Right As Usual

By John Lovejoy

I want to set Iraq aside for now and address the inaccurate theorizing about postwar American history found in the responses of Joshua Nachowitz and James Liu to my column on Iraq.

If my position on the Cold War is propaganda, why have Mikhail Gorbachev and his former foreign ministry officials given Ronald Reagan much of the credit for bringing down the Soviet Union? These men admit that the strong military face presented by the U.S. under his administration forced the Soviets to reevaluate their strategy of expansion. The Soviets made Gorbachev their leader and told him to reform the country to keep up with the arms race. The Soviet leaders could not control the reform they had started, and their government collapsed.

Had America re-elected Carter in 1980, the Soviets would have continued on in their aggressive course without fearing American response. They believed that Carter lacked the backbone to stand to them because they had seen his weakness during the Iran hostage crisis. The Iranians released those hostages right as Reagan was inaugurated because they knew he would come after them if they did not.

Liu and Nachowitz are fulminous with their praise of Jimmy Carter. I did not mean to ignore the triumph that was the Camp David accords. After all, taking two countries that want to stop fighting and getting them to agree to a peace treaty is quite an accomplishment. But saying that Carter was great because he won the Nobel Peace Prize is ridiculous. Yasser Arafat, who supports terrorism, has a Nobel Peace Prize. Frank Kellogg, an American Secretary of State, won one in 1929 for spearheading the Kellogg-Briand Pact. That pact, signed by all the major countries of the world, was supposed to guarantee an end to war, but by 1938 it wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on. The Nobel committee gives its prize to politicians who have made the most peaceful gestures, not to leaders who have made the world a safer, freer place, like Ronald Reagan or either of the George Bushes.

Nachowitz and Liu both counter that Reagan supported the mujahideen in Afghanistan, and that he supported the Contras and Allende. OK, fine, if we want to bring that sort of thing up, Franklin Roosevelt aided the Soviet Union, one of the most murderous regimes in history, because it suited our interests to do so. I respect and admire Roosevelt more than any president other than Lincoln, but most scholars agree that he was too naive in his dealings with the Soviets, which resulted in the unnecessary suffering of many innocent people.

My point is that presidents cannot predict the future. Reagan had no way of knowing the Afghan rebels would turn on us after defeating the Soviets. In any case, even if they had not, al Qaeda would still have found a refuge somewhere and would probably still have been able to attack us on September 11.

Liu and Nachowitz also try to deflect blame for Vietnam from the Democrats. The facts do not support this argument. Eisenhower did not intervene to help the French at Dien Bien Phu. Granted, he gave money to them and the South Vietnamese; I guess you could call these “tentative steps,” much the same way as asking a girl what time it is a “tentative step” to marrying her. However, had Eisenhower intended to really intervene, he surely would have done so when the French were still a viable force, which would have allowed us to avoid having to fight on the ground.

When Eisenhower left office there were fewer than 800 American military advisers in Vietnam. By the time John F. Kennedy was assassinated, he had sent 16,000 troops to Vietnam to fight alongside the South Vietnamese. Lyndon Johnson then committed the full bulk of the U.S. military, and the number of American troops crested at over 530,000 by the time he left office. During Richard Nixon’s first year in office, he withdrew over 100,000 troops, and decreased our involvement each year following. Granted, Nixon bombed Cambodia, but this and other actions were taken to provide cover for the American withdrawal.

These facts show that a Republican president did everything possible to avoid drawing us into a futile war, Democratic presidents threw the country into it, and another Republican gradually, but steadily, pulled us out.

Anyone who has taken a history class should know one can draw different conclusions about historical events. All I am saying is that the evidence tends to support my contention that Republicans have been more successful than Democrats in foreign policy. The assumption that Republicans are stupid and wrong, that everything they say is lies and propaganda, and that their positions are illegitimate, seems to be the theme of many responses I get to my columns. It is such a widely held position on this and other campuses that one would think Republicans were some radical fringe, but America gave Ronald Reagan two landslide presidential victories. It is unfortunate that liberals will continue to denigrate my arguments, while taking the accuracy of their own for granted.