How Reagan’s Mideast Policy Won the Cold War

February 5th, 2011 at 7:11 am David Frum | 37 Comments |

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Ronald Reagan’s centenary coincides with the unraveling of Ronald Reagan’s Middle East. The president born February 6, 1911, is most associated with the dramatic end of the Cold War in Europe. But you can make a powerful case that the Cold War was won — not in Europe — but in the Middle East.

Four events were decisive. 1. The Reagan administration cemented Egypt, the largest and most important Arab country, into the U.S. alliance system.

The great Egyptian peacemaker Anwar Sadat was assassinated on Oct. 6, 1981, less than a year into the Reagan presidency. The killing was not the work of a lone gunman. A squad of soldiers fired grenades and automatic weapons at Mr. Sadat as he reviewed troops on the anniversary of the Yom Kippur war. The assassins killed 10 other people beside Mr. Sadat, and wounded many more, including Mr. Sadat’s vice president, Hosni Mubarak. At the same time, other conspirators launched an insurrection in Upper Egypt.

With U.S. assistance, Egyptian security forces suppressed the uprising. Mr. Mubarak assumed the presidency and proceeded to tighten the U.S. Egypt relationship even closer than under Mr. Sadat. 2. Reagan oversaw the weakening of the Soviet’s strongest Arab ally, Iraq.

Banished from Egypt, the Soviets developed a relationship with the second strongest Arab state, Iraq. On June 7, 1981, Israeli jets smashed the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak. The Reagan administration joined the UN condemnation of Israel. Yet the U.S. benefited enormously from the act it condemned.

Lacking nuclear weapons, on the defensive in the war it had launched against Iran in September 1980, Iraq was forced into greater economic dependence on the Gulf Arab states aligned with the U.S. — another blow to Soviet influence. 3. Middle East events forced the Soviet Union toward an (ultimately doomed) reconstruction of its economy.

In summer 1982, Israeli warplanes met the Syrian air force in a huge dogfight over Beirut.

Only nine years before, during the 1973 war, Soviet-provided ground-to-air missiles had wrought havoc against Israeli planes. Some questioned whether Israel had lost air supremacy over its enemies.

But in the interim between 1973 and 1982, the microelectronics revolution had transformed warfare. U.S.-made Israeli planes downed 80 Soviet-manufactured Syrian planes, one-quarter of the entire Syrian fleet, without suffering a single Israeli loss.

The Soviets had to face that the American advantage in military technology was widening. Unless the Soviets did something dramatic, American quality would overwhelm Soviet quantity in any future conflict.

That encounter over Beirut challenged the Soviet leadership to begin the changes that would become world-famous as “perestroika,” or reconstruction. These changes were meant to save the Soviet socialist system. Instead, they destroyed it, a too violent gear shift of a too-rusty transmission. 4. Then the final shove: In 1985, the Reagan administration persuaded Saudi Arabia to increase oil production.

Between 1985 and 1986, Saudi Arabia increased oil production from two million barrels a day to five million barrels. The oil price tumbled as oil supply surged: from US$30 a barrel to US$20 in just a few months.

The effect on the Soviet economy was devastating. Oil was the Soviet Union’s main – practically only – exportable product, the most important source of hard currency for the economically stagnant regime.

As former Soviet prime minister Yegor Gaidar details in a 2006 book, the Saudi action cost the Soviet Union $20 billion a year, money that had been used to pay for food imports from the West. How to close the sudden financial gap? The Soviets borrowed from Western banks.

As the Soviet economy stalled, borrowing needs increased. By 1989, the Soviet Union needed US$100-billion to avoid food shortages. That desperate need for Western loans precluded any Soviet intervention when first Poland and then the rest of the Warsaw Pact shook off Soviet rule in the spring, summer and fall of 1989.

The Reagan administration’s Middle East policy broke the Soviet empire. But no political achievement lasts forever. The price of oil has soared again, re-empowering Russia and other bad actors like Venezuela and Iran.

The Western military technology that decided the Cold War against the Soviet Union carries less weight in the new economic competition with China.

Iraq revived its nuclear program after Osirak, invaded Kuwait in 1990, and finally drew the U.S. into outright war to topple the regime in 2003. Unfortunately, the mission to reorienting Iraq to the West has taken longer and proved more challenging than expected.

Now Egypt will probably soon change direction, in a way possibly uncongenial to the United States and the Western world.

The Reagan policy has run its course, as all policies do. But no statesman is expected to solve the problems of all time. The 40th President of the United States magnificently surmounted the problems of his time. We honor Ronald Reagan most not by replicating him, but by emulating him: by doing not what he did, but as he did. He was the right leader for his time. Modern conservatives need to discover the right leadership for their time.

Originally published in the National Post.


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37 Comments so far ↓

  • TerryF98

    Iran/Contra.

    A criminal exercise never fully investigated was part of the undoing of Reagan’s middle east policy. Bush put the tin hat on it all by invading Iraq and upsetting the balance of power in the region. He handed the Iranians a huge victory without firing a shot.

    Saint Ronny was a criminal president. Conservatives have lionized him as some sort of saint. Please seek help David you are in denial.

    • nwahs

      Saint Ronny was a criminal president.

      Another criminal served up by the resident loon.

      • TerryF98

        I guess gun running and operating an international drug dealing business is not criminal to Conservatives.

        Just one of a line of criminal Conservative Presidents that include Nixon the Burglar and Bush the war criminal.

        The party of law and order my ass.

  • Houndentenor

    When are we going to learn that propping up unpopular dictators is not a good long-term policy. Okay, I understand the logic of keeping anti-communist regimes in power in the 50s, 60s and 70s, although that often didn’t work out very well for us either. We can either be the partner of people rising up to demand democracy and self-government (and in doing so, honoring our own Founders) or we can be the evil interloper who partnered with their oppressors. Which one of those makes more sense?

    • PracticalGirl

      “When are we going to learn that propping up unpopular dictators is not a good long-term policy”

      My thoughts exactly. Every time we meddle in foreign affairs in the Middle East, we help create monsters whose end games are that of oppressors (best case scenario) or notorious terrorists. Precisely because of this history, though, I’m not sure that we can be a “partner” to either party in Egypt right now. Many there are certainly demanding “democracy”, but what that ultimately leads to is anybody’s guess. Supportive, yes. Protective of the process, perhaps. Partnerships, though? I’m not sure that the leadership of the insurgency-however organic and passionate-is something we know enough about.

  • chicago_guy

    In other words, the message to the average Arab on the street in all of these countries was ‘the United States really doesn’t give a f___ about YOU – we’ll provide support to your dictator as long as he’s a useful idiot for us.”

    Yeah, now THAT’s a good long term strategy for building friends around the world.

    • balconesfault

      That really is the message.

      Conservatives have been sending it loud and clear for decades as they’ve constantly attacked Carter for not supporting a dictator who used secret police, surveillance, and torture to quash his internal enemies for years. That was, of course, the Shah – and Conservatives still sit around in dark corners muttering that Carter didn’t send in troops to support the Shah when the Iranian revolution occurred.

  • Alex 0_0

    Glaring omission: Reagan encouraged the Saudis to arm and finance the Osama Bin Laden anti-Soviet mujahedeen in Afghanistan, and thus created Al-Qaeda. The “Reagan Middle East” ended on September 11, 2001.

  • talkradiosucks.com

    You know, Terry, boiling down Ronald Reagan to one event and a stupid label makes you just as irrational as the ones who revere him as a saint.

  • PracticalGirl

    A question in response to the new title:

    Can somebody explain to me why ending the Cold War was such a fantabulous thing? With the loss of a balancing superpower came all the attendant problems we deal with now, especially global destablization and increased, independent ne’er-do-well-ness of the little nations that used to be kept in check by the USSR. Instead of the nuclear threat being a known factor, we have unknown numbers of terrorist organizations who have access to the nuclear materials (Soviet-originating) that we have to worry about. We don’t spend less on our military or intelligence force than we used to, we spend more. And, with only one superpower left, the US is the only big guy on the block anybody (and everybody) turns to for financial/political aid.

    Not saying that we NEED a conflicting superpower, just wondering if having one didn’t make it easier on the US.

  • midcon

    The Reagan administration’s Middle East policy broke the Soviet empire

    I’m not sure I can make that direct of connection between Middle East policy and the demise of the USSR. American technology, increased defense spending, Pope John Paul II, USSR central planning failures, et al were all significant contributing factors.

  • pnumi2

    “The Reagan policy has run its course, as all policies do. But no statesman is expected to solve the problems of all time. The 40th President of the United States magnificently surmounted the problems of his time”

    Not a mention of the huge debt we began to amass under the wise and powerful Oz.

    As his successful Soviet Bankruptcy policy began abroad, his “Deficits Don’t Matter” policy began here at home. Reagan bought us 20 years of peace and prosperity, unless you don’t count the wars in Iraq, 9/11, and the housing bubble as P & P.

    Then he bought us only 10 years and I have a feeling there was a more cost effective way to do that.

  • armstp

    I love all the re-write and praise reaped on Reagan. My personal view is that Reagan was a terrible President. Many in this country hated him, as they did Thatcher. There was nothing long-lasting or out of the Reagan legacy that was positive.

    Reagans supposive two big achievements:

    (1) ECONOMY – Reagan failed on the economy, as all he did was blow-up the deficit and debt for a measely 4 years out of 8 years of growth, which was really set-up by Volker/Carter and their tackling of the inflation of the 70s and then the lower of interest rates in 1982. Many economist think the lower interest rates helped more than any tax cuts. Economic growth under Reagan only average 3.4% versus Carter at 3.3%. All this BS talk about Reaganomics and he basically had the same growth over his term as Carter. Big deal! And a big difference from Carter was that Reagan used the biggest deficit spending since WWII to get the same growth as Carter. Reagan cut taxes, but the very next year after the tax cuts he raised taxes three times to give back most of the tax cuts. In addition, Reagan was the first to start robbing the Social Security trust fund to fund the government, which was essentially the same as a massive tax increase. Up to that time these were the biggest tax increases in U.S. history. Longer-term the economic legacy of Reagan and his supply-side economics can be directly traced to a deregulation mind-set that led to the current crisis and bubble economies and to the massive disparity of wealth in this country.

    A few other points on the economic record of Reagan:

    * Federal Outlays Increased During Reagan’s Term. According to the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) historical data, total federal government outlays (in constant 2005 dollars) increased 22 percent under Reagan. [OMB, Budget For Fiscal Year 2011, Historical Tables, 2010]. So he did not shrink government. Far from it. Government grew significantly during his years.

    * Federal Employment Also Grew Under Reagan: Newsweek also reported that the “federal employment grew by more than 60,000″ under Reagan, noting that “in contrast, government payrolls shrank by 373,000″ during Bill Clinton’s presidency. Again government grew during Reagan.

    * The gap between the amount of money the federal government took in and the amount it spent nearly tripled. The national debt soared from $700 billion to $3 trillion. He massively blew-up the debt and deficit.

    * Reagan on taxes: November 1982 to July 1990. Tax Revenues increased from $356.0 billion to $598 billion. This is an overall increase of 67%. During this period, the capital gains rate increased from 50% to 18% in the early 1980s. The top marginal rate decreased from 70% to 50% in about 1983. Taxes pretty much went up in all areas.

    “In 1982, Reagan agreed to restore a third of the previous year’s massive cut. It was the largest tax increase in U.S. history. In 1983, he raised the gasoline tax by five cents a gallon and instituted a payroll-tax hike that helped fund Medicare and Social Security. In 1984, he eliminated loopholes worth $50 billion over three years. And in 1986, he supported the progressive Tax Reform Act, which hit businesses with a record-breaking $420 billion in new fees. When it came to taxation, there were two Reagans: the pre-1982 version, who did more than any other president to lighten America’s tax burden, and his post-1982 doppelgänger, who was willing (if not always happy) to compensate for gaps in the government’s revenue stream by raising rates.”

    * Sure there was some flashpoints of prosperity in the mid-80s, but it was a very bad time for many places in America. Cities like Cincinnati and the rust belt became shells of themselves and were totally decimated after Reagan got through with them and ironically they looked more like Soviet cities like Smolenska or Minska.

    * The Reagan economy was a one-hit wonder. Yes, there was a boom in the mid-1980s, as the economy recovered from a severe recession. But while the rich got much richer, there was little sustained economic improvement for most Americans. By the late 1980s, middle-class incomes were barely higher than they had been a decade before — and the poverty rate had actually risen.

    When the inevitable recession arrived, people felt betrayed — a sense of betrayal that Mr. Clinton was able to ride into the White House.

    .

    (2) HE WON THE COLD WAR – Reagan has been credited (Frum above and all conservatives) with winning the cold war. Complete BS. First of all the fall of the USSR was a process that evolved over many years. It was also a collapse of a system that largely came within. If you had to single out any individual that pushed it over the edge you should look to people like Gorbachev or Lech Walesa far more than Reagan. Actual CIA analysis says the fall of the USSR had more to do with the price of oil and wheat. Frum kind of touches on this above, but this had nothing to do with Reagan or his policies (see below).

    “The timeline of the collapse of the Soviet Union can be traced to September 13, 1985. On this date, Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, the minister of oil of Saudi Arabia, declared that the monarchy had decided to alter its oil policy radically. The Saudis stopped protecting oil prices, and Saudi Arabia quickly regained its share in the world market. During the next six months, oil production in Saudi Arabia increased fourfold, while oil prices collapsed by approximately the same amount in real terms.

    As a result, the Soviet Union lost approximately $20 billion per year, money without which the country simply could not survive. The Soviet leadership was confronted with a difficult decision on how to adjust. There were three options–or a combination of three options–available to the Soviet leadership.

    First, dissolve the Eastern European empire and effectively stop barter trade in oil and gas with the Socialist bloc countries, and start charging hard currency for the hydrocarbons. This choice, however, involved convincing the Soviet leadership in 1985 to negate completely the results of World War II. In reality, the leader who proposed this idea at the CPSU Central Committee meeting at that time risked losing his position as general secretary.

    Second, drastically reduce Soviet food imports by $20 billion, the amount the Soviet Union lost when oil prices collapsed. But in practical terms, this option meant the introduction of food rationing at rates similar to those used during World War II. The Soviet leadership understood the consequences: the Soviet system would not survive for even one month. This idea was never seriously discussed. “

    • armstp

      Part II

      (con’t)

      Third, implement radical cuts in the military-industrial complex. With this option, however, the Soviet leadership risked serious conflict with regional and industrial elites, since a large number of Soviet cities depended solely on the military-industrial complex. This choice was also never seriously considered.

      Unable to realize any of the above solutions, the Soviet leadership decided to adopt a policy of effectively disregarding the problem in hopes that it would somehow wither away. Instead of implementing actual reforms, the Soviet Union started to borrow money from abroad while its international credit rating was still strong. It borrowed heavily from 1985 to 1988, but in 1989 the Soviet economy stalled completely…

      The money was suddenly gone. The Soviet Union tried to create a consortium of 300 banks to provide a large loan for the Soviet Union in 1989, but was informed that only five of them would participate and, as a result, the loan would be twenty times smaller than needed. The Soviet Union then received a final warning from the Deutsche Bank and from its international partners that the funds would never come from commercial sources. Instead, if the Soviet Union urgently needed the money, it would have to start negotiations directly with Western governments about so-called politically motivated credits.

      In 1985 the idea that the Soviet Union would begin bargaining for money in exchange for political concessions would have sounded absolutely preposterous to the Soviet leadership. In 1989 it became a reality, and Gorbachev understood the need for at least $100 billion from the West to prop up the oil-dependent Soviet economy.

  • balconesfault

    Don’t forget that Reagan spent much of his first term whining about the horrible economy that was left to him by Carter…

    • Nanotek

      balconesfault@”Don’t forget that Reagan spent much of his first term whining about the horrible economy that was left to him by Carter…”

      yeah; and the US transformed from the largest creditor to the largest debtor nation under his watch …

      Among other things, he sold weapons to Iran and raised taxes. And he’s still the patron saint for conservatives? Their idolizing of him seems confusing to me, considering what he did, unless it is based on the idea that no harm he caused is more important than his ending the Soviet Union.

      his administration certainly foreshadowed Bush’s at many levels: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Savings_and_loan_crisis#Silverado_Savings_and_Loan

      • Carney

        Reagan raised taxes in some areas, but overall and net he cut taxes, cut the tax burden, and greatly simplified the tax code.

        As for Iran, that was reprehensible, but nobody’s perfect.

        Even more reprehensible was Congress’ insistence on being such a determined ally of Soviet adventurism in Central America so as to legislatively ban US efforts to defend and pursue our interests there.

  • Nanotek

    “The Western military technology that decided the Cold War against the Soviet Union carries less weight in the new economic competition with China.”

    fair enough but some technologies might change that overnight

  • TerryF98

    The Reagan myth exposed.

    “1. Reagan was one of our most popular presidents.

    It’s true that Reagan is popular more than two decades after leaving office. A CNN/Opinion Research poll last month gave him the third-highest approval rating among presidents of the past 50 years, behind John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton. But Reagan’s average approval rating during the eight years that he was in office was nothing spectacular – 52.8 percent, according to Gallup. That places the 40th president not just behind Kennedy, Clinton and Dwight Eisenhower, but also Lyndon Johnson and George H.W. Bush, neither of whom are talked up as candidates for Mount Rushmore.

    During his presidency, Reagan’s popularity had high peaks – after the attempt on his life in 1981, for example – and huge valleys. In 1982, as the national unemployment rate spiked above 10 percent, Reagan’s approval rating fell to 35 percent. At the height of the Iran-Contra scandal, nearly one-third of Americans wanted him to resign.

    In the early 1990s, shortly after Reagan left office, several polls found even the much-maligned Jimmy Carter to be more popular. Only since Reagan’s 1994 disclosure that he had Alzheimer’s disease – along with lobbying efforts by conservatives, such as Grover Norquist’s Ronald Reagan Legacy Project, which pushed to rename Washington’s National Airport for the president – has his popularity steadily climbed.

    2. Reagan was a tax-cutter.

    Certainly, Reagan’s boldest move as president was his 1981 tax cut, a sweeping measure that slashed the marginal rate on the wealthiest Americans from 70 percent to 50 percent. The legislation also included smaller cuts in lower tax brackets, as well as big breaks for corporations and the oil industry. But the following year, as the economy was mired in recession and the federal deficit was spiraling out of control, even groups such as the Business Roundtable lobbied Reagan to raise taxes. And he did: The Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 was, at the time, the largest peacetime tax increase in U.S. history.

    Ultimately, Reagan signed measures that increased federal taxes every year of his two-term presidency except the first and the last. These included a higher gasoline levy, a 1986 tax reform deal that included the largest corporate tax increase in American history, and a substantial raise in payroll taxes in 1983 as part of a deal to keep Social Security solvent. While wealthy Americans benefitted from Reagan’s tax policies, blue-collar Americans paid a higher percentage of their income in taxes when Reagan left office than when he came in.

    3. Reagan was a hawk.

    Long before he was elected president, Reagan predicted that the Soviet Union would collapse because of communism’s inherent corruption and inefficiency. His forecast proved accurate, but it is not clear that his military buildup moved the process forward. Though Reagan expanded the U.S. military and launched new weapons programs, his real contributions to the end of the Cold War were his willingness to negotiate arms reductions with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and his encouragement of Gorbachev as a domestic reformer. Indeed, a USA Today poll taken four days after the fall of the Berlin Wall found that 43 percent of Americans credited Gorbachev, while only 14 percent cited Reagan.

    With the exception of the 1986 bombing of Libya, Reagan also disappointed hawkish aides with his unwillingness to retaliate militarily for terrorism in the Middle East. According to biographer Lou Cannon, the president called the death of innocent civilians in anti-terror operations “terrorism itself.”

    In 1987, Reagan aide Paul Bremer, later George W. Bush’s point man in Baghdad, even argued that terrorism suspects should be tried in civilian courts. “A major element of our strategy has been to delegitimize terrorists, to get society to see them for what they are – criminals – and to use democracy’s most potent tool, the rule of law, against them,” Bremer said. In 1988, Reagan signed the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which stated that torture could be used under “no exceptional circumstances, whatsoever.”

    Reagan famously declared at his 1981 inauguration that “in the present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” This rhetorical flourish didn’t stop the 40th president from increasing the federal government’s size by every possible measure during his eight years in office.

    Federal spending grew by an average of 2.5 percent a year, adjusted for inflation, while Reagan was president. The national debt exploded, increasing from about $700 billion to nearly $3 trillion. Many experts believe that Reagan’s massive deficits not only worsened the recession of the early 1990s but doomed his successor, George H.W. Bush, to a one-term presidency by forcing him to abandon his “no new taxes” pledge.

    The number of federal employees grew from 2.8 million to 3 million under Reagan, in large part because of his buildup at the Pentagon. (It took the Democratic administration of President Bill Clinton to trim the employee rolls back to 2.7 million.) Reagan also abandoned a campaign pledge to get rid of two Cabinet agencies – Energy and Education – and added a new one, Veterans Affairs.

    5. Reagan was a conservative culture warrior.

    Reagan’s contributions to the culture wars of the 1980s were largely rhetorical and symbolic. Although he published a book in 1983 about his staunch opposition to abortion (overlooking the fact that he had legalized abortion in California as governor in the late 1960s), he never sought a constitutional ban on abortion. In fact, Reagan began the odd practice of speaking to anti-abortion rallies by phone instead of in person – a custom continued by subsequent Republican presidents. He also advocated prayer in public schools in speeches, but never in legislation.

    In 1981, Reagan unintentionally did more than any other president to prevent the Roe v. Wade abortion ruling from being overturned when he appointed Sandra Day O’Connor to the Supreme Court. O’Connor mostly upheld abortion rights during her 25 years as a justice.

    No wonder that home-schooling advocate Michael Ferris was one of many right-wing activists complaining about Reagan by the end of his presidency, writing that his White House “offered us a bunch of political trinkets.” “

  • nuser

    “Trees cause more pollution than automobiles”
    “Facts are stupid thing”
    Reagan

    • Carney

      As you are well aware, your use of those two quotes is so out of context, and thus used in such a misleading manner, as to constitute a deliberate lie on your part. Liar.

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  • lessadoabouteverything

    Kind of interesting take but I am with Midcon on this, history that can be summed up on the back of a napkin is not real history.

    By the way, it is kind of inexplicable that Frum left out the Afghanistan war and the arming of the jihadists with stinger missiles, maybe because this was not so much Reagan as Charlie Wilson and the CIA, and also because of the long term blowback. It might sound terrible to say but if the Russians had won in Afghanistan there would have been no 9/11. Well, I think the price we paid was worth it, it was one of the dominoes that caused the Soviet Union to fall which freed up millions of Eastern Europeans.

  • Rabiner

    I find this article to be revisionist history. Perestroika didn’t come about because of a conflict between Israel and Syria but because of nationalistic movements throughout the USSR which eventually caused it to collapse a decade later.

    Also giving credit to Reagan for Israel’s preemptive attack on Iraq’s nuclear facility seems extremely generous.

  • Houndentenor

    Let’s not forget that Reagan and Bush trained and armed Osama bin Laden. How’s that working out for America?

  • nister

    For my money, the Chernobyl disaster collapsed the Soviet empire.

  • TerryF98

    On Reagan

    “Poor dear, there’s nothing between his ears.”
    British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

    “President Reagan doesn’t always check the facts before he makes statements, and the press accepts this as kind of amusing.”
    former president Jimmy Carter, March 6, 1984

    “His errors glide past unchallenged. At one point…he alleged that almost half the population gets a free meal from the government each day. No one told him he was crazy. The general message of the American press is that, yes, while it is perfectly true that the emperor has no clothes, nudity is actually very acceptable this year.”
    Simon Hoggart, in The Observer (London), 1986

    “The task of watering the arid desert between Reagan’s ears is a challenging one for his aides.”
    Columnist David Broder

    “He has the ability to make statements that are so far outside the parameters of logic that they leave you speechless”
    Patti Davis (formerly Patricia Ann Reagan) talking about her father, The Way I See It

    Any of this remind you of $arah Palin ™

    • Carney

      Reagan hand-wrote hundreds of radio commentaries, which are now published. They are thoughtful and serious, and honest critics admit this.

  • TerryF98

    Reagans legacy.

    El Salvador: 70,000 massacred.
    Nicaragua: 80,000 massacred.
    Guatemala: 250,000 massacred.

    In reference to the architect of the most horrific slaughter carried out by the butcher Rios Montt, our national hero said this:

    “President Rios Montt [is] a man of great personal integrity and commitment who wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans, and [is] getting a ‘bum rap’ on human rights.”

    • Carney

      No doubt exaggerated death tolls, with no mention of deaths imposed by leftist armed groups in those countries, and ignoring the larger context of death tolls imposed by Communist governments when in power, and the stakes of the Cold War.

  • Traveler

    Terry, some good zingers there about the wind between the ears. And a lot of pretty crappy moves, I agree. But I am not so convinced about that he didn’t know exactly what he was up to. Acting stupid is a great way to disarm opponents. Dumb like a fox I guess.

    The reason I say this is because he did wipe out the Soviets. Very simply, he spent them into oblivion. We paid for it (and are paying still- this is one reason I think Europeans are freeloaders), but the man managed to marshal the resources to make this happen. Many posts here focus on how this may have happened, but the larger issue is that it happened and he was determined to make it so. Remember the Pershings? May seem an irrelevant sideline now, but such determination in the face of public resistance was very effective in retrospect. The Soviets knew they just couldn’t continue to keep up. They cried “No Mas”

    I despised him then for many of the reasons you do, but he did get the job done.

    Now David, to try and argue the poorly conceived adventure in Iraq was somehow on this level is tawdry and pathetic. Not only is the world a far worse place for this misadventure, the resulting cost and loss of US goodwill and increase in terror is unconscionable. I really appreciate your site and your perspectives as I state elsewhere. But this was a total reach and you should really apologize for your Bush era mistakes. Heck we all mess up, so fess up. Then we can move on.

    We all appreciate what you have done with site, especially coming from what many of us consider the apotheosis of evil. Good job, but still work to do. You might try getting more nuanced posters, but I come for the comments, so no big deal there.

    • TerryF98

      I do despise the man because he put a jocular face on complete evil. And I despise even more the rewriting of history and the lionizing of him and his despicable actions.

      As you say we are still paying for the disaster that was the Reagan Presidency, and just as we were getting out of the hole thanks to Clinton, Bush pushed us right back in again.

      • Carney

        Blaming Reagan for the 80s deficits again ignores context and facts.

        You cannot blame tax cuts causing “inadequate” revenue. Yes, Reagan cut taxes, net, in a big way, yet revenue DOUBLED during the 80s. That government spending outpaced even that permanently ends, for the honest, any pretense that revenue was the problem.

        So the issue was spending. Who was pushing for more spending, overall? Reagan always submitted budgets with lower overall spending levels than Congressional Democrats wanted and was routinely denounced as a tightwad and skinflint. Congress pushed relentlessly for more spending than Reagan wanted, leading to occasional appropriations vetoes and even government shutdowns. The real culprits were the conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans, who backed both defense and social spending.

        Under Clinton’s first 2 years, the Democrat-run Congress CBO forecast deficits in the then-large $200B range “as far as the eye can see” – despite the Bush Sr. – Mitchell “budget summit” and the infamous Bush Sr. tax hike. Only the 1994 election put serious pressure on Clinton to balance the budget in 7 years (there’s a great montage of him hemming and hawing on this in various settings, discussing various deadlines). Only in FY1996 was there a real cut of domestic discretionary spending compared to the prior year, but, and despite the sturm und drag over Newt’s “cuts” to Medicare (just slowdowns in increases), spending rose less fast than it would otherwise have, allowing revenue to catch up. Again, thanks to the GOP.

        Under Bush, we faced a quick recession/slowdown at the beginning (the dotcom bubble popping), then war, then the oil-imposed 2008 financial crisis. Not a prescription for spending limits, thus higher deficits. Yes, Bush was also less than stern on domestic spending, but you really think that if Gore had been President we’d have spent less?

  • SpartacusIsNotDead

    TerryF98: “I do despise the man because he put a jocular face on complete evil. And I despise even more the rewriting of history and the lionizing of him and his despicable actions. As you say we are still paying for the disaster that was the Reagan Presidency, and just as we were getting out of the hole thanks to Clinton, Bush pushed us right back in again.”

    +1

  • larry

    Reagan had nothing to do with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Read David Remnick’s remarkable Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire. Remnick was there, on the ground. He knew and spoke at length with the principal actors on all sides of the internal debates. Neither US foreign and defense policy, nor Reagan personally, ever figured in the events that transformed the Soviet Union. To believe otherwise is delusional. At bottom, a society decided it could no longer tolerate the lies.

  • Primrose

    My problem with this commentary is that suggests that since it was a good idea to support Mubarak in a crisis, that it is a good idea to support him always. The inability to finesse situations, to change as needed has gotten the US in trouble more than once. It is a bad idea to support him now, or indeed once he proved himself both a brutal and underscore leader. I find this habit of panicking troublesome. We were in a war with the soviet union so any country with a socialist leader even when democratically elected was deposed (like guianna). Oh yes, that was quite a danger. And now we are doing the same thing ensuring ill will. I sometimes wonder whether the real fear the right has is losing an enemy to fight (as Gorbachev said to bush sr.).

    Perhaps, it is not the Muslim brotherhood that the right is so afraid of but not having such a bogeyman to stir up fear. Without one they might have to actually govern.