Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Icarus Syndrome Continued

In his book, 'the Icarus Syndrome,' Peter Beinart has a very interesting take on Ronald Reagan, viz., that he buried, gave last rites to what Beinart calls the "hubris of toughness" that defined the Administrations of JFK, LBJ, and RMN. Here is a passage from his chapter entitled "If There Is a Bear?":

"In 'Reagan: the Movie,' America, after a long string of indignities and defeats, finally remembers how to win. It returns to Vietnam, slays its demons, and recaptures the confidence of a bygone age. It was as if the country had turned back the clock to 1964, relegating the entire post-toughness era to the status of a bad dream. (The other big movie of 1985 was actually titled 'Back to the Future.') In 1982, Hasbro Toys resumed producing the G.I. Joe action figure, which it had discontinued the year after Saigon fell. By 1985, it was America's bestselling toy. That same year in New York, Vietnam vets got the ticker-tape parade they had been long denied. "This country has really needed to flex its muscles," declared the man who played Rambo, Sylvester Stallone. "The other little nations were pulling at us, saying, 'You're bullying. Don't tread on us.' So we pulled back....And what happened, as usual, is people took kindness for weakness, and America lost its esteem. Right now, it's just flexing. You might say America has gone back to the gym."

"'Reagan the Movie' delighted audiences. But it was a fantasy. When it came to foreign policy, the real Reagan didn't turn back the clock to 1964. He never seriously considered enforcing global containment with U.S. troops. Instead of refighting Vietnam, he created Potemkin Vietnams where America won because it could not possibly lose. He served up victories on the cheap, triumphs without risk. Reagan's critics often accused him of reviving the chest-thumping spirit that led to Vietnam. But they missed the point. For Reagan, chest-thumping was in large measure a substitute for Vietnam, a way of accommodating to the new restraints on U.S. power while still helping Americans feel strong and proud. Reagan didn't revive the hubris of toughness. He did what Carter had tried but failed to do: He performed the last rites." [p. 219]

And again:
"Had Reagan wanted to refight Vietnam, El Salvador would have been a logical place. Its smaller size and greater proximity to the United States would have made logistics easier. The American military had a better grasp of its language, culture, and terrain. Its leftist rebels were less unified and battle-hardened than the Vietcong. And if you saw those rebels as agents of Moscow, as Reagan did, the Monroe Doctrine offered a rationale for intervention that dated back to the nineteenth century.

"But Reagan never considered it. At a meeting in early 1981, his first secretary of state, Haig, - the senior official most interested in picking a fight south of the border - told his colleagues that if Cuba didn't stop arming El Salvador's communist rebels, 'I'll make the island a fucking parking lot.'......[Reagan] certainly wanted to keep Central America from falling to communism, and his efforts in that regard helped get a vast number of Nicaraguans and Salvadorians killed. (As a percentage of its populaton, Nicaragua lost more people ...than the United States did in the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam combined.) But Reagan knew he could not get any of his own citizens killed. So when the hawks proposed sending U.S. troops to Central America, he pointed out that Latins did not like 'the colossus of the north sending in the Marines.'....Reagan did not dwell on his failure to overthrow a Soviet ally less than a thousand miles from the Rio Grande. He saw the bright side: He had prevented another Vietnam. Whereas he had once vowed to stare down Moscow and Havana, he now congratulated himself for staring down his own right-wing base. 'Those sons of bitches won't be happy until we have 25,000 troops in Managua,' he told his chief of staff triumphantly in 1988, 'and I'm not going to do it.''' [PP. 223-224 and 225-226]

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