Sunday, February 06, 2011

Fighting The Last War

On Thursday, Rush Limbaugh played a clip of incumbent President Ronald Reagan, during a presidential debate in Kansas City, criticizing Jimmy Carter's Iranian policy. Limbaugh commented

But that was Reagan explaining why we shouldn't always be so quick to trade a friendly dictator for Muslim extremists. The bottom line always remains what's in the best interests of the United States.

A few moments later, he would add

we're celebrating the 100th anniversary of Reagan's birthday this week, and yet this has got the smell of Jimmy Carter, Jimmy Carter's second term. Iran, now Egypt, being handed over to a bunch of fundamentalists, or taken over, whatever is happening.

Sure, "whatever is happening" because Limbaugh doesn't know and probably doesn't care. Still, as long as he referred in the context of Muslim extremists to the folly of "trading," and referred to the need for policy to be "what's in the best interests of the United States," let's take a little trip down memory lane.

In 1985 and 1986, the Reagan Administration sent to Iran via Israel varied military weaponry including Hawks (surface-to-air missiles), TOW (tube-launched, optically-tracked, wire-guided) missiles and TOW antitank missiles. Ostensibly, the scheme (details, chronologically, of Iran-Contra/arms for hostages scandal(s) here) was aimed to win the release of seven Americans held hostage by Iranian-sponsored militants in Lebanon. One hostage, Reverend Benjamin Weir, was released, although during the course of the operation, more Americans were taken hostage by Hezbollah. Not only was the policy, carried out by an Administration posing as a foe of terrorism, itself disastrous, but Independent Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh concluded

the exposure of the Iran/contra affair generated a new round of illegality. Beginning with the testimony of Elliott Abrams and others in October 1986 and continuing through the public testimony of Caspar W. Weinberger on the last day of the congressional hearings in the summer of 1987, senior Reagan Administration officials engaged in a concerted effort to deceive Congress and the public about their knowledge of and support for the operations. Independent Counsel has concluded that the President's most senior advisers and the Cabinet members on the National Security Council participated in the strategy to make National Security staff members McFarlane, Poindexter and North the scapegoats whose sacrifice would protect the Reagan Administration in its final two years. In an important sense, this strategy succeeded. Independent Counsel discovered much of the best evidence of the cover-up in the final year of active investigation, too late for most prosecutions.

Many conservatives were, are are, unconcerned about the morality (lacking) and illegality (abundant) about the operation. Nor are they concerned that the arms-for-hostages deal failed miserably.

Although the Reagan Doctrine was designed to aid anti-communist factions throughout the world, the policy ran aground in Afghanistan. There, the Reagan Administration continued- and expanded- the United States' role in aiding the Mujahideen. Largely through the Pakistani ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence), the CIA played an active role in recruiting and training Mujahideen, organizing planning operations, and supplying weapons to the forces fighting the Soviet occupiers. Eventually, the Soviets left Aghanistan in failure and disgrace while Islamic terrorists were strengthened and emboldened. A policy in "the best interests of the United States" short-term proved devastating in the long term.

So celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the former President because he did more than any American President- save Truman- to bring down the Soviet Union. (And then we can celebrate the birthday of Mikhail Gorbachev. And Lech Walesa. And Pope John Paul II. And- oh, never mind.) Or perhaps because, as Rush Limbaugh and many other conservatives would celebrate, President Reagan, as Salon's Joan Walsh noted

began a destructive spiral of concentrating wealth in the hands of fewer people, and deregulating business, that culminated in the economic crash we're still digging out of today. He even heralded it, by signing the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institution Act, which waved the "Go" flag on the savings and loan scandal, and foreshadowed the repeal of Glass-Steagall a decade later. To review: Under Reagan, income inequality began to grow, household savings dwindled, household debt correspondingly began to rise, and the clout of the financial industry exploded. The top 0.1 percent of Americans saw their share of income climb higher than it was before the Great Depression.

President Reagan sent the U.S. into a long spiral of debt and helped to strangle programs aiding the poor and the middle class while pursuing a pro-corporate, anti-labor agenda. The right can be justifiably proud (and in the case of Limbaugh, is) that the the devastating divide between the wealthy and other Americans was thus launched. While the Soviet Union dissolved due to an array of factors, President Reagan aided Muslim terrorists in the Middle East, supplied chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein, and cut and run when a Marine barracks was bombed. While to right-wing extremists this may have "the smell of Jimmy Carter," one can only hope it does not have the impact Ronald Reagan had on extremism.

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