’s regime in Libya in 1986, despite the Left all around the world (including your own father) condemning him for it, and despite no US ally, excluding the UK, supporting him.
No, Ronald Reagan did not hate (nor love) war. When intervention was required, he did not shy away from it.
But most of the time, he didn’t need to launch military interventions, because despite the resistance from the Democrats and from your own father, Senator, he build the strongest military in world history (of which today’s US military is just a shadow). By the late 1980s, America’s military might was such that no adversary dared to challenge the US head-first.
In parallel, Reagan supported anti-Communist movements and insurgencies (“proxies”) all around the world, including Latin America and Afghanistan.
You, Senator, are conveniently ignoring the “strength” component of peace through strength. Peace was possible ONLY because of US strength. Without that strength, there would’ve been no peace. There would’ve been war.
Weakness invites war. Strength guarantees peace.
But that lesson is totally lost on you, Senator. You have advocated, and continue to advocate, deep, crippling cuts in America’s defenses – including and beyond sequestration (a monstrous mechanism which, if not repealed, will cut $550 bn from the defense budget over the next decade).
Yet, you advocate even deeper cuts – and the withdrawal of US troops from abroad. This in spite of the fact that foreign bases – of which the US has far fewer than your kooky father claims – are necessary for power projection over long distances and help deter adversaries and reassure allies.
You are a faux-Reaganite, Senator, despite your desperate and pathetic attempts to cast yourself as Gipper’s acolyte. Your policy is not Peace Through Strength. Your policy is Hoping For Peace by Unilateral Disarmament and Withdrawal From The World.
It is no coincidence you are completely isolated in the GOP on foreign policy. That’s what advocating isolationism leads to.
If you’re advocating such foolish policies in the vain hope that doing so will win you votes and perhaps the White House, stop dreaming. Despite what the leftist media and pseudo-pollsters tell you, there is no popular demand for isolationist and anti-defense policies today, in stark contrast to the 1930s and the 1970s, and nobody in the GOP except Congressmen Amash, Duncan (TN), Massie, and Labrador shares your views.
You should run for the Democratic nomination instead. In that party, a man with your views would be warmly welcomed.
… And Peter Beinart’s
Your Politico piece contains a link to an utterly ridiculous garbage screed from 4 years ago by Peter Beinart, wherein the author falsely claims that Ronald Reagan abandoned his hawkish policies in late 1983 and thereafter pursued a conciliatory, dovish policy towards the Soviet Union until the end of his administration. Beinart explicitly calls Reagan’s post-1984 policies “dovish.”
But this is completely false – like the rest of Beinart’s claims. As Professor Robert G. Kaufman nicely sums up:
When circumstances changed during Reagan’s second term, he adjusted his policies—but not the premises underlying them. He responded positively to the changes in the Soviet regime during Gorbachev’s tenure. Ultimately, Gorbachev and the Soviet Union agreed to end the Cold War not on their terms, but on Ronald Reagan’s.
American pressure on the Soviet Union did not abate at any point during the Reagan presidency, despite his view that engaging Gorbachev could facilitate the implosion of the regime. Reagan refused to abandon SDI or the Zero Option calling for the elimination of all intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe; Gorbachev capitulated. American defense spending continued to rise, peaking at $302 billion in 1988 (6.6 percent of GDP). The Reagan Administration continued to aid freedom fighters, draining Soviet resources in Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America.
Nor did Reagan relent in his assault on the moral legitimacy of the Soviet Regime. In June 1987, over the objection of his so-called more realistic advisers, he called on Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, excoriating it as the symbol of Soviet totalitarianism
Reagan’s understanding of himself also demolishes the revisionist interpretation of his motives and policies. Summing up his foreign policy legacy to students at the University of Virginia on December 16, 1988, he welcomed the improvement in Soviet–American relations but urged Americans to “keep our heads down” and “keep our skepticism” because “fundamental differences remain.” He attributed that improvement to his policy of firmness, not conciliation:
Plain talk, strong defenses, vibrant allies, and readiness to use American power when American power was needed helped prompt the reappraisal that the Soviet leaders have taken in their previous policies. Even more, Western resolve demonstrated that the hard line advocated by some within the Soviet Union would be fruitless, just as our economic success has set a shining example.
Reagan contrasted his policies with the more conciliatory policies of his predecessors during the 1970s:
We need to recall that in the years of détente we tended to forget the greatest weapon that democracies have in their struggle is public candor: the truth. We must never do this again. It is not an act of belligerence to speak of the fundamental differences between totalitarianism and democracy; it is a moral imperative…. Throughout history, we see evidence that adversaries negotiate seriously with democratic nations when they know democracies harbor no illusions about their adversaries.
Those are Reagan’s own words – not mine, and not Professor Kaufman’s.
It was in 1987, not 1981, that Ronald Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate and loudly challenged Gorbachev to “open this gate” and “tear down this wall.” And at the very end of his Presidency, in December 1988, he STILL urged Americans “keep our heads down” and “keep our skepticism” because “fundamental differences remain.”
Nor did Ronald Reagan abate in his defense buildup and pursuit of military pressure on the Soviet Union. In his 1986 speech on defense issues, he warned that:
“tonight the security program that you and I launched to restore America’s strength is in jeopardy, threatened by those who would quit before the job is done. Any slackening now would invite the very dangers America must avoid and could fatally compromise our negotiating position. Our adversaries, the Soviets — we know from painful experience — respect only nations that negotiate from a position of strength. American power is the indispensable element of a peaceful world; it is America’s last, best hope of negotiating real reductions in nuclear arms. Just as we are sitting down at the bargaining table with the Soviet Union, let’s not throw America’s trump card away.
Our Armed Forces may be smaller in size than in the 1950’s, but they’re some of the finest young people this country has ever produced. And as long as I’m President, they’ll get the quality equipment they need to carry out their mission.
We set out to narrow the growing gaps in our strategic deterrent, and we’re beginning to do that. Our modernization program — the MX, the Trident submarine, the B-1 and stealth bombers — represents the first significant improvement in America’s strategic deterrent in 20 years. Those who speak so often about the so-called arms race ignore a central fact: In the decade before 1981, the Soviets were the only ones racing.”
Beinart also falsely claims that in 1983, Reagan suddenly had a change of heart about defense issues, military might, and nuclear weapons in particular, and began pursuing dovish defense policies and overruling the supposed “hawks” in his administration.
These are also blatant lies – just like everything else Beinart (a far-left propagandist) writes.
Reagan’s defense buildup NEVER abated at ANY point during Reagan’s presidency.
Throughout his presidency, the American defense buildup continued, peaking, as Professor Kaufman, noted, at $302 bn and 6.6% of GDP in 1988. In the late 1980s, at Reagan’s insistence, dozens of new weapon types (including new strategic delivery systems) joined the US military’s inventory: MX Peacekeeper ICBMs, the B-1 bomber, the F-15E strike jet, W84, W87 and W88 nuclear warheads, and the AH-64 Apache helicopter to name just a few.
Not to mention the many weapon systems the Reagan Administration (or its predecessors) developed and began deploying earlier: the Ohio class of ballistic missile submarines, Los Angeles class attack submarines, PATRIOT missile defense systems, F-15 and F-16 fighters, Black Hawk helicopters, Ticonderoga class cruisers, Nimitz class carriers (two were ordered in June 1988, in the last year of the Reagan Admin), Trident ballistic missiles, Tomahawk cruise missiles (nuclear- and conventionally-armed variants alike) M1 Abrams tanks, M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, F-117 Nighthawk stealth attack jets, and so forth. These weapon systems, unlike those in the paragraph above, had already begun entering service in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but it was only in the late 1980s when they joined the military’s inventory in really large numbers… thanks to the investment of the Reagan Admin and at the insistence of President Reagan.
Moreover, Reagan also developed other cutting-edge weapon systems that entered service in the 1990s: the B-2 stealth bomber, the F/A-18 Super Hornet naval jet, the Arleigh Burke class of destroyers, the Trident-II ballistic missile, and so on.
Image the US military today without these cutting edge weapon systems.
Imagine the US Air Force without B-1 and B-2 bombers, F-117 Nighthawk stealth attack jets, and F-15E Strike Eagles, and without significant numbers of F-16 fighters.
Imagine the US Navy without Ohio class ballistic missile subs and Trident missiles – which the Left wanted to cancel – and the two carriers the Reagan Admin ordered in 1988 – the USS John C. Stennis and the USS Harry S. Truman.
Imagine the US Army and Marine Corps with just a puny number of M1 Abrams tanks, still stuck with obsolete M60 Patton tanks as the Left wished.
And of course, the Reagan Admin never cancelled or even curtailed the Strategic Defense Initiative. Nor did the Bush Administration. It was the Clinton administration that killed it.
Reagan Did Not Join the Nuclear Freeze Movement – He Defeated It
Nor did Reagan had a change of heart about defense spending and nuclear weapons, as Beinart falsely claims. Nor did he cave in to supposed public pressure to cut defense spending and implement a nuclear freeze, contrary to Beinart’s blatant lies. On the contrary, Reagan resisted these stupid, suicidal policies with every fiber of his body for the entirety of his presidency – and America is safer now because of that.
In 1983, when the nuclear freeze movement, led by Congressman (now Senator) Ed Markey, was at its peak, and when the House passed a resolution demanding the freeze, Reagan completely rejected it and went to his Evangelical Friends in Texas to ask them to support his continued hawkish policies towards the Kremlin… and called the Soviet Union “the Evil Empire.”
In his 1984 reelection campaign, Reagan unequivocally rejected all “nuclear freeze” proposals and was rewarded with a 49-state landslide reelection victory, one of the greatest in US history, over Democratic candidate Walter Mondale, who advocated a nuclear freeze.
Throughout the 1980s, the Reagan Administration continued to develop, test, and produce more and more nuclear weapons and delivery systems of increasing sophistication. In 1986, it deployed the MX Peacekeeper missile and the B-1 strategic bomber.
As for defense spending, in 1985, Ronald Reagan relunctantly agreed to slow down its growth – but in real terms it continued to grow, peaking in 1988 (not 1985, as many falsely claim) at $302 bn in then-year dollars and 6.6% of the economy – levels not seen since then, and not seen at any point during the 1970s or early 1980s.
That’s because Reagan was very cautious about and weary of the Soviet Union – even Gorbachev’s Soviet Union. He wanted the US to maintain a strong, ever-modernizing military at all times.
In 1993, after the Cold War was over, when the Clinton administration cancelled the SDI, Reagan condemned that, exhorting the administration to “open its eyes” if it thought there were no more threats to America’s security.
All in all, all of the Left’s claims about Reagan are blatant lies.
No, Ronald Reagan was never a peacenik, nor did he ever relent in his enormous military, economic, and diplomatic pressure on the Soviet Union at any point during his presidency. THAT is what ended the Cold War. On Reagan’s terms, not Gorbachev’s.