R.W.R. A-OK

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New at Reason: Back before James Brolin gave the American people a chance to stand up loud and proud for Ronald Reagan, Glenn Garvin wrote one for the Gipper.

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  1. It is always hard to argue with success, so good luck guys. But given our existing problems, this look back on the Soviet Union as the boogeyman is almost nostalgic.

    It is good to keep in mind that the naysayers to the Reagan approach are the naysayers to the Bush/Blair approach. They are rerunning the exact same arguments that they now admit were wrong about the Soviet Union. Glenn Garvin destroys them for the petty hand-wringing approach to dealing with the Soviet Union and suggests that the same approach today would be an even larger disaster.

    After reading the article I came away with the thought that liberal ideology does domestic policy well but is a ‘miserable failure’ at foreign policy.

  2. As a citizen of Brazil, a country whose dictatorship received some support from the USA because of its anti-Communist stance (and eventually crumbled during the *Reagan* years), I can say to Les that, yes, there wasn’t anything worse than Communism on the table, at least not in Latin America.

    Brazil’s dictatorship was the least nasty, but even countries that suffered a bit more (Argentina, Chile) are A HELL LOT better than they would if groups akin to the Sendero Luminoso ruled the land. I do not subscribe to the reactionary view of a minority of Brazilians that we were better off under the military dictatorship, but if Washington diplomats had to choose between the guerrilleros and the generals, I’m glad they did what they did.

    As far as Colombia goes, the War on Drugs might be nasty and undesirable prohibitionists, but the Marxist guerrillas involved in the cocaine business there make the Black Panther party seem like a moderate bunch of right-wingers preaching moderation, the end of racial strife and greater funding to the police.

  3. I agree with that, Les, greatly. I am trying to add to the discussion cases where America’s support of non-democratic regimes ended up the smallest of evils. You said

    “Some people actually argue that it was necessary to help unelected governments torture and murder their own citizens in order to successfully combat the greater evil of communism (as if communists would do even worse things), but I think that’s an insult to good old American ingenuity.”

    Unfortunately, in some cases this insult to American ingenuity turned out to be quite true.

    What cold-warriors tend to ignore is that some of these regimes took a detour to attack the pro-democracy factions, clinging to power like stupid right-wing Mugabes, making a lot of fuss about leftists extremists that never had any real popular support or did anything serious. The commie terrorists were just glorified, idealistic bank robbers, really — like our current Secretary of Mines and Energy — being hunted by an entire army. “Overkill”

    (Funny, though: last month I opened a Brazilian magazine where a reporter bitched America couldn’t realize the Cold War was over — in 1972 or 1974, can’t remember the exact year).

    A secondary effect of America’s involvement with these undemocratic regimes has been to legitimize the speech of the far left. Anti-Americanism in Brazil is as bad as in several Arab countries where its flames have risen high.

    (Ok, answer too long. I know. But there’s a thought there somewhere.)

  4. No, no, plenty of good thoughts that I agree with. The only one I don’t is:

    “Unfortunately, in some cases this insult to American ingenuity turned out to be quite true.”

    I just have a hard time believing that there were no alternatives to supporting brutal regimes. Like you said, that support eroded what respect we had from the citizens of these countries and strengthened the communists’ claims against America.

    I think it was quite possible for us to successfully deal with communism-flirting countries in a variety of positive (or at least much less negative) ways. But the same mind-set that impinges on Americans’ freedom of movement by banning travel to Cuba in a misguided and demonstrably failed attempt to change that country’s despicable government, that same mind set believes that most any means justifies the ends and countless innocents paid for that philosphy with their lives.

    But I’m repeating myself as I often do in these discussions. Have a good weekend.

  5. One final comment: there were alternatives, no doubt, but the likelihood of success certainly loomed large over policy-makers heads when thinking about countries that flirted with Communism.

    What to do with Liberia, for example? Their dictators flirted openly with Communist and Arab Nationalists to blackmail America. Or North Korea, which by all accounts looks more like an assortment of people born trapped inside an insane asylum than a country? Democracy will flourish there, I hope, within decades… until then, engagement (as many defend was right with China and should be done with Cuba) is gonna leave some civil hands unclean.

    I stop now… or else any point I have will become less and less clear đŸ™‚

  6. George Orwell infuriated radicals half a century ago when he pointed out the survival of the British left depended on the British Navy. That insoluble link between force and freedom has always made be uneasy but the costs of force never seem to be fully appreciated. The Arms Race may have spent the Soviet Union to death but the massive surplus of weaponry contributed to gross human rights atrocities. The horrors of East Timor, Columbia and Turkey can be directly linked to American arms. Are those costs being factored into either Schweizer or Garvin’s calculations?

  7. Dan,

    No. Nor are the incalcuable lost benefits of all that cash going down the proverbial toilet (or missile silo).

    Steve

  8. Also, I think the belief that anything was better than communism was the source of some of our greatest crimes. Supporting the brutal dictatorships and their death squads throughout Central America and Indonesia (just to name a few) was the least moral approach available. Some people actually argue that it was necessary to help unelected governments torture and murder their own citizens in order to successfully combat the greater evil of communism (as if communists would do even worse things), but I think that’s an insult to good old American ingenuity. I mean, certainly we can defeat our enemies without adopting their amoral methods. This, in my opinion, was Reagan’s (and most cold warrior’s) greatest weakness.

  9. “I just have a hard time believing that there were no alternatives to supporting brutal regimes.”

    I have a very easy time believing that we are all human, and over the course of more than 60 years of warfare against world Communism we made a mistake or two — or fifty or five hundred or five thousand.

    Due to an enormous amount of unpleasant experience, I also find it easy to believe that there are millions of arrogant and egotistical morons who think they could do better — mostly because they have limited or no life experience in relevant tasks.

    It is much like Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss who says “Anything I don’t understand is easy.”

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