He's alienating Europe! He is too bellicose! He speaks in undiplomatic language! He is motivated by an unrealistic vision of international change!
These charges have been hurled at: (a) Ronald Reagan, (b) George W. Bush or (c) both? The answer, of course, is "c." That tells us something about both "cowboy" presidents and their critics, including Reagan and Bush scourge John Kerry. To change the world requires angering the defenders of the status quo, enunciating a clear vision and taking risks. Doubters will therefore always be able to point to diplomatic upset, to a lack of "nuance" and to the possibility of failure, respectively, when criticizing a transformational foreign policy.
An appropriate epitaph for Reagan's historic accomplishment of winning the Cold War would be: "They said it couldn't be done." If Bush manages to effect his vision in the war on terror, his success will deserve to be similarly memorialized.
Reagan's grand strategy -- spending so much on defense that the Soviets couldn't keep up -- was considered literally crazy by critics at the time. It would only backfire and embolden our enemies. Opposition to Reagan's policy was especially fierce in Europe, where millions protested his decision to place intermediate-range nuclear missiles there. Sound familiar?
There are two basic attitudes toward American foreign policy: the Reagan Way and the Vietnam Syndrome. Adherents to the Reagan Way believe in the efficacy and goodness of American power. Sufferers of the Vietnam Syndrome believe American power is tainted with corruption and arrogance and is doomed to failure. These two broad visions have informed the U.S. foreign policy debate, from Vietnam to the war on terror today.
It is no accident that Kerry opposed Reagan's policies in terms he uses to criticize Bush now. Reagan was altogether too focused on military solutions. Kerry said the defense buildup was "without any relevancy to the threat this nation is currently facing," and declared, "We don't need expensive and exotic weapons systems." He considered Reagan's foreign policy "arrogant," that of a "bully."
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