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Was Reagan So Great?

In this election year the Republicans often look back nostalgically to Ronald Reagan as the example of what a President should be. There are many, but two who love him are George Will and Peggy Noonan. Let’s look at the record.

1) Reagan did not fight in World War II. Almost everyone fought in World War II, the last “good” war, the greatest generation. He had himself declared legally blind so that he could not fight, but he did become an Army officer who made movies in California for the military.

2) Reagan was divisive. His intra-party fight with Gerald Ford for the nomination in 1976 probably led to Jimmy Carter’s election. If Ford had been uncontested for a second term, he probably would have won.

3) Reagan’s election over Jimmy Carter in 1980 got a big boost from Ayatollah Khomeini and the other Iranian mullahs. The Iranians hated Jimmy Carter because he stood by the Shah and allowed him to have medical treatment and refuge in the US. Thus, they took over the US Embassy in Tehran and refused to let the hostages go while Carter was still President. They used the hostages as pawns to get Jimmy Carter out of office. Thus, Reagan was the Iranians’ candidate. He probably could have won the election without Iranian support, but the hostage crisis helped his campaign enormously by hurting Carter enormously. The hostages were released within hours of Reagan taking office. We’ll never know, but it’s possible that the Iran-Contra scandal was the result of Reagan’s trying to repay the Iranians for their support in the 1980 election.

4) He turned tail and ran out of Lebanon after the Marine barracks were blown up. All the Republicans talk about how brave Reagan was to stand up to the Russians, but they don’t talk much a Lebanon, which is more closely comparable to the Iraq war today. He did not “stay the course” in Lebanon; after the massive Marine casualties, he brought the troops home quickly and left Lebanon to descend into civil war. Maybe Reagan was brave to stand up to the Russians, but Gorbachev was a new kind of Soviet leader, much more open to the West than his hard-line predecessors. At a summit in Iceland, Reagan is reported to have reached an agreement to totally dismantle the US nuclear arsenal before Richard Perle talked him out of it.

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