Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Reagan as a Neo-Conservative?

It is the political season again. I always enjoy watching the politics, but I feel much more distance from it this year. This is for two reasons: politics is not the answer to real problems, and there is no difference between Republicans and Democrats.

That being said, I wanted to comment on Andrew Sandlin’s discussion about Republican candidates and the Reagan coalition. Rev. Sandlin has always been a bit more of a pragmatist than I have when it comes to politics, but this time I want to take issue with his historical reading of Reagan. Sandlin proclaims that only McCain and Giuliani are the only two people that can hold the Reagan coalition together. He says the most important point is a ‘muscular foreign policy’. This is what he believes Reagan had and that was what brought the Soviet Union down. He obviously thinks that only the supporters of President Bush have that ‘muscular foreign policy’. The question is whether or not the Neo-Conservative doctrine of pre-emptive strikes on countries that might pose a risk is the same as Reagan’s foreign policy?

The answer is clear. No. Not even close. While I can agree that Reagan had a muscular foreign policy, Reagan had no pre-emptive strikes. With the possible exception of Grenada, Reagan never once invaded a country to prevent war. He defeated the spread of the Soviet Union not by force as previous presidents had done, but by increased defense spending and helping our allies spend on defense. Reagan pushed the ‘Star Wars’ defense program and put defensive missiles in West Germany. But never did Reagan take us to war to end the Soviet Union. Not that he did not have his chances. Many forget the shooting of Korean Air 007. This flight included 60 plus American citizens, and was shot down by Russian aircraft. Reagan took economic action, but no military action. This stands in stark contrast to the foreign policy of President Bush and the neo-conservatives. It is in stark contrast to McCain who supports the Bush Doctrine and Mayor Rudy who also stands in line with the Bush Doctrine of ‘War that Prevents All Wars’.

In the end, I agree with Reagan’s muscular foreign policy. It was one based on a strong military and defense. It was based on calling a spade a spade or in this case an Evil Empire. It was also based on economics and economic pressure. Even beyond that it was based on optimism. Reagan never doubted that the USSR would be put in the dustbin of history and that its last chapters were being written. This is also a far cry from the rhetoric we hear from Neo-cons. Sandlin misrepresents the foreign policy of Buchanan and Paul (and perhaps the others I just don’t know them as well). They are not isolationists. Paul has specifically refuted this many times. He is simply not an interventionist. But he favors the Reagan approach of economic allies and trade and diplomacy all of which Reagan used to bring down the USSR.

If someone wants to defend the Neo-conservative view of foreign policy, fine. Do so. However, let us not pretend that Ronald Reagan is an example, at least not with regards to his policy toward the USSR. It just seems to historically inaccurate to swallow.