Ronald Reagan and the Imperial Presidency

Ronald Reagan and the Imperial Presidency

Ronald Reagan and the Imperial Presidency

On October 19, stung by President Jimmy Carter’s charges that he might involve the United States in a nuclear war if elected President, Ronald Reagan made a television address in which he defende


On October 19, stung by President Jimmy Carter’s charges that he might involve the United States in a nuclear war if elected President, Ronald Reagan made a television address in which he defended his “peace through strength” doctrine and spoke of himself as a man who has a “deep and abiding hope for peace.” But in his public statements over the years, Reagan has projected a consistent bellicosity that casts doubt on the authenticity of the “new Reagan” who emerged in the last days of the campaign.

The importance attached to the “moderate” Reagan is nowhere more evident than in the resistance the Reagan-Bush Committee offers to the reporter seeking the transcripts of the five-minute radio broadcasts Reagan has made since 1975, during the times he was not an active Presidential candidate. I have obtained a set of these transcripts covering the years 1975, 1978 and 1979, and they are a rich and revealing source of the candidate’s views, for in these talks the real Reagan is speaking privately to “his people” rather than to the electorate. Other reporters have quoted from some transcripts, but I have sought here to assemble in one place the more pertinent views on foreign policy and national security issues contained in them, along with other public pronouncements Reagan has made. As Reagan has said, “I was on radio so many years with those five-day-a-week commentaries. I had a twice-a-week column in more than 100 newspapers throughout the country. How could I change my positions?” His question is his own to answer, in his own words. Revealed is a man who has reacted viscerally to a variety of foreign challenges. These reactions provide the best prognosis of how President Reagan would perform in the Oval Office.

Turning first to the Middle East, would Reagan send the United States to war for oil? He certainly advocates a U.S. military presence in the region. He has said he wants American aircraft and troops stationed in Pakistan, and the planes perhaps also in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. Last January, he suggested that the planes be manned by U.S. pilots and serviced by U.S. ground personnel. “I think this might be a very, very good time for the United States to show a presence in the Middle East…with the consent of, say, Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia to have a presence there,” he said.

Would Reagan meet Soviet aggression in the Middle East with military force? The truth, he replies, “is that we don’t have the force…. Now, that is a shame because the Persian Gulf is valuable to us. We can survive without it, but it is absolutely essential to our allies in Western Europe and Japan.” The paramount U.S. interest in the Middle East, Reagan says, is to prevent the region from falling under Soviet domination. He sees Saudi Arabia as menaced by the U.S.S.R. and advocates using military force to prevent the country’s ruling sheiks from being overthrown by an uprising from within, as well as by aggression from the outside. As he told the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco last May, the United States should send the Russians a “signal”: “We should let them know that we are not going to let Saudi Arabia fall, either from trouble within or from aggression without.” In June, he expanded on this “doctrine”: “We should follow a course of action that would lead [the Russians] to believe that if they…decided to go in there, they would be running into the possibility–the probability–of a confrontation with us. I question whether an uprising in Saudi Arabia would be totally free of Soviet influence. I think their hand would be in there stirring the pot and they would be ready to heed a call to bring order.”

Elsewhere in the region, he wrote, “Specific Arab states such as Egypt…may well be able and prepared to take a front-line position in defense of Western security interests.” He believes that the United States should have aborted the Khomeini revolution in Iran just as we overthrew the Mossadegh Government there in the early 1950s. ”I believe at the time the revolution was just riots in the streets, we vacillated. We did not keep the promises we’d made to the Shah,” Reagan said last fall.

He, too, would have admitted the Shah to the United States for medical treatment and, furthermore, after the hostages were taken would have given him permanent asylum in the United States. Would that not have jeopardized the hostages? He said their captors “made it plain it didn’t make any difference if he was here or if we let him go.” He advocated cutting off food shipments to Iran and suggested a naval blockade and the mining of Iranian harbors. Might the latter two measures endanger the hostages? He did not believe the militants would kill the hostages because of that. He favored a “date certain”–a deadline–for the hostages’ release, after which the United States should take “unpleasant action,” the nature of which he did not specify.

Concerning the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, Reagan proposed the United States “funnel” arms through Pakistan to the rebel Afghanis. Realizing that this language could be taken to imply U.S. aid to rebels fighting against Russia, Reagan later said that he had not meant direct shipments of U.S. arms to the rebels. He opposed President Carter’s grain embargo against the Soviet Union in retaliation for the Afghan invasion, but a week later said the United States and its allies should suspend trade with Russia until its troops were withdrawn. “Why shouldn’t the Western world quarantine the Soviet Union until they decide to behave as a civilized nation should?” he asked. A quarantine is a warlike act, and Reagan later said he was not recommending this, only urging that such a step be considered. This summer he carried his suggestion further, saying we should have told the Russians: “Look, don’t talk to us about trade. There will be none. Don’t talk to us about treaties, like SALT II,” until the troops are withdrawn.

In January, he also said, about Afghanistan, “I think it’s time to send signals by showing a presence, preferably in air power.” By “presence,” Reagan meant, according to Louis Berney in The Rutland [Vermont] Herald, “Not only would he dispatch planes to the Middle East…but he also would station a permanent naval fleet” in the area of the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. He also, more famously, suggested blockading Cuba in retaliation for the Russian invasion. “I’m suggesting,” he said, “that we might blockade Cuba and stop the transportation back and forth of Russian arms, of Soviet military.” Again: “One option might well be that we surround the island of Cuba and stop all traffic in and out.” George Bush, running against him, said, “That’s a lot of macho.” He quoted an ex-chief of naval operations saying it would “take the entire Atlantic fleet” to maintain such a blockade. And, Bush asked, “Why do you do that? Cuba didn’t invade Afghanistan.”


The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan also provoked Reagan’s call, early this year, for the stationing of U.S. troops in Pakistan. Discussing what the U.S. advisers would do in Pakistan, he said, “They would go to the country we have a treaty with, Pakistan, and that training could be provided there.” Next he suggested stationing U.S. warplanes in Pakistan to signal Russia that continued aggression would lead to confrontation. Asked how many planes he had in mind, he said it could be no more than a squadron.

Then Reagan said he would be willing for the United States to abandon its efforts to prevent Pakistan from developing an atomic bomb, if, in return, it would agree to let our planes in. Did this mean he was not opposed to Pakistan acquiring a nuclear bomb? “Yes,” he replied. Two hours later, attempting to counter the shockwaves his statement set off, Reagan revealed that he thinks the United States might as well stop resisting the spread of nuclear weapons: “India next door has them [nuclear weapons]. And India is very hostile to Pakistan…. What I am saying is that we have not succeeded [in halting proliferation]. The United States seems to be the only nation that is trying to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons.”

Vietnam–the ‘Noble Cause’

A further idea of how Reagan would employ U.S. military power if he was President can be gleaned from his attitudes during the Vietnam War. He went as far as anyone holding high office in calling for all-out war on North Vietnam. In October 1965, for example, after Lyndon Johnson had sent in troops and U.S. bombing of North Vietnam had become a pattern, Reagan said, “We should declare war on North Vietnam. We could pave the whole country and put parking stripes on it and still be home by Christmas.” In the fall of 1967, Reagan said the United States should “impose its full resources to end it as soon as possible”–should “commit all the power we need to win a victory as quickly as possible.”

Unmistakably, his mind had turned to nuclear weapons. Did he propose they be used in Vietnam? “No one would cheerfully want to use atomic weapons,” he said. “But the last person in the world that should know we wouldn’t use them is the enemy: He should go to bed every night being afraid that we might.” The Korean War was halted, he recalled, after the United States “let the word get to the enemy by way of certain neutral sources that we were considering the use of atomic weapons.”

Trying to fight in Vietnam with foot soldiers was wrong, he said, “when there are forces like Russia and China–Asia, generally–that can outman us.” Instead, “the full technological resources of the United States” should be used, he said. Again–nukes? “Well…nuclear weapons, we hope, would not be resorted to,” he said in 1967. In midsummer 1968, with peace in the wind, he said nuclear weapons were “neither necessary nor desirable in this conflict,” though he thought we should not have assured everyone they would not be used. When the peace talks with the North Vietnamese got underway he said the United States should set a deadline in the negotiations and if it wasn’t met, “kick the devil” out of them. Threatening invasion would be “a pretty good threat to hold over their heads” in the Paris peace talks, he said; and he implied he’d prefer the atomic threat by alluding again to Dwight Eisenhower’s message to the Chinese in 1953 that the United States was going to “review its options with regard to weapons, theaters of operation, manners of fighting, and so forth.” Reagan said, “The same thing…should be true in the Paris negotiations.” As the Nixon Republicans took over the war, the Governor out on the Coast fell relatively quiet. But the sudden collapse of the South Vietnamese and the chaotic U.S. pullout reheated his bellicosity. Congress had lost Vietnam by acting “more irresponsibly than any Congress in our history” and had “blood on their hands,” he said in early May 1975. By the month’s end he was asking, “Can anyone think for one moment that North Vietnam would have moved to the attack had its leaders believed we would respond with B-52s?… B-52s should make a moonscape out of North Korea if South Korea is attacked.”

Last August, Reagan was roundly cudgeled in the national press for an alleged blooper. At the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Chicago, he said: “For too long, we have lived with the ‘Vietnam Syndrome.’… It is time we recognized that ours was, in truth, a noble cause.” But the surprise was the media’s surprise. Evidently the memories of reporters are even shorter than the memories of the people. As far as is known, there is not one scrap of evidence anywhere that Ronald Reagan has ever thought Vietnam was anything but a noble war. This tells more about his approach to the outside world than anything else can. Perhaps this is why most people preferred thinking he had blundered to realizing he had said what he believes.

When Johnson sent the Marines to Santo Domingo in 1965, Reagan did not comment, perhaps because he agreed. With Johnson’s restraint when the North Koreans seized the U.S.S. Pueblo and her crew, however, Reagan violently disagreed: ”I cannot for the life of me understand why someone in the United States Government, particularly the President, has not said, ‘That ship had better come out of that harbor in twenty-four hours or we are coming in after it.’ ” If the ship and men were not out pronto, he said he would tell Pyongyang, “We’re coming in to get them, and we’ll use planes, guns, torpedoes, whatever it takes.”

A few days later, asked if there might not be retaliation against the crew, he replied, “if you are going to be overly concerned…as to whether the enemy is going to retaliate in any way…what number do we set the limit on? How many of our citizens can be kidnapped by a foreign power before…[we] do something about it?” Perhaps this attitude explains the truculence of his more recent proposals about the hostages in Iran. At any rate, Reagan later said he had not meant that he would have sent American warships into Wonsan Harbor to take back the Pueblo by force. The United States should have moved within the first twenty-four hours, he now said, possibly by blockading North Korea’s shipping or by seizing one of its ships on the high seas. Johnson’s decision not to act immediately, in Reagan’s view, was “a continuation of the appeasement that started a long time ago.” Johnson continued to forbear to attack, and the ship and crew were safely returned.

Old Two-China Hand

The recent flap about Reagan’s position on Taiwan, which angered the Communist Chinese, was treated in the American press as another Reagan fumble. Yet the incident is much like his remark that Vietnam was a noble cause–the surprise is the surprise. Taiwan and the Nationalist Chinese have been a recurring preoccupation of his. On radio in 1978 and 1979, Reagan raged as the Carter Administra- tion moved to establish diplomatic relations with Mainland China and abrogate the U.S. defense treaty with Taiwan. The proposed relationship with Red China, Reagan said, was “based on betrayal of the Free Chinese on Taiwan”; in the new arrangement, the world’s nations “have seen us cold-bloodedly betray a friend for political expediency”; “haven’t we also betrayed millions and millions of Chinese on the mainland who lived with a dream of one day regaining freedom?” He urged that Congress provide Taiwan advanced weaponry so it would not “fall to the Communists.” In one broadcast in the spring of 1978, Reagan said he had the complete text of a 42,000-word speech by Peking’s Foreign Minister, Huang Hua, delivered the preceding July. “He…asked,” Reagan said, “If the American people have the will to share the fate of Taiwan if and when Peking sets out to conquer the Republic of China.” The Minister answered his own question: “The United States is a paper tiger…. We can paint not only its skin but also its bones.” Reagan then described examples from recent history that Huang cited in support of this view: “The firing of MacArthur because he wanted to win the Korean War and our failure to be decisive in Vietnam,” as Reagan summarized them. Given the martial cast of Reagan’s mind on the subject of China, it is easy to see why his advisers have sought to tone him down. After the fiasco of Bush’s trip to China, when Reagan called for “official” relations with Taiwan, Reagan and his camp have been reassuring everyone that as President he would not change U.S. relations with Taiwan or maintain a “two-China” policy.

Darkness on Africa

Continuing our round-the-world trip with Ronald Reagan, we next stop in Angola. After President Gerald Ford had ordered covert military aid to anti-Soviet factions in that African country’s civil war in January 1976, Reagan, vying with Ford in the New Hampshire primary and apparently needing to outdo him, said, “I think it’s time for us to straighten up and eyeball them [the Russians].” On Angola he would tell them, he said, “Out. We’ll let them fight it out themselves, or you’re going to have to deal with us.” He declined to say what retaliatory moves he had in mind. Last May he called for the United States to send weapons to the Savimbi guerrillas in Angola.

Later in 1976, Reagan suggested he would consider sending U.S. troops to Rhodesia. He had been saying, at the Sacramento Press Club, that the United States and Britain should try to mediate a transition to democratic majority rule and prevent bloodshed. How prevent bloodshed, he was asked. In a rambling answer he said perhaps the agreement would do It, or “Whether it will be enough to have simply a show of strength, a promise that we would [supply] troops, or whether you’d have to go in with occupation forces or not, I don’t know.” In a not quite grammatical sentence, he seemed to say, send troops: “But I believe in the interests of peace and avoiding bloodshed, and to achieve a democratic majority rule which we all, I think, subscribe to, I think would be worth this for us to do it.”

Later, Reagan said his remarks had been hypothetical, but got himself into water still hotter with a candid discussion of sending troops to Lebanon, to Cyprus and elsewhere in the world. It will be best to reproduce reporter Robert Lindsey’s account in The New York Times of Reagan’s remarks four years ago:

Mr. Reagan said there had been “many instances” where the United States had sent a “token military force,” such as to Lebanon during the Eisenhower Administration, and suggested that it would not be inappropriate for the United States to do so if it could achieve a transition in Rhodesia He suggested that the United States should have done this during the recent Cyprus crisis that also involved Turkey and Greece, and during the current Lebanese civil war, and said that he would favor such troop actions as President.

Cuban Blockade

During October Reagan said, “The Caribbean is being made–by way of Cuba, the Soviets’ proxy–into a Red lake.” He attributes the turmoil in Nicaragua, El Salvador and other Central American countries to Russia’s ally Cuba. His readiness to send the Marines or the fleet down that way and his pat invocations of the memory of Teddy Roosevelt must warm the old Rough Rider in his grave.

Concerning Reagan’s suggestion that the United States blockade Cuba because Russia has invaded Afghanistan, Reagan’s underlying views provide an answer to Bush’s question at the time, ”Why Cuba?” Reagan is looking for, or at least seizes on, reasons to blockade Cuba. “[Russia’s] satellite state is ninety miles off our coast,” he says. “Suppose we put a blockade around that island and said, Now, buster, we’ll lift it when you take your forces out of Afghanistan’?” The blockade, he says, would be “a grave logistical problem” for Russia, and Cuba “could not afford that blockade.” One of Reagan’s top advisers in foreign policy, William Van Cleave, who is a defense analyst at the University of Southern California, thinks a blockade may be a good way to stem Cuban revolutionary activities.

Would not a blockade of Cuba lead to a confrontation with Russia similar to the 1962 missile crisis? The fact that the 1962 crisis brought the world as close as we have come to nuclear holocaust does not seem to be what stuck in Reagan’s mind. In fact, he seems to believe President John Kennedy failed in the crisis. “We have seen,” he said in 1972, “an American President walk all the way to the barricade in the Cuban missile crisis, and lack the will to take the final step to make it successful.” (On the other hand, Reagan knows the United States “won” this showdown. As he has said, “In 1962…our superiority was so great that Khrushchev had no choice but to back down.”) Since, in achieving the Russian turn-back, Kennedy pledged that the United States would not invade Cuba, perhaps such an invasion is “the final step” Reagan was referring to.

The most treacherous question of postwar U.S. foreign policy–what to do when left-wing revolutionary forces seek to overthrow corrupt but pro-United States dictators–was succinctly raised by the overthrow of Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua. Reagan conceded in a radio talk in 1979 that some Nicaraguans had justified grievances, but “most of the rebels are Cuban-trained.” Their revolt was creating “another Communist country in this hemisphere.” He charged that the Administration “arm-twisted the Nicaraguan Government as much as it could…to force Somoza to step down.” Clearly, Reagan favored putting the rebels down and keeping the dictator in power.

The Implacable Enemy

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.

The Trump Card

Now present in Reagan’s speeches, and apparently reflecting his convictions, is the idea that the United States should play what he calls its “trump card” with Russia–threatening it with “the possibility of an arms race” by suddenly launching a crash program. Reagan first made this proposal in 1977. According to a U.P.I. story, he said then that Carter has “one trump card that has never been used. We know and the Soviet Union knows that if there is to be an arms race, they can’t even get in the same ballpark with us,” and Carter should be willing to use the “threat” of a new arms race with the Russians. The “trump card” play stands or falls on the truth of the assumption that the Soviet Union cannot keep pace with the United States in building arms–which is highly dubious. This summer, to The Washington Post, Reagan suggested that an arms buildup by the United States would make sense because Russia cannot divert any more of its funds to arms and would come to the arms-control bargaining table. But Reagan indicated his view most starkly in a 1978 radio broadcast when he said:

The plain truth is we cannot verify whether the Soviets are carrying out the terms of SALT II and it is a falsehood to suggest we can.
   In his June 28 column, journalist Ben Stem summed it up very well: “An unrestrained arms race which the U.S. could not possibly lose given our industrial superiority, or a treaty (SALT II) which says that the arms race is over and that we have lost it.” And he asks–“which is worse?”

Reagan did not, on the radio, answer Stem’s question, but there is little doubt what his answer would be: An unrestrained arms race is preferable.

Reagan’s insistence on a military buildup aimed at U.S. “military superiority” might seem to the Russians to be aimed actually at the attainment of a first-strike capability. In January, Reagan explained extemporaneously, “What I have said is that our defenses must be whatever is necessary to insure that the potential enemy will never dare attack you. Now, if that is equivalence or if that is superiority, you must have the degree to know that you are safe. I could see that if you really strive for an obvious superiority then you may tempt the other side into being afraid and you continue escalating 0n both sides. but…it must be whatever strength is necessary to insure your safety and peace.”

The haggle over the words “superiority” and “equivalence” (or “parity”) seems like a nit-pick, but of course is not, because which kind of word one uses conveys momentous intentions and describes technological decisions of awesome import. The Republican platform adopted this summer calls for “overall military and technological superiority over the Soviet Union.” Speaking to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, in August, Reagan apparently pulled back from the full meaning of superiority, saying, “I’ve called for whatever it takes to be strong enough that no other nation will dare violate the peace. This is what we mean by superiority.”

Reagan also seems to believe that the United States could not retaliate effectively if hit by a Russian first strike. This spring he told Business Week, “We need one of two things: either an offensive weapon that would give us a second-strike capability, so if the Soviets made that first strike we’d still have something to retaliate with, and damage them to the point where they’d never want to make the first strike; or some form of defensive weapon, like the lasers we are experimenting with.”

Why does Reagan believe that the Russians could risk a first strike? He gave his reasoning in a 1978 radio broadcast, in which he said:

Do the Russians subscribe to our belief in “mutual assured destruction” as a deterrent to war? Apparently we think so, but—just as apparently–the Russians do not. We say “thermonuclear war is unthinkable by either side” The Russians have told their own people that while it would be a calamity, it is not unthinkable; that it very well might happen and if it does, the Soviet Union will survive and be victorious.

For some time Reagan has been saying that Russia is preparing to win a nuclear war. These statements seem to imply, but they do not say, that Russia is planning to make a nuclear first strike. As early as 1975, Reagan said that under SALT II Russia could “make a first strike…with little fear of reprisal.” Last year he said, “While we plan to prevent a war, the Soviets plan to win a war.” The MX missile system, which Carter has quietly approved, and for which Reagan has also promised sped-up appropriations to get it operational as quickly as possible, may very well be widely perceived, when in place, as giving the United States a first-strike capability. In this very dangerous situation, Reagan is in effect indicating that Russia is planning to commit a first strike against the United States. If he is elected, what argument is to dissuade the Russians from concluding that Reagan is seeking to attain a first-strike capability against them?

Nuclear Reductions

What would be the prospects for a renegotiated SALT II treaty under Reagan as President? The first thing to be noted about Reagan as chief American arms-control negotiator is that he would not countenance a mutual phasing-out of the two superpowers’ weapons systems to keep each side reasonably reassured that the other has not gotten too far ahead. “I would say to the Soviet Union,” Reagan told The Wall Street Journal, “we aren’t going to sit down at the table unless we’re discussing the reduction of nuclear weapons.”

The catch, if it is that, may be found in a phrase Reagan first used on radio last fall. “Let’s assure the Soviet Union,” he said, “we will join in any arms limitation agreement that legitimately reduces nuclear armaments to the point that neither country represents a threat to the other.” In Reagan’s statement issued on October 10, he says, “The United States should he prepared to discuss an arms limitation agreement which legitimately reduces nuclear weapons on both sides to the point where neither country represents a threat to the other.”

A situation in which the superpowers are denuclearized to the point where neither is a threat to the other would require all but total nuclear disarmament–a near impossibility in one round of negotiations. As schoolmarms and Russian specialists in English know, the omission of a comma before the word “which” in the last formulation quoted above means that the qualifying phrase restricts what it qualifies, and this means that Reagan was saying the only arms agreement the United States should be willing to sit down and talk about is one that will achieve a near impossibility.

Reagan’s attitude toward nuclear weapons casts further doubt on his dedication to arms control. His enthusiasm for the neutron bomb approaches an epiphany. “By greatly limiting the local damage from an attack on enemy troops, the warhead would help preserve the homeland of Western Europeans from the devastation of war,” he said recently. And on radio in 1978, he was even more enthusiastic:

Very simply it is the dreamed-of death-ray weapon of science fiction. It kills enemy soldiers but doesn’t blow up the surrounding countryside or destroy villages, towns and cities. It won’t even destroy an enemy tank–just kill the tank crew.
    Now some express horror at this and, charging immorality, portray those who would use such a weapon as placing a higher value on property than human life. This is sheer unadulterated nonsense. It is harsh sounding, but all war weapons back to the club, the sling and the arrow are designed to kill the soldiers of the enemy. With gunpowder and artillery and later bombs and bombers, war could not be continued to the battlefield. And so came total war with noncombatants outnumbering soldiers in casualties.
    Here is a deterrent weapon available to us at much lower cost than trying to match the enemy gun for gun, tank for tank, plane for plane…. Indeed the neutron bomb represents a moral improvement in the horror that is modern war.

About the cruise missile, too, Reagan is similarly ecstatic: “You can shoot it down a pickle barrel at 2,000 miles.”

What will all the new arms Reagan claims we need cost? Reagan says Carter’s 3 percent rise in the military budget is not nearly enough; according to The Wall Street Journal, Reagan’s advisers agree that defense expenditures must rise at least $30 billion a year during Reagan’s first term, and Reagan has told his advisers he is prepared to delay a balanced budget, if necessary, to spend more on defense. This could knock Reagan’s rhetoric against inflation into a cocked hat, of course.

“I have never gone by the figures…. No, go by the weapons,” Reagan said this year. “Just ask these men who would have to fight the war what are the essential weapons.” (As Murray Rothbard remarks in Inquiry, “Sure. Just ask the Pentagon.”)

“No, I’m not going to get us into war,” Reagan told Hearst’s Kingsbury Smith this year. Reagan’s recurrent theme is peace through power: “I’ve always believed that if you have strong enough means of defense, you don’t have to use them.”

And what about President Eisenhower’s historic warning to the American people as he left office that they should beware of the growth and sway of the military-industrial complex? Reagan remembers that too, although he did not refer to Eisenhower as he said last February: “There is only one military-industrial complex whose operations should concern us and it is not located in Arlington, Virginia, but in Moscow in the Soviet Union.”

In the nineteenth or early twentieth century Ronald Reagan would be just another Republican President, another McKinley, another Hoover, distinctly on the backward-looking side, but the nation would survive him. He is like the nice old-fashioned Dad, unaccountably mean and brutal when things strike him the wrong way, whom everybody obeys but nobody really pays much attention to.

In the nuclear era, however, based on the record from which we must make educated guesses before we can vote, he is the most dangerous person ever to come this close to the Presidency, and if elected he would be the most dangerous leader so far in history. Reagan would have to decide whether to send weapons, planes or troops, electronically equipped covert-action teams or the Rapid Deployment Force, and Reagan would have to decide whether to “mash the button.” In foreign policy, he would be little different, really, from Theodore Roosevelt, except for the means at his disposal–biological weapons, nuclear warheads we can “shoot down a pickle barrel at 2,000 miles,” submarines that can kill whole clusters of cities and all the people in them. At Reagan’s age, with his ideas and his advisers, in this era, he is a menace to the human race. That 1s my honest view, and as a citizen in my country still free, I say it.

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