Dear Editor, (Henninger’s column is posted below my letter)
I was disappointed in Rand Paul’s Reagan reference as well. But not
for the same reasons as Daniel Henninger (Rand Paul’s Reagan,
Thursday, June 26, WSJ).
I realize Paul needs to drop the Reagan name in order to gain the
attention of conservatives. But those of us who see a glimmer of hope
in Paul as a limited government guy should be suspicious of this tact
because Reagan (although constantly trotted out as such) was not. He
raised taxes several times including a record corporate tax increase
and to fund the socialistic programs, Social Security and Medicare.
The myth that Reagan ended the cold war persists in Henninger’s mind
as well. The problem with that idea is that the Soviet Empire fell
because socialism doesn’t work and military adventurism put them over
the top. To claim that Reagan was the one who defeated the evil empire
is to endorse excessive executive power and socialism at the same
time, while ignoring the fact that capital taken for war is also taken
from productive use.
The clincher, though, is Henninger’s reference to Reagan’s constant
use of the words “freedom” and “democracy.” Individual freedom cannot
exist in a democracy.
We should aim higher than a Ronald Reagan clone, however politically
incorrect that may sound. Unfortunately, any such person is busy doing
something productive and prefers to stay that way. And a broad range
of special interests will effectively marginalize him if he chooses to
Senator Rand Paul wrote an essay for The Wall Street Journal last week, “America Shouldn’t Choose Sides in Iraq’s Civil War,” in which he associated his attitude toward overseas interventions with the foreign-policy principles of Ronald Reagan. “Though many claim the mantle of Ronald Reagan on foreign policy,” Sen. Paul wrote, “too few look at how he really conducted it.” Essentially what this means, Sen. Paul continued, is that “Like Reagan . . . we should never be eager to go to war.”
The Kentucky Republican doubts that Reagan would have committed U.S. troops to driving out Saddam Hussein, as President George W. Bush did. And he strongly implies that Ronald Reagan, like the senator, would not want to involve the U.S. in Iraq’s current catastrophe.
To support the similarity between his views and Reagan’s, Sen. Paul cites the Weinberger Doctrine as a summary of the 40th president’s views on foreign interventions. Caspar Weinberger, Reagan’s secretary of defense, articulated what came to be known as the Weinberger Doctrine in a November 1984 speech at the National Press Club.
As accurately summarized by Sen. Paul, Weinberger said the U.S. shouldn’t commit combat forces unless America’s vital interests are involved, should do so only if we intend to win, have clear political and military goals, the capacity to achieve them, the support of Congress and the U.S. public, and act only as a last resort. Sen. Paul wants his readers to believe that Weinberger’s view was Reagan’s view.
As he prepares for his all-but-certain presidential run in 2016, Sen. Paul seems to have decided that he needs to refine his—and his father’s—reputation for non-interventionist absolutism. A Washington Post-ABC poll this week suggests that U.S. attitudes toward intervention are in flux, and a center may be re-forming over how much global disintegration the public is willing to accept.
Though most oppose ground troops, about 54% of men want the U.S. to bomb ISIS, the al Qaeda affiliate overrunning much of Iraq. More striking, 44% of Democrats want to hit them. Women are opposed by a slim 52%. Let us posit that Ronald Reagan did not wake up each day from 1981 through 1988 and read opinion polls before figuring out what to do about the world’s realities.
As to the Gipper’s principles, Sen. Paul overstates reality when he suggests that the Weinberger Doctrine was Reagan’s doctrine. The Weinberger Doctrine described in Mr. Paul’s piece was Caspar Weinberger’s personal opinion. His speech occurred amid an internal Reagan administration debate about how to deal with a new and murderous global threat: terrorism flowing out of the Middle East.
Wonder Land Columnist Dan Henninger on the implications of the emerging bipartisan consensus on an isolationist foreign policy. Photo credit: Getty Images.
Reagan’s secretary of state, George Shultz, describes the disagreements with Weinberger over the use of force in his 1993 memoir, “Turmoil and Triumph.”
“Cap’s doctrine,” Sec. Shultz wrote, “bore relevance to a major, conventional war between adversarial armed forces. In the face of terrorism, or any of the wide variety of complex, unclear, gray-area dangers facing us in the contemporary world, however, his was a counsel of inaction bordering on paralysis.”
While there was never a formal Reagan Doctrine, Ronald Reagan himself said enough and did enough to know where he stood. In his 1985 State of the Union, Reagan said, “We cannot play innocents abroad in a world that’s not innocent.”
Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” aligned his own policy toward Soviet Communism with the idea of “rollback,” stood at the Brandenburg Gate and cried, ” Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” increased U.S. defense spending, deployed Pershing 2 ballistic missiles and cruise missiles in Europe amid world-wide protests in 1983, invaded Grenada the same year, and gave U.S. support to anticommunist movements in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Angola and Latin America—with many congressional Democrats in a towering rage of eight-year opposition to nearly all of it. The words Reagan used most to support all this were “freedom” and “democracy.” He ended four decades of Cold War.
That is the Reagan mantle. Which parts of it would Rand Paul have taken on?
The experiences of the U.S. during the past five years with Barack Obama has led to one clear, nonpartisan conclusion: The risks of a rookie presidency are too big. Barack Obama created a wondrous presidential campaign machine. His experience to govern a nation was zero. More than any time in memory, whoever is president in January 2017 will have to hit the ground running with a plan—from day one.
Conservatives or candidates who think it should be possible to ride charisma or even ideology to victory, and then figure out the details of a great nation’s policies once in power should read Martin Anderson’s detailed 1988 account of Ronald Reagan’s path to the White House, “Revolution.” And specifically, the chapter “Reagan’s Advisers.” It is a blueprint for at least the chance of a successful presidency, which the U.S. desperately needs.
Reagan’s was a remarkable presidency. But Ronald Reagan was no rookie. And there is no such thing as a presidential prodigy. We know that now.
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