Skip to comments.Ronald Reagan: Isolationist
Posted on 06/28/2011 6:11:44 PM PDT by rabscuttle385
In his ongoing mission to declare Republicans who dare question Americas foreign policy isolationist, Sen. John McCain asked recently concerning Libya: I wonder what Ronald Reagan would be saying today.
Columnist George Will answered McCain: Wondering is speculation; we know this: When a terrorist attack that killed 241 Marines and other troops taught Reagan the folly of deploying them at Beirut airport with a vague mission and dangerous rules of engagement, he was strong enough to reverse this intervention in a civil war.
Will added: Would that he had heeded a freshman congressman from Arizona who opposed the House resolution endorsing the intervention. But, then, the McCain of 1983 was, by the standards of the McCain of 2011, an isolationist.
McCains definition of whos an isolationist seems to be anyone who believes permanent war is not in Americas interest. For McCain, any decision not to intervene militarily overseas is tantamount to erecting a brick wall around the US. The actuality of McCains foreign policy continues to demonstrate its absurdityas now 72% of Americans say the U.S. is involved in too many foreign conflicts according to a recent Pulse Opinion Research poll.
According to McCains definition nearly three quarters of Americans are now isolationist. So was Ronald Reagan.
National Rifle Association President David Keene has noted the major distinction between Reagans foreign policy and the neoconservatives vision:
Reagan resorted to military force far less often than many of those who came before him or who have since occupied the Oval Office. . . . After the  assault on the Marine barracks in Lebanon, it was questioning the wisdom of U.S. involvement that led Reagan to withdraw our troops rather than dig in. He found no good strategic reason to give our regional enemies inviting U.S. targets. Can one imagine one of todays neoconservative absolutists backing away from any fight anywhere?
True to neocon form, McCain now chastises his own party for even daring to think about backing away from Libya or Afghanistan.
This is not to say that Reagan was a non-interventionist. He wasnt. But it is to say that Reagans foreign policy represented something far more cautious and restrained than the hyper-interventionism the neoconservatives demand.
After the 2010 election, McCain said of Senator-elect Rand Paul of Kentucky: Rand Paul, hes already talked about withdrawals, cuts in defense I worry a lot about rise of isolationism in the Republican Party.
What sort of isolationism does Paul propose? Something similar to Reagans foreign policy, or as Paul told an audience at John Hopkins University earlier this month:
If for example, we imagine a foreign policy that is everything to everyone, that is everywhere all the time that would be one polar extreme Likewise, if we imagine a foreign policy that is nowhere any of the time and is completely disengaged from the challenges and dangers to our security that really do exist in the worldwell, that would be the other polar extreme But what about a foreign policy of moderation? A foreign policy that argues thatmaybe we could be somewhere some of the time?
Sen. Paul added: Reagans foreign policy was one in which we were somewhere, some of the time, in which the missions were clear and defined, and there was no prolonged military conflictand this all took place during the Cold War.
McCain now wonders what Ronald Reagan would be saying today because the neoconservatives have long been paraphrasing him while ignoring his actual record. Ask many conventional conservatives what a Reagan Republican is and youll likely hear something about Peace through strengthwhile they typically forget the peace part. Conservatives who admired George W. Bushs foreign policy perceived Bush as being Reagan-esque. This is a fiction the neoconservatives have steadily encouragedbut it is still fiction. Explained former Reagan Senior Adviser Patrick J. Buchanan:
Would Ronald Reagan have invaded Iraq? Would he have declared a doctrine of preventive war to keep any rival nation from rising to where it might challenge us? Would he have crusaded for world democratic revolution? Was Reagan the first neoconservative? This claim has been entered in the wake of his death. Yet, it seems bogus, a patent forgery, a fabricated claim to the Reagan legacy, worked up in the same shop where they made the documents proving Saddam was buying up all the yellowcake in Niger.
Added Buchanan: (Reagan) took the world as he inherited it. His mission was simple and clear: Defend the country he loved against the pre-eminent threat of the Soviet Empire, avoid war, for time was on our side, and accept the assistance of any friend who would stand with us. Reagan did not harbor some Wilsonian compulsion to remake the world in the image of Vermont.
Foreign Policys Peter Beinart has noted Reagans comparative reluctance to commit troops: on the ultimate test of hawkdomthe willingness to send U.S. troops into harms wayReagan was no bird of prey. He launched exactly one land war, against Grenada, whose army totaled 600 men. It lasted two days. And his only air warthe 1986 bombing of Libyawas even briefer.
Beinart has also noted Reagans opinion of his neoconservative critics:
(W)hen Secretary of State Alexander Haig suggested bombing Cuba, the suggestion scared the shit out of Ronald Reagan, according to White House aide Michael Deaver. Haig was marginalized, then resigned, and Reagan never seriously considered sending U.S. troops south of the border, despite demands from (neo)conservative intellectuals Those sons of bitches wont be happy until we have 25,000 troops in Managua, Reagan told chief of staff Kenneth Duberstein near the end of his presidency, and Im not going to do it.
There is Reagan the myth; crafted by neocon worship and manipulation, and then there is Reagan the man, who helped end the Cold War with far less military intervention than what neoconservatives demand today.
Author Michael Schaller noted in his 1992 book Reckoning with Reagan that When Reagan retired, 72% of Americans voiced strong approval for his handling of foreign policy. Today, 72% of Americans now believe their country does too much around the world.
When John McCain wonders what Reagan would be saying today the Senator implies the late president would agree with him. But his actual record suggests that Ronald Reagan would be in syncas usualwith the bulk of his fellow Americans.
I served under Reagan and was reviewing offers for mercenary work during his administration, and I never saw him as an isolationist. It seemed to me that Reagan was everywhere in the world, and he sure was increasing our reach and material in Europe, as he was increasing our global Navy.
You’re generally right but he was smart enough to realize that we had to get out of the Lebannon quagmire (much to the anger of neocon types in the 1980s).
Everyone wants to cloak themselves in the mantel of the great one.
Neoconservatives are like Christian Scientists: they're neither.
Does anyone remember SDI? Pershing missiles in Europe? Strong continuous support for NATO as a bulwark against the Soviets? Limited indirect and clandestine support of anti-communist guerrila groups?
There're lots of ways to stay engaged in the world without bombing it or overrunning it with troops.
Evidently McLame is starting to have memory lapses.
Our invasion of the nation of Grenada took place only hours after the Beirut bombing, Reagan had his hands full with a military invasion before that bomb even went off, Reagan was too busy globally to stay in Lebanon when there were too many gains to be made elsewhere.
Isolationism, of the Ron Paul variety . . . clearly.
Washington was sneaky. He warned us of foreign entanglements, after signing a treaty with France.
Yes, but he didn’t warn us to avoid every single relationship with foreign powers, he warned us to be careful about every single foreign relationship we consider, and to only enter into those that truly advance our own interests.
I think you’re quite right that Reagan was not an isolationist.
Reagan’s genius was never having to bring our military might to bear. Our enemies understood that we had the capability to annihilate them, and believed Reagan might just be crazy enough to pull the trigger. Reagan leveraged that threat of annihilation to win the peace.
Huge divergence from the current wave of never-ending limited engagement conflicts.
I think that Reagan would have acted just as George W Bush did after the worst attack in American history.
In 2001 Reagan would not have had to devote so much of his massive military buildup and manpower to the European theater.
I wish others knew it.
"Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations-entangling alliances with none."
But, most of the founders felt the same way. Washington said:
"It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliance with any portion of the foreign world."
Jefferson wrote Washington’s Farewell Address?
Only someone as ill-informed and manipulated as W. was by the Neocons could have come up with something as stupid as attacking a country composed of three sworn enemies only kept at bay by a vicious despot.
Attacking Zambia would have made more sense. At least we could have been in and out a lot quicker.
Reagan made a critical mistake there. Maybe he had no choice, but running home with a bloody nose like that sent very much the wrong message to the enemy. I admire Reagan as much as anyone, but I won’t sugar coat what happened.
Exactly. I would add that Reagan wouldn’t have supported staying in Afghanistan indefinitely either.
What did Grenada have to do with anything, apart from the Cubans building an airstrip there?
I doubt it. Did it sound like that’s what I said?
Maybe you should’ve payed closer attention to the comment to which I was responding?
Reagan would have recognized that Iraq was a strategic threat, and that it was the heart of the Islamic world, and Reagan would have followed GWs actions, Reagan would not have merely gone into Afghanistan and played cat and mouse with guerrillas, in the mountains to no real end or result.
When Reagan left office, he said that his biggest regret was sending troops to Lebanon in the first place.
Maybe you should get your historical quotes straight.
See post 10.
Oh, and we sent in a very small number of troops; commensurate to the threat level.
There were no hostages in Iraq, and at one time Iraq was our friend. Saddam tried to expand into Kuwait, but GHWB put an end to that. Saddam did not appear to be expanding his nation, and certainly not in anyway that was a direct threat to the US.
You can try to twist the facts as much as you want, but even W. gave up and basically just started spouting the neocon line of spreading democracy.
Now the neocons are starting to declare Iraq a success story, but we'll see in the next few years how accurate their "mission accomplished" celebrations are.
That message was mitigated by the invation of Grenada a week later. The fact that Reagan was willing to liberate a new Soviet client state showed that he wasn't afraid to use force, but he was going to pick his fights.
Yeah, I guess . . . who knew, but for FR, that George Washington wasn’t really in charge during those days, but Benjamin Franklin?
You kinda forgot that the Iraqis were firing on our planes everyday, and that we were bombing them every other.
Reagan had waited out the Soviets. Why wouldn't he have waited out the Iraqis? The Iraqis were a perfect counterforce to the Iranians. Why get rid of that? The cost of maintaining the no-fly zone for decades would have been chump change compared to what we spent to make Iraq safe for ultimate Iranian takeover.
What kind of a strategic outcome is that?
So the reasoned and proportional answer to that is bomb the country back to the stone-age so that the Iranians will feel more at home there when they take it over in the next few years.
That's some great strategery!
So in other words, Reagan made an example of Grenada (who is not even remotely as close to the U.S. as Cuba), but wouldn’t have made an example of Iraq?
I merely noted the odd construction, “...and at one time Iraq was our friend.” It smacks of historical revisionism.
The problem is not that Bush invaded Iraq. It’s that he didn’t invade Iran.
When Cuba "invaded" Grenada, we met them there in Grenada. We didn't bomb Cuba.
This all seems quite sensible to me.
When Iraq invaded Kuwait, we kicked them out of Kuwait. Again a sensible policy. What damage we did in Iraq was to ensure our success in kicking them out of Kuwait.
When Iraqis shot at out no-fly-zone enforcing planes, we bombed their anti-aircraft emplacements. Turnabout is fair play.
In what way does any of this rational, proportional, commonsensical behavior compare to the completely unjustified and disproportionate all-out invasion of a country which had piddling to do with 911?
A country, by the way, which was a strategic counterpoint to a much larger longterm threat, i.e. Iran.
At one time, Iran was our friend, btw.
And I suppose since we have it on great authority that Iraq and Iran were part of an "Axis of Evil" that included North Korea that we should have invaded them as well.
Reagan “waited out” the Soviets?
Did you think that Reagan was going to invade them and destroy Western Civilization, perhaps all civilization?
Do you know what war meant there? One reason many of us voted for Reagan in 1980 was because we felt that the Soviets were going to move against western Europe sometime around 1984 or 1985.
Reagan pumped everything we had into Europe and new weapons and clothing and preparedness for the military, to try and prevent that apocalypse, the tension for the GIs in Europe was immense, because the deaths would have been in the many, many, millions, including the loss of vast swaths of populations and cities, those were very tense times to be a NATO soldier.
In the face of 911, with no Soviet Union to interfere, Reagan would have taken down Hussein, and created an American foothold in the the Arab/Muslim world.
We were playing the Iraqis against the Iranians and vice-versa. They were both no doubt playing us.
It's ugly and its immoral, if done by individuals, but seems to be the only way for nations to survive in a world full of lying self-serving bastards.
Congratulations for placing so many non-sequiturs in a single sentence.
Iran would not be as much of a threat if they were caught up in daily struggles with Iraq.
Playing Russia against China worked for us then. Playing the Sunnis against the Shiites could work for us now.
Of course I'm supposed to believe the cockamamie neocon drivel that there is some sort of Islam-wide conspiracy to institute a worldwide caliphate.
I choose, however, to remain in the real world.
I don’t know what you were trying to say there.
I don't know much, but I do know that supplying our allies in Europe with sufficient troops and materiel to scare off a Soviet invasion was a reasonable, commonsensical, and proportionate response to our enemy the Soviets.
Going to war with Iraq was neither reasonable, nor commonsensical, nor proportionate. Reagan wouldn't have gone there.
Here is a thing that isolationist tend to forget one thing.. When Washington was President, we had a very weak Military. Also our founders weren’t truly isolationist.. Adams almost had a war against France (Washington was willing to be the commander in chief before he died).. Jefferson sent Marines to Lybia, and of course Madison had a nice war with the Brits..
And I choose to take people at their word when they say they want to kill me. When the Supreme Leader of Iran says God has brought the Jews to Israel so they can be nuked, I think he is serious. Especially when they are actually building nukes. When their president makes his cabinet swear allegience to the 12th Immam I think he means it. As for a caliphate, again that's their words, not ours. See my tagline.
So some small fanatical groups will try to institute a Sunni caliphate while others try to establish a Shiite caliphate. What do we lose by playing one off against the other? I'd rather they be killing themselves off, then our soldiers.