Saturday, June 05, 2004

In Memoriam: Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan passed away today at the age of 93. In my view, he was the greatest president of the 2nd half of the 20th century. In 1981, Reagan inherited a country that was filled with self-doubt after Vietnam and Watergate, whose economy was in a shambles, whose military had been allowed to decay to its lowest point of readiness since the Korean War, and that had been utterly humiliated by the Iranian hostage crisis. For those of you who don't remember, the film Miracle does a good job of conveying what the national mood was at the time.

Upon taking office, President Reagan offered the nation a vision of optimism and self-confidence, assured us that we were indeed a "city upon a hill", and that our future was worth looking forward to. He restored America's military and economic power, laying the foundation for our current status as the world's sole superpower. Reagan's main accomplishment, of course, was in securing our Cold War victory over Soviet Communism. By actively confronting the Soviet Union's continued military buildup and Third World expansionism, he negated the USSR's one major advantage over the USA. For a Soviet Union that was already spending over 25% of its annual GDP on the military and wracked with internal problems, the Reagan military buildup was the final straw. After the ascension of Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union gave up the Cold War struggle and was quickly consumed by its own internal contradictions.

Just as George W. Bush is today, so Ronald Reagan was viciously derided by many on the left as an idiot, an ideologue, and a warmonger. Reagan's decision, in concert with NATO, to deploy Pershing and cruise missiles to western Europe was met with open hysteria, predictions of nuclear war, and massive street demonstrations. The fact that this deployment was prompted by the Soviet deployment of SS-20 missiles directed at NATO was conveniently ignored. Just as Bush is mocked for speaking of the war on terror as a struggle between good and evil, and for seeking to promote freedom and democracy in the Middle East, so Reagan was mocked for calling the USSR an "evil empire" and for predicting its demise. Reagan was utterly vindicated by history, and I suspect that President Bush will be as well.

That is not to say that Reagan did not make mistakes as president. Foremost among them was the foolishly misguided Iran-Contra operation. Reagan's broader record on the Middle East was also mixed. Reagan was the first American president to battle in earnest against mideast terrorism and the states such as Iran and Libya that sponsored it. While he scored a number of successes in that struggle, there were also mistakes. One was the poorly conceived Lebanon intervention, which resulted in the deaths of 283 marines and helped shape the conviction among our enemies that America will cut and run if you only inflict enough casualties on us. This is a perception that has cost us down to the present day.

For more information on the Reagan presidency, the Internet Public Library's POTUS site is a good starting point.

I humbly offer my condolences to the Reagan family.

Update: Tim Blair has a roundup of reactions from journalists and bloggers far more eloquent than I am.

Update: Jon Henke at Q and O provides the link where you can leave condolences for Mrs. Reagan.


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