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Ronald Reagan: Isolationist
American Conservative ^ | 2011-06-28 | Jack Hunter

Posted on 06/28/2011 6:11:44 PM PDT by rabscuttle385

In his ongoing mission to declare Republicans who dare question America’s 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.”

McCain’s definition of who’s an “isolationist” seems to be anyone who believes permanent war is not in America’s interest. For McCain, any decision not to intervene militarily overseas is tantamount to erecting a brick wall around the US. The actuality of McCain’s foreign policy continues to demonstrate its absurdity—as 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 McCain’s 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 Reagan’s 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 [1983] 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 today’s 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 wasn’t. But it is to say that Reagan’s 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, he’s 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 Reagan’s 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 world—well, that would be the other polar extreme… But what about a foreign policy of moderation? A foreign policy that argues that—maybe we could be somewhere some of the time?”

Sen. Paul added: “Reagan’s 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 conflict—and 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 you’ll likely hear something about “Peace through strength”—while they typically forget the peace part. Conservatives who admired George W. Bush’s foreign policy perceived Bush as being Reagan-esque. This is a fiction the neoconservatives have steadily encouraged—but 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 Policy’s Peter Beinart has noted Reagan’s comparative reluctance to commit troops: “on the ultimate test of hawkdom—the willingness to send U.S. troops into harm’s 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.”

Beinart has also noted Reagan’s 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 won’t be happy until we have 25,000 troops in Managua,’ Reagan told chief of staff Kenneth Duberstein near the end of his presidency, ‘and I’m 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 sync—as usual—with the bulk of his fellow Americans.


TOPICS: Issues
KEYWORDS: defense; paultard; reagan; realconservatives; realpaultards
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1 posted on 06/28/2011 6:11:46 PM PDT by rabscuttle385
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To: bamahead
Sen. Paul added: “Reagan’s 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 conflict—and this all took place during the Cold War.”

FYI

2 posted on 06/28/2011 6:12:30 PM PDT by rabscuttle385 (Live Free or Die)
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To: rabscuttle385

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.


3 posted on 06/28/2011 6:25:54 PM PDT by ansel12 (America has close to India population of 1950s, India has 1,200,000,000 people now. Quality of Life?)
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To: rabscuttle385
Our Founders warned us over and over again about the dangers of foreign entanglements and foreign intervention. It is part of the statism, shared by Democrats and Republicans, that is pushing the dangerous course we're on.
4 posted on 06/28/2011 6:29:01 PM PDT by Prokopton
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To: ansel12

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).


5 posted on 06/28/2011 6:30:58 PM PDT by Captain Kirk
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To: rabscuttle385
Thanks for posting this anti-revisionist essay.

Everyone wants to cloak themselves in the mantel of the great one.

Neoconservatives are like Christian Scientists: they're neither.

6 posted on 06/28/2011 6:37:22 PM PDT by who_would_fardels_bear
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To: rabscuttle385

Great article


7 posted on 06/28/2011 6:38:16 PM PDT by truthfreedom
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To: Captain Kirk
Reagan got so much more accomplished by building up and extending our defenses than by going to war.

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.

8 posted on 06/28/2011 6:41:16 PM PDT by who_would_fardels_bear
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To: rabscuttle385
Perhaps someone ought to remind Mr. McCain of the words of the first holder of the office he tried in vain to occupy in 2008, namely, Washington's warnings against foreign entanglements.
9 posted on 06/28/2011 6:43:39 PM PDT by Oceander (The phrase "good enough for government work" is not meant as a compliment)
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To: Captain Kirk
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).

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.

10 posted on 06/28/2011 6:43:51 PM PDT by ansel12 (America has close to India population of 1950s, India has 1,200,000,000 people now. Quality of Life?)
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To: who_would_fardels_bear
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?

Isolationism, of the Ron Paul variety . . . clearly.

11 posted on 06/28/2011 6:47:45 PM PDT by 1rudeboy
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To: Oceander

Washington was sneaky. He warned us of foreign entanglements, after signing a treaty with France.


12 posted on 06/28/2011 6:49:01 PM PDT by 1rudeboy
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To: 1rudeboy

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.


13 posted on 06/28/2011 6:53:11 PM PDT by Oceander (The phrase "good enough for government work" is not meant as a compliment)
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To: ansel12

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.


14 posted on 06/28/2011 6:55:05 PM PDT by CowboyJay
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To: CowboyJay

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.


15 posted on 06/28/2011 6:59:06 PM PDT by ansel12 (America has close to India population of 1950s, India has 1,200,000,000 people now. Quality of Life?)
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To: Oceander

I wish others knew it.


16 posted on 06/28/2011 7:00:34 PM PDT by 1rudeboy
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To: 1rudeboy
It was Jefferson, not Washington.

"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."

17 posted on 06/28/2011 7:02:20 PM PDT by Batrachian (Prepare for four more years)
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To: Batrachian

Jefferson wrote Washington’s Farewell Address?


18 posted on 06/28/2011 7:03:30 PM PDT by 1rudeboy
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To: ansel12
In what alternate reality does someone as commonsensical as Reagan declare war on Iraq, a country that had piddling to do with 911?

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.

19 posted on 06/28/2011 7:04:09 PM PDT by who_would_fardels_bear
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To: rabscuttle385

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.


20 posted on 06/28/2011 7:08:16 PM PDT by Batrachian (Prepare for four more years)
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To: who_would_fardels_bear

Exactly. I would add that Reagan wouldn’t have supported staying in Afghanistan indefinitely either.


21 posted on 06/28/2011 7:10:04 PM PDT by Brett11
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To: who_would_fardels_bear

What did Grenada have to do with anything, apart from the Cubans building an airstrip there?


22 posted on 06/28/2011 7:10:08 PM PDT by 1rudeboy
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To: 1rudeboy

I doubt it. Did it sound like that’s what I said?


23 posted on 06/28/2011 7:10:53 PM PDT by Batrachian (Prepare for four more years)
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To: Batrachian

Maybe you should’ve payed closer attention to the comment to which I was responding?


24 posted on 06/28/2011 7:12:08 PM PDT by 1rudeboy
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To: who_would_fardels_bear

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.


25 posted on 06/28/2011 7:13:10 PM PDT by ansel12 (America has close to India population of 1950s, India has 1,200,000,000 people now. Quality of Life?)
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To: Batrachian

When Reagan left office, he said that his biggest regret was sending troops to Lebanon in the first place.


26 posted on 06/28/2011 7:13:40 PM PDT by Brett11
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To: 1rudeboy

Maybe you should get your historical quotes straight.


27 posted on 06/28/2011 7:17:23 PM PDT by Batrachian (Prepare for four more years)
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To: Batrachian

See post 10.


28 posted on 06/28/2011 7:18:03 PM PDT by ansel12 (America has close to India population of 1950s, India has 1,200,000,000 people now. Quality of Life?)
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To: 1rudeboy
There were American citizens in Grenada that needed to be rescued, and Cuba is a sworn enemy. Cuba was and is a communist country that advocates the expansion of communism worldwide. The construction of a runway in a neutral country so close to America was a definite provocation.

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.

29 posted on 06/28/2011 7:20:05 PM PDT by who_would_fardels_bear
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To: Batrachian
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.

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.

30 posted on 06/28/2011 7:20:08 PM PDT by Hugin ("A man'll usually tell you his bad intentions if you listen and let yourself hear it"--- Open Range)
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To: Batrachian

Yeah, I guess . . . who knew, but for FR, that George Washington wasn’t really in charge during those days, but Benjamin Franklin?


31 posted on 06/28/2011 7:20:09 PM PDT by 1rudeboy
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To: who_would_fardels_bear

You kinda forgot that the Iraqis were firing on our planes everyday, and that we were bombing them every other.


32 posted on 06/28/2011 7:21:28 PM PDT by 1rudeboy
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To: ansel12
"Reagan would have recognized that Iraq was a strategic threat"

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?

33 posted on 06/28/2011 7:22:50 PM PDT by who_would_fardels_bear
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To: 1rudeboy
Oh darn! They were firing on a few planes that were enforcing a no-fly zone that they disagreed with.

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!

34 posted on 06/28/2011 7:25:07 PM PDT by who_would_fardels_bear
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To: who_would_fardels_bear

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?


35 posted on 06/28/2011 7:26:51 PM PDT by 1rudeboy
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To: who_would_fardels_bear

I merely noted the odd construction, “...and at one time Iraq was our friend.” It smacks of historical revisionism.


36 posted on 06/28/2011 7:29:52 PM PDT by 1rudeboy
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To: who_would_fardels_bear

The problem is not that Bush invaded Iraq. It’s that he didn’t invade Iran.


37 posted on 06/28/2011 7:32:13 PM PDT by Hugin ("A man'll usually tell you his bad intentions if you listen and let yourself hear it"--- Open Range)
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To: 1rudeboy
The Soviets were supporting guerilla groups all over the map. The US responded directly to those guerilla groups rather than bombing the USSR.

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.

38 posted on 06/28/2011 7:35:40 PM PDT by who_would_fardels_bear
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To: who_would_fardels_bear

At one time, Iran was our friend, btw.


39 posted on 06/28/2011 7:36:58 PM PDT by 1rudeboy
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To: Hugin
"The problem is not that Bush invaded Iraq. It’s that he didn’t invade Iran."

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.

40 posted on 06/28/2011 7:37:53 PM PDT by who_would_fardels_bear
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To: who_would_fardels_bear

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.


41 posted on 06/28/2011 7:39:06 PM PDT by ansel12 (America has close to India population of 1950s, India has 1,200,000,000 people now. Quality of Life?)
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To: 1rudeboy
Exactly. At times we were more friendly with China or Russia. Whatever served our purposes most. This is the realpolitik that Nixon/Kissinger were so famous for, that is loathed by the righteous neocons.

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.

42 posted on 06/28/2011 7:41:18 PM PDT by who_would_fardels_bear
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To: ansel12
"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."

Congratulations for placing so many non-sequiturs in a single sentence.

43 posted on 06/28/2011 7:46:08 PM PDT by who_would_fardels_bear
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To: who_would_fardels_bear
You are the one who noted that Iran is a threat. So was Saddam. Would it not be better if both Iraq and Iran had the kind of quasi-democracy that Iraq has today, and no nukes, as opposed to a brutal dictator with ambitions on controlling the world's oil supplies who could possibly have nukes by now, and a theocracy bent on bringing on the apocalypse that almost certainly does have them?
44 posted on 06/28/2011 7:46:35 PM PDT by Hugin ("A man'll usually tell you his bad intentions if you listen and let yourself hear it"--- Open Range)
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To: Hugin
Iran is a threat if they completely takeover Iraq.

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.

45 posted on 06/28/2011 7:52:36 PM PDT by who_would_fardels_bear
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To: who_would_fardels_bear

I don’t know what you were trying to say there.


46 posted on 06/28/2011 7:57:27 PM PDT by ansel12 (America has close to India population of 1950s, India has 1,200,000,000 people now. Quality of Life?)
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To: ansel12
I believe I understand what you were trying to say, but what you said was wrong, and what you were trying to say was wrong.

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.

47 posted on 06/28/2011 8:08:08 PM PDT by who_would_fardels_bear
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To: 1rudeboy; All

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..


48 posted on 06/28/2011 8:08:30 PM PDT by KevinDavis (Birthers are just as bad as the 9/11 Truthers..)
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To: who_would_fardels_bear
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.

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.

49 posted on 06/28/2011 8:11:03 PM PDT by Hugin ("A man'll usually tell you his bad intentions if you listen and let yourself hear it"--- Open Range)
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To: Hugin
I'm not saying that there aren't small groups of fanatics that in their wildest dreams hope for a caliphate, or there aren't other groups of fanatics out to destroy Israel. We have the advantage, however, that there is a lot of disharmony amongst them. There is very little love lost between fanatical Sunnis and Shiites.

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.

50 posted on 06/28/2011 8:20:59 PM PDT by who_would_fardels_bear
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