Skip to comments.Ronald Reagan: Hawk or Dove? (Southern Avenger)
Posted on 07/03/2010 5:09:24 AM PDT by rabscuttle385
In a recent issue of Foreign Policy magazine, journalist Peter Beinart reassesses the legacy of Ronald Reagan by first restating the most common assumption about our 40th president, that Ronald Reagan was the Ultimate Hawk. Is this true? Not so much, writes Beinart:
Todays conservatives have conjured a mythic Reagan who never compromised with Americas enemies and never shrank from a fight. But the real Reagan did both those things, often. In fact, they were a big part of his success Sure, Reagan spent boatloads some $2.8 trillion all told on the military. And yes, he funneled money and guns to anti-communist rebels like the Nicaraguan Contras and Afghan mujahideen, while lecturing Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down that wall. But on the ultimate test of hawkdom the willingness to send U.S. troops into harms way Reagan 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 war the 1986 bombing of Libya was even briefer. Compare that with George H.W. Bush, who launched two midsized ground operations, in Panama (1989) and Somalia (1992), and one large war in the Persian Gulf (1991). Or with Bill Clinton, who launched three air campaigns in Bosnia (1995), Iraq (1998), and Kosovo (1999) each of which dwarfed Reagans Libya bombing in duration and intensity. Do I even need to mention George W. Bush?
Reagans comparably humble foreign policy is worth noting, precisely because so many of his neoconservative admirers today insist that Dubyas wars, or even Obamas insanity in Afghanistan, somehow reflect a what would Reagan do? philosophy. Yet, the opposite is more true and given his record, it is hard to imagine Reagan launching, or enduring, wars as foolish and long as what the U.S. currently finds itself bogged down in. Reagan had an aversion to prolonged military conflict, something either forgotten or intentionally ignored by his pro-war champions today. Writes Beinart:
As early as 1982, after Reagan skirmished with Israel (and) declined to send U.S. troops to Central America Commentarys Norman Podhoretz declared that neoconservatives were sinking into a state of near political despair. New York Times columnist William Safire announced that if Ronald Reagan fails to awake to the hard-liners anger at his betrayal, he will discover that he has lost his bedrock constituency. By 1984, after Reagan withdrew troops from their peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, Podhoretz moaned that in the use of military power, Mr. Reagan was much more restrained than his right-wing supporters had hoped.
But how about Reagans supposed crown achievement, in helping to win the Cold War? According to the neocons in his day, who apparently have short memories these days, Reagan got that wrong too. Writes Beinart:
(N)othing compared with the howls of outrage that accompanied Reagans dovish turn toward the Soviet Union. In 1986, when Reagan would not cancel his second summit with Gorbachev over Moscows imprisonment of an American journalist, Podhoretz accused him of having shamed himself and the country in his craven eagerness to give away the nuclear store When Reagan signed the INF Treaty, most Republicans vying to succeed him came out in opposition. Grassroots conservative leaders established the Anti-Appeasement Alliance to oppose ratification and ran newspaper advertisements comparing Gorbachev to Hitler and Reagan to Neville Chamberlain.
In December of last year, a Public Policy Poll ranked Ronald Reagan as the most popular modern president and he certainly remains popular in the GOP, where everyone from John McCain to Sarah Palin claims to be a Reagan Republican. Considering this continuing popularity, it is well worth pointing out that Reagan as the ultimate hawk is largely a mythat least compared to how most of the Republicans today who speak in his name view American foreign policy. Columnist George Will asks us to consider the American Conservative Unions David Keenes take on Reagans relatively tame foreign policy:
He 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?
The answer? No. Neoconservatives will almost always commit troops anytime, anywhere and for any reason, whereas Reagan was hesitant most of the time, wary of where he might commit and liked having a good reason. If Reagans actual foreign policy record could become mainstream again, it would be a trend toward something far saner than what both parties subscribe to today. And if mainstream conservatives still suckered by the prevailing pro-war, any-war rhetoric on the Right are the least bit serious about honoring the memory of Ronald Reaganthey could start by no longer pretending that he was something he was not.
Saw the youtube video yesterday. Thanks for posting this.
I think the idea is to discredit Iraq and Afghanistan by saying Reagan didn't/wouldn't do anything like those two attacks. But he was never in the position to do so.
I also think that it's impossible to say how anyone but W would have fought the wars we're currently fighting.
[Compare to the increasing mess Pres_ _ent Obama is delivering]
" Let them hate us, as long as they fear us."
Caligula (Gaius Caesar)
Yep. He was indeed a Hawk and wielded US military might. It is not a fair comparison to look at Cold War era deployment of troops and post-Cold War. There is no doubt Reagan would have utilized troops after a 9-11, and in a similar way as Bush did.
I can’t say if he would have gone into Iraq, but I have to imagine that Bush 41’s decisions in 1990 and 1991 were consistent with the Reagan team’s philosophy, and the actions of both Clinton and Bush 41 continued to enforce Hussein’s surrender agreements. I also would assume that Reagan would have been equally as strong against a defiant Hussein when he refused to comply with his surrender agreements after the gulf war. In terms of Reagan, I can only guess that he might have found a way to dispose Iraq of Hussein in a different manner that the ground war that we faced, but I would guess Bush would have too if there was an option out there.
“Speak softly and carry a big stick.”
If your enemy is afraid of you why worry what you are called?
I would say he was both. He maintained peace (dove) through strength (hawk).
Reagan was a pretty smart strategist. Hawk and Dove are just birds. Reagan did what needed to be done to defeat the Soviet Union - trust, but verify, and keep your powder dry.
But the “ Cold War “ never ended .
You know your analysis has hit rock bottom when you are quoting Beinhart as an expert on Reagan
exactly. if he had been a dove or a hawk he would not have been able to save the world from annihilation in the way that he did.
He had a real terror of nuclear war, a moral terror about it, but was also aware that military strength was necessary to prevent such an event.