Two days ago, the leftist The National Interest magazine published a ridiculous screed by leftist libertarian Doug Bandow, titled “Betrayed: Why Reagan Would Be Ashamed of the Neocons.” Therein, Bandow completely falsifies the history of the Reagan years, falsely claiming that the Gipper was a peacenik who opposed peace through strength and standing up against aggressors, imperialists, and other potential threats to US and global security.
Bandow falsely claims that (emphasis mine):
“Alzheimer’s robbed Ronald Reagan of his memory. Now Republican neocons are trying to steal his foreign-policy legacy. A de facto peacenik who was horrified by the prospect of needless war, Reagan likely would have been appalled by the aggressive posturing of most of the Republicans currently seeking the White House. (…) Indeed, he routinely employed what neocons today deride as “appeasement.” (…)
Worse from the standpoint of today’s Republican war lobby was Reagan’s response to the Polish crisis. Lech Walesa and the Solidarity movement were a global inspiration but the Polish military, fearing Soviet intervention, imposed martial law in 1981. Again, Reagan’s response was, well, appeasement. (..) Indeed, from Reagan came no military moves, no aggressive threats, no economic sanctions. Reagan did little other than wait for the Evil Empire to further deteriorate from within. Little other than talk, that is.“
These are blatant lies.
President Reagan NEVER employed a policy of appeasement or anything even remotely resembling it. On the contrary, the Reagan years were eight years of continous, sustained, and relentless effort to bring the Soviet Union down – which eventually succeeded less than 3 years after he left office.
President Reagan did far more than moral posturing; he used every measure short of actual war to bring the Soviet Union to its knees. Specifically, besides condemning the USSR and Communism as evil, he:
- Rebuilt the US military after 12 years of disastrous cuts, expanded it, and equipped it with thousands of new, cutting-edge weapons which gave the US military a technological edge over the Soviet military; in particular, F-117 stealth attack jets (which rendered all previous Soviet SAM systems obsolete), AH-64 tank-killer helicopters (which threatened to obliterate the massed Soviet tank armies in Europe), Tomahawk cruise missiles (nuclear- and conventionally-armed), stealthy air-to-ground nuclear-capable cruise missiles, MX Peacekeeper ICBMs (capable of carrying 10 warheads each), B-1 bombers (America’s first bombers since 1962, although these are woefully obsolete by now), Ticonderoga class cruisers, M1 Abrams tanks (which, excluding the British Challengers, are arguably the best tanks in the world), M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, and many others. Weapon programs that were initiated during the 1970s were significantly expanded, and many new weapon programs were started.
- Computerized the US military, which the Soviet Union was not able to do for its own armed forces.
- Began development of a National Missile Defense System, against which, again, the Soviet Union could not respond.
- Imposed a slew of harsh sanctions on Moscow after the introduction of martial law in Poland in 1981 and after the Soviets shot down an unarmed Korean airliner in 1983.
- Introduced American Pershing-II MRBMs and Ground-Launched Cruise Missiles in Europe to counter the Soviet deployment of SS-20 IRBMs, even though the Europeans themselves protested en masse against that and even though many in the US Congress, and even some in his own administration, were opposed to that step.
- Greatly expanded American aid to anti-Communist movements and US proxies all around the world, including Solidarity in Poland, the mujahedeen in Afghanistan, and anti-Sandinista (anti-Ortega) proxies in Nicaragua.
- Intervened in Grenada to prevent it from becoming a second Communist outpost on America’s doorstep after Cuba.
- Convinced Saudi Arabia and other Arab states to greatly increase oil production and thus dramatically reduce the price of oil – which threatened to kill the Soviet economy.
- Successfully pressured Western European countries into scaling back the Yamal Pipeline project from two lines to one and into delaying it significantly – so much so, in fact, that it wasn’t completed until 1999… 8 years after the Soviet Union’s collapse.
- Increased and modernized the US nuclear arsenal in response to the Soviet nuclear buildup.
This is a far cry from a policy of “appeasement” that Bandow alleges President Reagan followed. But the Gipper’s tough anti-Soviet policies should be no surprise, given that, as Professor Robert Kaufman reminds us:
“President Reagan’s National Security Decision Directive 75, signed in the summer of 1983, made changing the Soviet regime, which it identified as the root cause of the Soviet Union’s insatiable ambitions, the object of American grand strategy. President Reagan sought to achieve this goal by applying unrelenting and comprehensive political, economic, ideological, and military pressure.”
This was unprecented in US history: a sitting US president had identified a foreign regime as a threat to the peace and security of the whole world, and made changing that regime the highest goal of American foreign policy.
As regards the Polish crisis of 1981 specifically, President Reagan imposed a slew of economic and diplomatic sanctions on the Soviet Union and its puppet regime in Poland and significantly increased American aid to Solidarity in response. Also, Bandow is blatantly lying when he claims that the Polish communist regime of the time “feared Soviet intervention.” No, it did not fear it – it knew that such intervention was NOT forthcoming, because their Soviet puppet masters told them bluntly to their faces (as documents available today demonstrate) that they would NOT send troops to Poland and that Polish communists would have to deal with Solidarity themselves. In addition, both Polish communists and their Soviet puppet masters knew that a second military intervention would’ve been very hard for the Soviet economy – already burdened by the Afghan war – to bear.
Bandow also claims that “Reagan devoted more of his foreign policy time to arms control than to any other subject.” But unlike the “arms control” policy employed by the Obama administration today and advocated by its sycophants at the Federation of American Scientists, the Arms Control Association, the Council for a Livable World, and other pacifist, anti-military organizations, Reagan employed arms reduction policies only when they benefitted the US and only for that purpose – not for the totally unrealistic, fairy tale purposes of “ridding the world of nuclear weapons”, his rhetoric notwithstanding.
President Reagan negotiated and signed, with Mikhail Gorbachev, the first treaty that obligated both the US and the Soviet Union to completely scrap an entire class of nuclear-capable missiles – specifically, medium- and intermediate-range ground-launched missiles (defined as having a range between 500 and 5,500 km).
But this treaty came with a very tough verification protocol attached – something the USSR had stubbornly resisted until Gorbachev agreed to it. And under that treaty, the USSR had to verifiably dismantle almost 1,000 more missiles than the US had to, so the treaty was an American diplomatic victory… achieved, of course, when the USSR was in a position of weakness, with a declining economy burdened by the Afghan war and the 1980s oil price collapse.
Also, the USSR knew it had to comply because President Reagan had earlier shown he would not tolerate cheating on arms limitation treaties. When he caught the USSR cheating on the SALT-II treaty and Moscow refused to comply with it, he withdrew the US from the treaty.
That’s a stark contrast from the Obama administration, which knew of Russia’s violation of the INF treaty as early as 2009-2010, but concealed that information from the public and the Congress in order to goad the Senate into ratifying the (cretinous and treasonous) New START treaty (which has not resulted in Russia scrapping a single nuclear warhead, missile, or bomber). Last year, the Obama administration belatedly acknowledged Russia’s blatant violation of the INF treaty, but to this day, it refuses to do anything except admonish Moscow and “hope Russia returns into compliance.”
Also, Moscow is in violation of many other arms limitation treaties – but the Obama administration is not even willing to acknowledge that fact.
Finally, Bandow falsely claims that:
“Reagan was willing to switch rhetoric and policy when circumstances changed, in this case, the nature of the Soviet regime. (…) Reagan understood that Mikhail Gorbachev was different. A reform Communist, Gorbachev nevertheless humanized the system and kept the military in its barracks. Reagan worked with the Soviet leader, despite heartfelt criticism from his own staffers and fevered denunciations from activists—dissention that Reagan acknowledged in his diary. Gorbachev later wrote that Reagan “was looking for negotiations and cooperation.” Or, in a word, appeasement.”
Again, Bandow’s claims are blatant lies. Again, as Professor Kaufman reminds us (emphasis mine):
“True, Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher recognized sooner than most other hard-liners—or realists such as former President Nixon and his Secretary of State Kissinger—that Gorbachev was a different type of leader. 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.”
But don’t take my word, or Professor Kaufman’s, for it, Dear Readers. Here’s what President Reagan himself said about how he brought about America’s triumph in the Cold War:
“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.”
Those are President Reagan’s words, not mine.
Doug Bandow’s screed is nothing more than a pathetic attempt to falsify history in order to politically attack Republicans who support an assertive American foreign policy instead of appeasement. Bandow would have us believe that appeasement is what won the Cold War, and that President Reagan practiced it. None of that is true – nor is anything else that Bandow has ever claimed.