by Doug Bandow
When neo-cons claim to be following in the footsteps or Ronald Reagan, they’re libeling him. Ronald Reagan demonstrated how to manage foreign threats. He was prepared to act tough. But he was even more determined to seek peace with Washington’s adversaries.
In a world aflame, the Biden administration risks sleepwalking into two or three catastrophic wars. Leading Republicans are on board. Yet an increasing number of Americans have tired of endless foolish conflicts overseas.
American policymakers should learn from Ronald Reagan. In today’s GOP, divided between persistent neocon warmongers and the MAGA crowd’s intermittent interventionism, the 40th president is a political artifact. Nevertheless, Reagan’s legacy is as relevant as ever. In a far more dangerous world, he practiced a foreign policy of prudence, avoiding the bloody conflicts big and small that deform current U.S. foreign policy.
Reagan saw the Cold War in moral terms, giving some of his rhetoric a martial tone. One analyst cited Reagan’s “deceptively simple approach to ending the Cold War and bringing down the evil empire: ‘We win, they lose’.” Later inveterate hawks claimed the Reagan mantle. For instance, William Kristol and Robert Kagan argued that Reagan “championed American exceptionalism when it was deeply unfashionable. Perhaps most significant, he refused to accept the limits on American power imposed by the domestic political realities that others assumed were fixed.” They pushed endless wars, highlighted by global social engineering, pervasive foreign intervention, and overt military aggression.
Yet Reagan was no Kristol or Kagan. He was prescient in recognizing the Soviet Union’s weakness and seeking to exploit Moscow’s vulnerabilities. Nevertheless, he greatly feared the possibility of war, especially nuclear conflict. Contra attacks from the left, he was anything but a wild cowboy. Indeed, by today’s rhetorical standards, Reagan was a peacenik and an appeaser.