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Sunday, June 06, 2004

Reagan's legacy 

I seem to have spent today finding great things to quote that other people wrote.
Here's another one: Whiskey Bar: Ronald Reagan Billmon writes about Reagam's foreign policy:
Reagan's foreign policies . . . still make my blood boil. . . His decision to challenge the Soviets on every front - which, given the senility and paranoia of the Breshnev-era Soviet leadership, could easily have led to war - is, of course, relentlessly promoted by the conservative propaganda machine as the masterstroke that ended the Cold War. In reality, it was the end of the Cold War (made possible by Mikhail Gorbachov's rise to power) that headed off the disaster that Reagan's recklessness might otherwise have triggered.
The legacy of Reagan's policies in the Middle East, meanwhile, are still being paid for - in blood. The cynical promotion of Islamic fundamentalism as a weapon against the Soviets in Afghanistan, the alliance of convenience with Saddam Hussein against Iran, the forging of a new 'strategic relationship' with Israel, the corrupt dealings with the House of Saud, and . . . the weakeness and indecision of his disastrous intervention in Beruit - all of these helped set the stage for what the neocons now like to call World War IV, and badly weakened the geopolitical ability of the United States to wage that war.
But all this pales in comparison to Reagan's war crimes in Central America. We'll probably never know just how stained his hands were by the blood of the thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of defenseless peasants who were slaughtered in the Guatemalan highlands, or the leftist politicians, union leaders and human rights activists kidnapped and killed by the Salvadoranian death squads, or the torturned in Honduran prisons, or terrorized by his beloved contras. . . Looking back, it's also easy to see the propaganda connections between Reagan's war in Central America and the current Orwellian nightmare in Iraq. There were the same moral oversimplications - pure goodness versus absolute evil - the same flowerly rhetoric about freedom and democracy (to be administred to impoverished campesinos with machine guns and torture chambers.) There was the same lurid hype about the dire danger to the homeland - as when Reagan famously warned that Nicaragua was just a "two-day drive from Harlington, Texas." And of course, we're even looking at some of the same actors - Elliot Abrams, John Negroponte, Colin Powell. To a large degree, the Reagan administration's covert wars in both Central America and the Middle East formed the template for how the war in Iraq was packaged, sold and - unfortunately - fought.
. . . The ritual deification of Ronald Reagan has become one of the essential bonds that holds the modern Republican Party together . . . the tremendous conservative nostalgia for Ronald Reagan is a sign of a movement that is, if not in decline, then poised on the cusp of it. It's an implicit admission that the golden age, when a conservative ideologue like Reagan could win the support of an overwhelming majority of Americans (and not just the instinctual cultural loyalty of red state America) has passed away.
The contrast with Bush the younger - desperately scrambling to avoid defeat in a bitterly polarized electorate - is painfully clear. In it's obsessive desire to glorify Ronald Reagan, the conservative movement is retreating psychologically into its own past. It's a sign that the political era that opened the night Reagan was elected may also be nearing its end. To which I can only say: Rest in peace.

My own memory of the Reagan era was that it was on his watch that the US lost its cities -- US cities (New York, LA, Chicago, Detroit, etc) had been fighting economic disaster all through the 70s, and Reagan's policies which withdrew federal support from things like low-income housing, jobs programs, drug rehab, policing, schools and hospitals tipped them over; youth gangs, crime, poverty and despair overwhelmed city governments across the US. It took years for Clinton's policies to turn the cities around.

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