USS Clueless - Reagan the multilateral peacemaker

Stardate 20040613.1139

(On Screen via long range sensors): I don't think there has ever been a time when I read the NYT regularly. When it was on paper, I didn't buy it. When it went online and I did, too, I never really got into the habit of visiting it. (And when they started locking up their archives, then I had a major disincentive to do so.) So I pretty much only end up reading something from the NYT when someone else links to it or when it's republished somewhere else (like the IHT).

And that's how I found this article. John Coumarianos dismisses it as revisionist fantasy, and damned straight, too. Its author, one John Patrick Diggins, tries to portray Reagan so as to present a sharp contrast to President Bush, and in the end he puts Reagan inside a bunny-rabbit costume and presents him as an accommodating cooperative multilateralist who was only interested in getting along with everyone and who didn't have a confrontational bone in his body.

John reacts:

Nowhere in Diggins' silly piece today, which purports to be an assessment of the Reagan Doctrine and its relation to the current administration, is the phrase "peace through strength." Nowhere does Diggins acknowledge Reagan's belief that America has an obligation to promote liberal democracy around the world. Nowhere is there a reference to Reagan calling the Soviet Union an "evil empire." Nowhere is there a reference to the battle Reagan waged to deploy Pershing missiles in Europe. Nowhere is there a reference to Reagan's aggressive and controversial policies in Central America, which, thanks to his lax management style, almost brought down his presidency. Can one write about Reagan's foreign policy without mentioning these things? Apparently, you can write anything you want in the New York Times, provided you don't defend Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush simultaneously.

Basically, in order to separate Reagan from Bush and the dreaded "neocons," Diggins makes Reagan a kind of peacenick.

He's right. I found myself increasingly awed as I read the Diggins piece, as his version of the 1980's diverged further and further from the way I remember it. I was particularly struck by this observation:

The difference between Mr. Reagan and Mr. Bush's militant brain staff is that he believed in negotiation and they in escalation. They wanted to win the cold war; he sought to end it.

That's really quite an extraordinary statement. What, exactly, was it that he thinks Reagan was attempting to achieve which would somehow represent an end the Cold War without any victory?

As silly as that quote was, Diggins transcended it with this comment:

Mr. Reagan gave us an enlightened foreign policy that achieved most of its diplomatic objectives peacefully and succeeded in firmly uniting our allies.

Oh, brother. That sure doesn't sound anything like what I remember happening. Firmly uniting our allies? Say what?

I sure don't remember anything about "peaceful" achievement of foreign policy goals; all I remember is denunciation of Reagan's reliance on violent confrontation and preparation for more, much worse violent confrontation.

I don't remember any consensus at the time that Reagan's foreign policy was even remotely enlightened. (Or at least not from the left.) On the contrary, it was bitterly criticized in much the same terms that Bush's foreign policy is now being criticized and by much the same people and institutions for being un-nuanced, excessively muscular, and confrontational. (They didn't use the epithet "unilateral" back then because it hadn't been invented yet, but if it had been he'd have been called that, too.) I remember Reagan being criticized for being stupid, misinformed, and dangerously religious. He viewed the world in absolutes, almost like it was a cartoon, and he was intolerant and uncompromising and imperialistic. I remember him being portrayed as feeble-minded, as an idiotic puppet, an actor playing the part of President badly whose understanding of the job and of the world was formed by watching bad movies. He was "the great communicator" and it was ruefully acknowledged that he was more effective in delivering speeches than any President since JFK, but he was an empty mask, the form of a President without any real substance. He was a Potemkin president.

And as the rising denunciations and criticisms seemed to have little effect on him or his reputation, he also became known as the "Teflon President", because it seemed nothing would stick to him. No matter how hard they tried, his critics felt rising frustration and fury at their utter failure to dent his popularity with voters.

I don't recall any leftists back then saying anything that suggested that they believed Reagan was dedicated to negotiation. I remember that one of the first things Reagan did in 1981 was to walk out of all the arms control negotiations which were th

Captured by MemoWeb from on 9/16/2004