Mideast Turmoil: What Would Reagan Do?

February 6th, 2011 at 1:19 am | 29 Comments |

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As we conservatives celebrate the centennial of Ronald Reagan’s birth amid the uprising in Egypt, cialis sale we’d do well to reflect upon what it is that made Reagan such a unique, medical impressive and singular politician.

For me, no rx three traits in particular stand out: his strategic vision, his optimism, and his unwavering belief in the universal aspiration for liberty. Unfortunately, all three of these characteristics are sorely lacking, I regret to say, in most of the conservative commentary about Egypt, Islam and the Middle East.

Reagan, you will recall, came into office in 1981 when all of the “experts” — including many conservative “experts” and media desk jockeys — were convinced that the Soviet Union could never be defeated. It was too big, too powerful and too permanent.

Reagan disagreed. “It is the Soviet Union that runs against the tide of history,” he said. It is “the march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history…”

Would that today’s conservative “leaders” possessed Reagan’s wisdom and prescience. But alas, they do not. Instead, they seem convinced that radical Islam and “Sharia” are poised to overrun and overtake America.

On Fox’s Hannity Show, for instance, Frank Gaffney said that “the Obama administration’s policies are being viewed through, and actually articulated and implemented through, influence operations that the Muslim Brotherhood itself is running in our own country.”

Newt Gingrich, too, has been peddling fear: by warning of the dangers of “Sharia” in America, and despairing of a “strategic disaster” and a “dangerous outcome for the United States.”

David Horowitz, likewise, has been providing intellectual cover fire for the fearful and paranoid Right, especially Glenn Beck, who promotes Horowitz on his show.

Beck, of course, is notable of late for his ludicrous declaration that the Egyptian revolution could well lead to an Islamic caliphate, from Morocco to India to the Philippines.

Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol counters: “Beck brings to mind no one so much as Robert Welch and the John Birch Society.” Beck, Kristol writes, is “marginalizing himself, just as his predecessors did back in the early 1960s.”

Reagan would have acknowledged that radical Islam is a threat, just as communism was a threat. But the Islamists, like the communists, are not 10-feet tall. And where most conservatives saw despair and disaster, Reagan saw hope and opportunity.

Thus, against the counsel of many prominent conservative “leaders” and media desk jockeys, he reached out to, and negotiated with, Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev.

At the same time, Reagan bled the Soviet empire in Afghanistan and wreaked havoc with the Soviet economy. He did this by arming the Mujahideen, deregulating domestic U.S. energy markets and pressing Saudi Arabia to surge its oil production.

Reagan, I believe, would have seen similar hope and opportunity in the Egyptian revolution. He would have understood that even if the Egyptian people often lack the democratic vocabulary necessary to express their inchoate political desires, theirs is a yearning for dignity and liberty.

And so, Reagan, I dare say, would have reached out to and have supported the Egyptian people — just as he reached out to and supported the people in Poland and Nicaragua, Eastern Europe and Central America. He would have seen in the Egyptian uprising a great strategic opportunity to hasten the demise of radical Islam, and to effect crucial and long overdue reforms in the Arab and Islamic worlds.

Sure, many conservative “leaders” and media desk jockeys would lambaste such a vision as “foolish” and “naïve.” That’s what many of them said in the 1980s when Reagan insisted on dealing with Gorbachev and talked about rendering nuclear weapons obsolete.

But Reagan knew better. And the world is a vastly different and much better place as a result.

Indeed, the Berlin Wall was destroyed; communism in Eastern and Central Europe collapsed; and the Soviet Union dissolved. Not bad for a man whom the conservative cognoscenti often dismissed as a hopeless, cockeyed optimist.

The conservative movement needs a lot more of Reagan’s vision right now, especially vis-à-vis Egypt and the Middle East.

John Guardiano blogs at www.ResoluteCon.Com, and you can follow him on Twitter: @JohnRGuardiano.

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29 Comments so far ↓

  • Alex 0_0

    Reagan funded and armed the Osama bin Laden’s mujahedeen in their jihad against the Soviets. Reagan provided arms and technology to Iran in its fight against Iraq. Ergo, Reagan helped create al-Qaeda and the Iranian threat. When Egypt goes Islamist, all the weapons Reagan and Bush gave Egypt will be used against us and our allies.

    But conservatives should def keep fighting amongst yourselves and trashing each other. Carry on.

  • baw1064

    I kind of expected to disagree with this column, at least based on the title. The Middle East, after all, didn’t really provide Reagan any shining moments (Lebanon, Iran). Afghanistan was successful in the short run in helping to win the Cold War, but created a huge problem down the road.

    But in fact I do agree with the central premise. Reagan’s most significant contribution was in providing a vision for a world without the Cold War or the Soviet Union. Ten years after 9/11, we don’t have a vision for what we hope the world will look like. George W. Bush tried to articulate one, but to my mind got it wrong. A War on Terrorism is by definition unwinnable (terrorism is a tactic which has been employed for centuries by many different groups). This is fine if you’re in the business of promoting a state of perpetual paranoia for your own benefit, as Gaffney among others seems to be.

    What would a world without militant islamism looks like? In particular, what would the Middle East look like for militant islamism and religious wars to not be perceived as a reasonable path forward by all but a discredited fringe? How do we get there (wherever “there” is) from here? Honestly, I don’t know. I hope someone is able to articulate some kind of vision of what we are trying to achieve.

    I agree with the column that “optimistic” was one of the more appropriate words to describe Reagan. Every Republican officeholder and presidential candidate, it seems, wants to wrap themselves in Reagan’s aura. But “optimistic” isn’t a word that describes many of them.

  • SpartacusIsNotDead

    Guardiano: “Indeed, the Berlin Wall was destroyed; communism in Eastern and Central Europe collapsed; and the Soviet Union dissolved. Not bad for a man whom the conservative cognoscenti often dismissed as a hopeless, cockeyed optimist.”

    Communism collapsed and the Soviet Union dissolved because they were inherently fatally flawed systems. Speeches by Ronald Reagan had absolutely nothing to do with either.

    • John Guardiano

      Actually, if you talk with people in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, as I have, Reagan’s public pronouncements were important; they did make a difference. They helped to embolden democratic and reform-minded forces there, while undermining the communists.

      However, I don’t “grossly overestimate the importance of presidential statements.” What mattered most, I readily acknowledge, were not Reagan’s words, but his deeds — his very deliberate and deliberative public policies, which were designed to hasten the demise of the Soviet Union.

      • SpartacusIsNotDead

        I accept that there are anecdotes of individuals within the USSR being inspired by Reagan’s speeches, as was the case with individuals in the U.S. and elsewhere. But, the USSR dissolved because it was inherently unstable and based on an economic model that was fatally flawed. We know from revelations about the falsity of the missile gap as long ago as the late 50s to early 60s that the USSR was neither the economic nor military equal of the U.S., and that its collapse was inevitable.

        The fact that the collapse happened shortly after Reagan’s administration ended should not confuse one into thinking that Reagan caused the collapse. He made speeches and adopted policies that were intended to weaken the USSR, and he should be commended for that. Those speeches and policies may have even had marginal effect, but the forces that were responsible for the dissolution were already irreversibly in motion.

        Incidentally, my comment regarding the overestimation of the importance of presidential statements was directed at baw1064 – not your post.

      • Alex 0_0

        Translation: “I talked to a Russian cab driver who wanted a tip so he told me what I wanted to hear about Reagan.” In fact it was economics that undermined Soviet communism, not speeches.

        But the real beauty here is that Reagan’s centennial is commemorated by conservatives trashing each other over Egypt. For that alone we should all say shukran to the people of Egypt (in the remaining time before the Muslim Brotherhood takes over).

  • SpartacusIsNotDead

    baw1064: “Reagan’s most significant contribution was in providing a vision for a world without the Cold War or the Soviet Union. Ten years after 9/11, we don’t have a vision for what we hope the world will look like.”

    You grossly overestimate the importance of presidential statements on the domestic affairs of other countries.

  • mlindroo

    > “It is the Soviet Union that runs against the tide of history,” he said.
    >It is “the march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism
    > on the ash heap of history…”

    “The march of freedom and democracy” seems to be most closely related to rising standards of living at least in Western/European nations. Why did the British and French start thinking seriously about these matters only in the ~18th century and not one millenium earlier? Of course, CONSERVATISM has not exactly proved to be a winner either:-) Gays in the military, feminism, environmentalism, labor rights/social democracy, children’s rights, affirmative action for Blacks, the sexual revolution of the 1960s were all triggered by technological progress and rising standards of living. Much of it was opposed by conservatives at the time too. Reagan himself said some extremely silly things about Medicare and Medicaid back in the early 1960s but was forced to back away from this stuff only 20 years later when running for President:-)

    Anyway, regarding the Muslim Arab world I have to say conservative realists/pessimists seem to be on to something. North Africa in particular is located next to one of the wealthiest and most democratic regions of the world. So why do these people keep rejecting Western ideals even when living in the West itself?! Further east, countries such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia cling to religious fundamentalism and Medieval social attitudes despite being relatively wealthy. And Iraq or Afghanistan certainly have not progressed the way George W. Bush & co. assumed a decade ago.
    I agree with Guardiano that Islam *itself* cannot be the root cause since Turkey and Indonesia can be regarded as reasonably successful capitalist democracies. But we are clearly dealing with some form of “Arabic exceptionalism” here, most likely related to national pride rather than religion. This is why cultural and ideological assumptions that demonstrably worked in Cold War Europe and post-war Japan just don’t seem to work in the Middle East. To their credit, many prominent American conservatives now seem to grasp this.


  • talkradiosucks.com

    “I kind of expected to disagree with this column, at least based on the title. … But in fact I do agree with the central premise.”

    Similar reaction here. Certainly, some qualified optimisim is an approach far more consistent with rational conservatism than the approach being taken by the kook right, which boils down to “they might do something we don’t like with democracy, so we should support repressive dictators”.

  • Lizzie

    I just can’t believe that conservatives are still lauding the words of a guy who would be 100 years old. Don’t they have a contemporary spokesperson?

  • talkradiosucks.com

    Even worse, based on his actual record, the guy they are fawning over would be considered a “RINO” by half the people falling at his feet if they didn’t already know who he was.

  • Emanuelle

    And here we go again. Will we have to spend the whole year with Reagan this and Reagan that as if he was the second coming of Christ?

    Especially ludicrous is this notion that Reagan dialogued with Gorbachev against the will of his entourage, quite the contrary actually happened. George Schultz in particular pushed hard for negotiations when Gorbachev came to power in 1985 at a time when tensions were very high not only between the US and the Soviet Union but also amongst NATO allies.

    In terms of foreign policy you would be much more inspired by referring to Bush 41′s legacy rather than Reagan’s. We were fortunate that an internationalist such as him was in the WH when the Communist regimes actually collapsed one after the other. In particular his restraint in the wake of the fall of the Berlin wall.

    • John Guardiano


      You just don’t get it. You say “we were fortunate that an internationalist such as [Reagan] was in the White House when the communist regimes actually collapsed” — as if Reagan was just a lucky observer of history, who benefited from being in the right place at the right time.

      Wrong. Reagan actually brought about the collapse of communism and the demise of the Soviet Union. His policies and rhetoric were specifically designed to effect this policy objective. In this, he was very different from other presidents, who, at best, believed in accommodation and containment.

      True, some of Reagan’s advisers were urging him to negotiate with the Soviets well before Reagan believed that it was wise to do so. Reagan said to these advisers, “Nyet.”

      But Reagan also rejected the counsel of many conservative “leaders” in America who insisted that negotiations with the Soviets were foolish and ill-advised. Ditto the advise and counsel of many in the Republican foreign policy establishment who urged him to abandon his “fanciful” belief in missile defense.

      In short, Reagan charted his own course; and the world is a much better place as a result.


      • Emanuelle

        Bush 41 was the internationalist I am referring to, not Reagan. And yes, both were fortunate for being in the right place at the right time. (No Gorbachev, no negotiations.)

        As others have pointed out before, Reagan’s politics and rhetoric were in no way different than that of his predecessors and Communist regimes collapsed under their own weight when they were ripe. Not because of some grandiloquent speeches that were mainly designed for domestic purposes.

  • TerryF98

    Mideast Turmoil: What Would Reagan Do?

    He would buy heroin from the poor farmers in Afghanistan. Send it to Canada and use the funds to provide Mubarak with a huge stockpile of weapons to be used against his own people.

    Worked for him before did it not?

  • greg_barton

    Mideast Turmoil: What Would Reagan Do?

    He would watch 220 marines die, then retreat?

    • John Guardiano


      Fair point, but Reagan then was focused on winning the Cold War, not winning the War against Radical Islam. But if Reagan were alive today, I think he would have brought his same vision, prescience, leadership and determination to bear on the War against Radical Islam as he did to winning on the Cold War.

      Just because the United States is committed to worldwide democratization does not mean that we can or should fight for it with the same vim and vigor everywhere simultaneously. Prudence dictates otherwise.


      • pnumi2


        “Prudence dictates otherwise.”

        So does hypocrisy. And when prudence and hypocrisy dictate the same behavior, John, some disinterested historian decades from now will accurately apprise the world which of the two drives our current foreign policy . And if he doesn’t support your argument, you’ll spend eternity on the wrong side of history.

        “Prudence dictates otherwise” greatly resembles “Discretion is the better part of valor.” And isn’t that just another justification of cowardice?

  • lessadoabouteverything

    Come on John, talk about selective reading of history. Here is Michael Kinsley writing 10 years ago:

    “I’ve become more and more deeply convinced that the human spirit must be capable of rising above dealing with other nations and human beings by threatening their existence,” said President Reagan in his “Star Wars” address of 1983, in which he first proposed to build a defense against nuclear missiles. Its purpose, he said, would be “introducing greater stability” in the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union. “We seek neither military superiority nor political advantage.”

    Reagan’s hagiographers, currently frolicking in celebration of his 90th birthday, now say he was lying about all this. They don’t put it that way, of course. But that is the necessary implication of their claim that Reagan’s tough rhetoric, his costly defense buildup, and his Strategic Defense Initiative in particular were all part of a successful strategy to defeat communism and win the Cold War.

    If Reagan was lying in order to hide an actual intention to destroy the Soviet Union, whom was he trying to fool? Not the enemy, since the whole theory is that Reagan scared the Soviets into giving up. If he was lying, it must have been in order to deceive the American citizenry about the most important issue facing any democracy. Not nice.

    But more likely he was telling the truth. In favor of this theory is the fact that in all his denunciations of communism and the Soviet Union, before and during his presidency, the emphasis was on the enemy’s enormous and allegedly growing military strength and the need to counter it for our own survival—not the hope, let alone the intention, of toppling it.

    The famous exception is his “Evil Empire” speech of 1982, in which he predicted that communism will end up “on the ash heap of history.” Reagan’s critics wrongly denounced that speech for stating the obvious about who were the good guys and who were the bad guys of the Cold War. But even on this occasion he described the collapse of communism as “a plan and a hope for the long term.” He (correctly) gave most credit to communism’s own economic and political failures. And the “concrete actions” he advocated to hasten the day (although “we must be cautious about forcing the pace of change”) were entirely unmilitary—basically the creation of what became the National Endowment for Democracy.

    In the economic sphere (discussed in last week’s column), the Reagan hagiographers give him credit for things he intended that never happened, such as smaller government. On the world stage, they credit him for things he never intended that did happen.

    Well, so what? Even if Reagan didn’t intend his military buildup to achieve victory, that was the happy result—wasn’t it? Maybe, maybe not. Certainly the half-centurylong bipartisan policy of containment played a role. The effect of variations one way or another is debatable. The notion that Jimmy Carter left us weak and vulnerable is certainly exaggerated. Once you give up the idea that Reagan planned it all, the notion that his buildup (for which we’re still paying) made the crucial difference becomes less than obvious.

    Some former Soviet apparatchiks have testified that Reagan’s policies were devastating. This is oddly persuasive to people who wouldn’t have believed a word these guys said when they were following the party line of their previous masters. But it’s amazing how credible you can become when you tell me what I want to hear.

    Suppose events had played out closer to the way Reagan actually predicted. Suppose that, two decades later, communism’s internal collapse was continuing on a long fuse, but meanwhile its military strength had continued to grow. And suppose we had responded with continued Reagan-style increases in defense spending. What would the Reagan hagiographers be saying then? Would they be saying, “Well, he did a lot of great things, but his defense policy doesn’t seem to have worked”? No, they would be saying exactly what they’re saying now: that history had proved him right.

    Winning an argument you refuse to lose is a Pyrrhic victory. If no outcome short of outright defeat or nuclear annihilation would be accepted as evidence that Reagan’s policy was a failure, no particular outcome is evidence that it was a success.

    One Reagan foreign policy initiative almost no one tries to defend is trading weapons for hostages in Iran-Contra. It was morally contemptible, it violated one of the central principles that got Reagan elected, it trampled the very value of democracy it was ostensibly designed to promote. And it didn’t even work.

    But the question history must decide is: Was it better or worse than oral sex with an intern? It seems to me that subverting the Constitution on an important policy matter is worse than embarrassing everybody with your private squalor. It seems to others that overzealousness in freedom’s cause is easier to forgive than raw self-satisfaction. Whoever is right about that, the mantra of the Lewinsky scandal was that the lying, not the original transgression, is what counts. If so, Reagan’s sins are at least equal to Clinton’s. He never testified under oath until he was out of office and his claims not to remember things had become sadly believable. But at the height of the scandal Reagan lied to us on television just as spectacularly as Clinton did, with that little shake of the head, rather than a Clintonian bite of the lower lip, as his signature gesture of phony sincerity.

  • lessadoabouteverything

    And this whole What Would Reagan Do idea of how to run foreign policy is fundamentally dangerous. Do you propose future Republican Presidents pull out Ouija boards to commune with his spirit? Say what you want about every President since then but they have all been their own persons, they have succeeded or failed on their own terms, not in trying to be a pale imitation of Reagan. The bizarre thing is Republicans mock Democrats as thinking Obama is the “one” but I know of no Democrats who would ever say “What would Obama do” and neither do they say “What would Clinton do” even though by some measures the Clinton Presidency was more successful than the Reagan and the two Bush Presidencies combined (as to debt trajectory, job creation, etc.)

    I think you can learn from the past but you can’t be bound to it and for Republicans to bind themselves to a now long gone Presidency and more and more long dead President they will cede the future. It has been 22 years since he left office, children born at the time are now leaving college.

    Granted, I get it being his 100th birthday is cause for some praise and reflection, but lets leave behind the genuflection. It is getting kind of creepy.

  • baw1064

    [i] SpartacusIsNotDead // Feb 6, 2011 at 2:41 am

    baw1064: “Reagan’s most significant contribution was in providing a vision for a world without the Cold War or the Soviet Union. Ten years after 9/11, we don’t have a vision for what we hope the world will look like.”

    You grossly overestimate the importance of presidential statements on the domestic affairs of other countries. [/i]

    Yes and no.

    A presidential speech in and of itself isn’t going to have a huge influence on the domestic politics of other countries. On several occasions, however, the presidential speech was followed by a couple hundred thousand heavily armed troops. The presidential speech is necessary, among other things, to give a good explanation to the American people of why the troops are there, why sending them is necessary, and what we are trying to accomplish. Unless a clear and credible explanation is provided, things tend to go very badly.

  • ScoopAway

    For too many years the Democrats were guilty of pushing things they claimed “Kennedy would have done”.

    The Republicans are doing the same thing with Reagan.

    But both are dead and what they would have done, not done, approved or disapproved, are only guesses. The future is in our hands, not theirs.

  • The Watcher

    While the question “What would Reagan do” is a valid one, as he was quite successful, the real question is “What are the principles involved and how do we meet them?”

    The first qualification to even approach that question, is to understand the dynamics of what’s going on in Egypt and and elsewhere, and further, to understand that each is different. The failures of the current president are due to the fact he does NOT understand human nature, he does not understand, nor appreciate what liberty is, and last, he does not grasp the unique nature of America, its history, and how it is that human nature, by nature, seeks what we have achieved.

    First, Reagan’s policy was always, forever, to advocate for the liberty of the people. That one simple, foremost rule did more to gain stature of the United States globally than any other thing. Tyrants my fear and loath it, but they do respect it. They have a unique understanding of what they fight AGAINST. When for a tyrant, the enemy knows himself and his strengths, tyranny cannot prevail.

    Sadly, this article, and a whole lot of the talk these days, is centered around finding a specific policy or action that would somehow magically transform the situation in Egypt ( at this moment, it’s going to be elsewhere soon). Yet, Reagan’s successes and failures do not point to some amazingly brilliant specific policy move. They were due to long – term adherence to principle.

    What are the principles? Liberty for the people, economic renewal for the sake of the masses, respect for humanity, rights, and individuality, and legitimate self governance that understands that its power is freely given by and granted to it, by the people themselves. None of this is accomplished in a day. There is no magic bullet to fix the situation today. But, if instead of this buffoons foolishness we see now, we had the continual advocacy for those things, and an ear to the ground to seek opportunity to advance them, freedom becomes that irresistable force that unfortunately, we seem to think radical islam is, instead.

    But, by asking the question, “What would Reagan do?”, the writer at least rhetorically admits he doesn’t know what Reagan believed in. Because it wasn’t Reagan’s inherent wisdom that lead to success, it was Reagan’s adherence to principle that resulted in it. Egypt, barring any unforeseen developments, is a semi-lost cause, reverting back to a military governance, with a planned economy and all its associated poverty and backwardness. But that doesn’t mean that in the future, opportunity will not arise to set things right.

    Sadly, no president since Reagan has been serious in the advocacy of freedom, except for W, and he wasn’t an effective advocate, mostly due to his willingness to compromise on what it is. We need a generation of advocates, tireless and determined, to make a difference. We can start in 2012.

    • TerryF98

      Good God what a whole load of total bollocks that screed is. Reagan was at the forefront of supporting tyrants and funded those very tyrants and their death squads. Nearly a million died in South America alone as a result.

      For God’s sake get your rose tinted St Ronny glasses off and live in the real world.

      Reagan’s was a disaster for this country. Exploded the deficit, spent like a fool. Devastated environment law, trod on the veterans and gave the top 2 percent all they wanted at the expense of the middle class. And don’t forget the criminal activity that was Iran/Contra. Saint Ronny is in a hot place now I hope.

  • TJ Parker

    Gah. Why does it matter? He’d lay in his own crap until his nurse came to change and clean him.

    Now think of Obama as a nurse …

  • Thanos316

    Whenever I think of the Reagan Administration’s Mid-East policy several things immediately pop into my mind:

    - the Marine barracks bombing in Beirut, followed immediately by Operation:RunAway;
    - the deliberate Iraqi missile attack on the USS Stark that went unanswered as not to disrupt the American relationship with Saddam Hussein;
    - the revenge air strike against Moamar Khadafi that led to the further Libyan revenge strike against Pan-Am 103;
    - turning a second blind eye to the Israelis turning the first blind eye to their Marionite Christian milita allies in Lebanon massacring Palestinian civilians in refugee camps.

    If this is a record of successes then I’d really hate to see what neo-conservatives and the delusional boosters of the Saint Reagan myth would consider a series of failures.

  • chlai88

    Reagan, like all other conservatives, will only make the current situation worse. This ain’t the Soviet Union. The neocons will solve this by supporting the Egypt army’s crackdown of the protesters in the hope Mubarak can exert control & things return to normal. Conservatives are pissing in their pants bcos they can’t tell whether change in Egypt will be good for the US and they’re terrified of the Islam angle. This narrow mentality & perspective will push them into actions that’ll turn this into a disaster.

  • Primrose

    Like many here, I was surprised to find myself agreeing with the writer, though I think he overemphasizes Reagan’s effect. But the lesson remains clear, that negotiator’s bring good results, and that there is no such thing as never, since like a game of Jenga, we never know when the tipping point will actually tip.

  • bourrasque de neige

    I don’t know how old the author is, but I remember Reagan as I was in my late 20s early 30s when he was president. In my opinion what Reagan would do during the Egypt crisis is as following:

    1. dispatch warships off the coast of Egypt in order to “protect” Americans still in the country
    2. offer Mubarak military intelligence and support against his political enemies
    3. paint a picture where all of the political opposition were militant anti-American Muslims that were conspiring to take over Egypt for their own political gains
    4. publicly warn other middle-eastern countries (except Israel) to not intervene and help the people of Egypt lest they be subject to attack by the US
    5. send in the Marines if necessary to assist in restoring “peace”

    It was a different world then, but then and now his reaction would have most likely have been short-sighted and disastrous for the image of the US in the region and the world.