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Ronald Reagan and the Imperial Presidency | The Nation

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Ronald Reagan and the Imperial Presidency

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The Implacable Enemy

About the Author

Ronnie Dugger
Ronnie Dugger is the author of The Politician, a biography of Lyndon Johnson, and other books and articles, the...

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What are we to make of Reagan? How does a man see the world who so frequently contemplates so much military intervention, in so many parts of it? Anti-Communism of the kind that was rampant in the 1950s lies at the heart of his beliefs. Russia is the eternal implacable nemesis. Communism is waging a worldwide war, and we are already in that war. Détente is therefore highly suspect, and the United Nations a joke.

"Every Russian leader," Reagan said this year, has advocated ''a one-world Communist state, and they are going to aid social revolutions all over the world until the whole world has been liberated to Communism. And I think this explains what they're doing." Also this year he called the Russians "monsters" and spoke of "godless Communism," led by Russia.

With this underpinning of convictions, it is not surprising that Reagan has almost no use for the methods of peaceful diplomacy. In 1962, at President Kennedy's midterm, Reagan was orating, "we are being told that we can sit down and negotiate with this enemy of ours, that there's a little right and a little wrong on both sides. How do you compromise between good and evil? How do you say to this enemy that we can compromise our belief in God with his dialectic materialism.... How do you compromise with men who say we have no soul, there is no hereafter, there is no God?" Asked last summer if he wants to return to cold-war days, he said, "When did the cold war ever end?"

His unremitting contempt for the United Nations stretches across two decades. As Governor of California he refused to proclaim United Nations Day. The U.N. vote in 1971 to oust Taiwan and seat Mainland China, Reagan said, "confirms the moral bankruptcy of that international organization," which he also called a "ridiculous debating society."

Provoked in 1975 by the U.N. resolution condemning Zionism as racism, he said he was tempted to call for U.S. withdrawal, but instead said that if the United Nations continues on its present course we should serve notice "we're going to go home and sit for a while."

He is also hostile toward foreign economic aid. The Agency for International Development "is only one hole in a sieve," he said on radio in 1978. "Our money goes through a dozen agencies of the U.N. and such financial institutions as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, InterAmerican Bank and the Asian Development Bank."

Reagan's foreign policy proposes that the United States return to the role of world policeman. "We must be clear-voiced in our resolve to resist any unpeaceful act wherever it may occur," he said last year. After Russia invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, Reagan, then Governor of California, suggested and argued for quarantining Russian borders.

He is hostile to trading with Russia. In 1975, discussing, on his radio show, the sale of American wheat to Russia, he said, "Maybe...we simply do what's morally right. Stop doing business with them. Let their system collapse." Last summer, again on radio, he condemned the sale of ball bearings to Russia because they are "just the kind needed for multiple warheads on nuclear missiles." This line of argument is an arrow aimed at détente, and that is precisely what Reagan intends it to be.

"As a consequence of this ten years of détente with us," he said this year, "the Soviet Union is now fueled by Western capital, run by American computers, fed by American grain." We are spied on by Russia and other countries "to such an extent that if the American people knew it they'd take the word détente out of the dictionary," he said in 1975. He still believed, as he said, that "the Soviets have never retreated one step from their avowed Marxist purpose of defeating us militarily." On radio that year, he charged that "détente's usefulness to the Soviets is only as a cover for...aggression,'' détente "fits their Communist dialectic" and détente is part of the Communist ''doctrine or background."

Reagan believes there is a worldwide Communist monolith led by Russia which is masterminding all the trouble around the world--a belief that has survived the Sino-Soviet schism, the rise of nationalistic Communist movements in Vietnam and other countries and manifold other developments in the Third World. "The Soviet Union underlies all the unrest that is going on," he told The Wall Street Journal this summer. "If they weren't engaged in this game of dominoes, there wouldn't be any hot spots in the world."

As for the domino theory itself: "The theory has always been a correct theory. The dominoes are starting to fall now," he said in 1975. He believes the Central Intelligence Agency should engage in covert political activity abroad and that the United States should have a master plan to cope with "hot spots in the world" and to foment unrest in the Communist countries.

If Reagan is elected, then, he may be expected to send American power and people anywhere to fight Communism. It is the gist, drift and substance of his foreign policy ideas across two decades that under a Reagan Presidency, the United States will not, in his words in his 1964 television speech for Goldwater, "buy our safety from the threat of the atomic bomb by selling into permanent slavery our fellow human beings enslaved behind the Iron Curtain," will not "tell them to give up their hope for freedom because we are ready to make a deal with their slavemasters."

But how will we decide who is on our side? Reagan regularly condemns left-wing, but never right-wing, dictatorships. For instance, on radio recently he condemned the dictatorship of Equatorial Guinea, ruled, he said, by a Communist-backed dictator whose executions and brutality Reagan vividly recited. But after President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in the Philippines, Reagan devoted two radio broadcasts to glowing reports on Marcos from a traveler who had visited the Marcoses and found both "still staunch friends of America and as anti-Communist as ever" As for the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, in a radio broadcast last year, Reagan called it "a country getting back on its feet--and a good one to be friends with."

Clearly, Reagan's foreign policy calls for rallying democratic governments and right-wing dictatorships against left-wing dictatorships and all socialist-type revolutionary movements, whether those movements be, or turn out to be, democratic or Communist.

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