Ronald Reagan, Warmonger

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This
article first appeared in the Libertarian
Forum, Vol. XVII, Nos. 7–8, July–August, 1983.

The
world is in very dangerous waters. The "true" or rhetorical
Ronald Reagan, the second Reagan of the conservative "Let
Reagan Be Reagan" slogan, has functioned only in the
world of rhetoric since the beginning of his misbegotten Administration,
or arguably since he embraced the Rockefeller Republicans at the
convention of 1980. The rhetorical Reagan, the "Get Big Government
Off Our Backs," free market, war-with-Russia stance, has
been particularly eclipsed since the end of the first year of
his Administration. In economics, quasi-libertarians, monetarists,
and supply-siders have been elbowed aside since 1982, and replaced
by the same kind of quasi-conservative Keynesians who brought
us the Nixon and Ford Administrations. In foreign policy, however,
while the war fanatics like Richard Allen and Richard Pipes were
booted out after a year, there has recently been a recrudescence
of war-hawk domination by a troika of old Reagan buddy
Judge William P. Clark, national security adviser whose admitted
total ignorance of foreign affairs seems especially to qualify
him for a top foreign policy post; Cap Weinberger of Bechtel Corporation
and the Defense Department; and neo-conservative hatchet-lady
and political scientist Jeane Kirkpatrick, whose contribution
to political theory was to distinguish between "good"
authoritarian and "bad" totalitarian torture.

The
war-hawk troika signaled its accession to power by booting
out Thomas Enders (one of the people most responsible for the
Vietnam War) and Deane Hinton from their key State Department
posts in Central American policy, for the sin of being too dovish
and soft-nosed. This was a shock to those knowledgeable in foreign
affairs, since it was roughly equivalent to Hitler's firing Goebbels
for being soft on the Jewish Question. Clearly, we were in for
a lot of trouble. Since the rise of the troika, and the
relative eclipse of the "dovish" George Shultz in foreign
policy, the following events have occurred as the Reagan Administration
heats up the Cold War and marches, step by step, toward World
War III.

I.
Reagan Breaks the Law

If
there is one thing that conservatives are firm about, it is that
one must never, ever break the law. No matter how unjust the law,
they prate, one must never disobey it; one must only try one's
best to get the law changed. But as long as a law is on the
books, it must be enforced. And yet Ronnie Reagan has
broken at least two laws openly, flagrantly, and defiantly. Even
so, no one, least of all conservatives, has called for his Impeachment.

What
are these laws? One is the Boland Amendment, in which Congress
made illegal any U.S. government attempt to give covert aid to
Nicaraguan rebels in order to overthrow, or, as they say these
days, "destabilize," the Nicaraguan government. Yet
the CIA has been giving massive aid to the Nicaraguan contras,
and has even established bases for the contras in neighboring
Honduras, setting up the conditions for an escalating war between
the two nations. This has been perhaps the most open "covert"
operation in history. For many months, the U.S. government has
been using the patently lame excuse that the "covert"
aid was certainly not designed to overthrow the Nicaraguan government.
No, it is only to put some pressure on Nicaragua to stop sending
aid to the leftist guerrillas in El Salvador. While this
aid might well be there, it has been so elusive, that the best
efforts of the U.S. and its satraps to prove Nicaraguan aid have
so far been abject failures. Most guerrilla weapons, in the time-honored
tradition, have come from the United States, either via capture
of government arms or sale by corrupt government officials.

Recently,
however, the Reagan Administration has felt so emboldened on the
march toward war that it has allowed ultra-hawk Under Secretary
of Defense Fred ("the Ick") Ikle to proclaim frankly
and boldly that yes indeed the "covert" aid is designed
to overthrow the Nicaraguan regime. So why isn't Reagan impeached
and Ikle booted out?

The
second flagrant defiance of the law was Reagan's refusal to obey
the War Powers Act, by which Congress ordered the President to
subject the maintenance of U.S. troops abroad to its wishes as
soon as these troops become subject to actual hostilities. U.S.
Marines have been killed in Beirut, and yet the President stubbornly
refused to obey the War Powers Act, and only grudgingly agreed
to a compromise when Congress knuckled under and ratified the
Marines staying in Lebanon for at least another 18 months. Yet,
amidst Congressional appeals and whines for Reagan to please,
sir, obey the law, no one, of either party mentioned Impeachment.
Since the brief and glorious flurry in 1974, has impeachment once
again become unthinkable?

II.
Deeper Into Lebanon

U.S.
policy in Lebanon is a classic case of sinking deeper and deeper
into a quagmire, almost deliberately escalating step-by-step into
another Vietnam. We begin, seemingly innocent enough, contributing
1,300 Marines to an international "peacekeeping" force.
Amidst all the right-wing jibes at the United Nations, we forget
that the major problem with the UN is not its "anti-Americanism"
but its being designed as an instrument for "collective security
against aggression," i.e. bringing us a state of potentially
permanent war in seeking the chimera of permanent peace. The trouble
with the UN is that it gets us into situations like a seemingly
harmless "peacekeeping" operation.

But
how, after all, do soldiers "keep the peace" except
through fighting and killing? And so here we are in the midst
of a civil war that has raged among literally dozens of groups
in Lebanon for decades. What in hell does the United States know
or care about the ancient Druse people, for example, and how dare
it set itself up as an arbiter of their fortunes? Originally,
in Step 1 of the operation, U.S. Marines were only supposed to
fire if fired upon. But then a U.S. naval force with 2,000 more
men came, and began shelling Druse positions in the Shouf mountains
above and south of Beirut. The excuse was that these positions
were shelling Marine positions. But soon hostilities escalated
further, and it turns out that the U.S. Navy began to shell the
Druse not for endangering our Marines but for battling against
the Christian Lebanese Army, to which the U.S. is increasingly
committed to winning the civil war. I suppose that, in that logic,
the Lebanese Christians become surrogate U.S. Marines, worthy
of the same protection. And so it goes.

But
not only is the United States presuming to intervene ever further
in the Lebanese civil war, it is also coming down unerringly on
the (long-run) losing side. For a steady fact amidst the confusion
of forces is that "Lebanon" is not a true country but
an abortion. It was carved out of Syria by French imperialism
after World War I, to serve as a French client state. Furthermore,
the religious proportional representation imposed since the 1930's
used as a basis the census of 1932. In that year pro-French Maronite
Christians along with their Christian allies, had a majority of
the Lebanese population. But if current demographics, a half-century
later, were ever used as a basis for quotas of power in the government,
the Muslims would be dominant, since they now form about two-thirds
of the population. The essence of the Lebanese struggle is an
attempt by a minority of "pro-Western" Maronite Christians
to dominate and bully a Muslim majority. In the long run, this
system cannot work and will be overthrown, and it is in this cauldron
that the United States has decided to make itself the major enemy
of Islam in Lebanon. The Lebanese army, much vaunted in the U.S.
media, is a Maronite Christian army, and the President of Lebanon,
Amin Gemayel, is the leader of the very same Phalangist forces
that massacred helpless Palestinian women and children at the
refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila.

American
officials are engaging in a great deal of hand-wringing about
their terrible dilemma in Lebanon. If we stay, we might get embroiled
deeper and deeper in another Vietnam; but if we leave, the Gemayel
government will fall. Tough. It is not a proper function of the
United States to prop up dictators all over the world. And to
those who think we have "national security" interests
in Lebanon (assuming that word can be defined intelligently) it
would be nice to hear exactly what they may be.

As
for the cease-fire, it is nice to have it, but there have been
many cease-fires in Lebanon, and how long does anyone think this
one will last? Any more permanent solution is being held up by
the insistence of Gemayel, a man whose power depends almost totally
on U.S. military might, on conducting negotiations in his own
presidential palace.

Americans
must ask themselves and their government: Why die for Gemayel?
Why die to impose Maronite Christian rule over Muslims? What kind
of foreign policy is that? Is such a policy really necessary to
protect Maine or Seattle from foreign aggression? If we don't
fight the Druse in their ancestral home in the Shouf mountains,
will we really have to fight them in the streets of Boston?

III.
Deeper into Central America

The
Central American morass is not as boldly in the headlines right
now as Lebanon, but is fully as dangerous for escalating military
conflict. The United States is backing an unpopular and despotic
regime in El Salvador, and is building bases in Honduras in order
to aid and abet the "contra" invasion of Nicaragua.
All of these are inexorably losing propositions, and therefore
to keep its wildly interventionist commitments, the U.S. must
continue to escalate its forces and its war in Central America.

In
El Salvador the much-touted "free elections" are now
forgotten, as the guerrillas slowly but surely increase their
power in one province after another. In this country ridden by
dictatorship and by right-wing paramilitary squads murdering dissenters,
government army officers refuse to go out on patrol in guerrilla
country (in the words of the old joke, "you can get killed
out there!") and stay confined to their base, punctuated
occasionally by grand but pointless sweeps throughout the countryside.
Weekends they take off to cavort amidst the fleshpots of the capital
city. In Nicaragua, in contrast, the army is doing very well and
the well-supplied contras are getting nowhere. For one
reason, in contrast to the Salvadoran army, the Nicaraguan forces
go out habitually in small patrols to encounter the enemy.

And
the egregious Fred Ikle proudly proclaims that in Central America
"we seek victory for the forces of democracy." These
are the same "forces" that expelled the bureau chief
of the Associated Press from El Salvador for telling the truth,
and that are daily torturing and murdering dissenters from the
right-wing dictatorial government.

IV.
007 Hysteria

Fueling
all of these war escapades, softening any resistance to them in
Congress and the country, adding to pressure for any and all military
expenditures, is the hysteria whipped up by Reagan, the right-wing,
and the Establishment media over the tragic shooting down of Korean
Airliner 007 over Sakhalin island. After milking the maximum amount
of propaganda from the failure of the Russians to admit shooting
down the plane, or to explain the incident, for eight days, it
turned out that the U.S. authorities were also engaged in telling
untruths on a massive scale. For one thing, the U.S. finally and
grudgingly admitted that the Soviet jet interceptors had indeed
fired several warning shots at 007 before shooting it down. This
after many days of hopped-up denunciations that the Soviets had
neglected to fire any warning shots. Also, it took several days
for the U.S. to admit that a U.S. RC-135 spy plane flew near the
007 route and that for some time the paths of the two actually
coincided.

There
are many unanswered questions and fuzzy areas about 007 – enough,
surely, to defuse the hysteria and try to get back – or forward – to
a sane approach toward the airliner and toward the Soviets generally.

1. What
in hell was KAL 007 doing flying 300 miles off-course for several
hours over Soviet airspace? KAL 747's are equipped
with three separate, cross-checking, internal navigation systems.
The pilot and crew of 007 should have known instantly that they
were off course. And why were there no radio communications from
007 until fifteen minutes before it was shot down? The idea of
radio failure makes no sense. Not only because they did make
contact at long last, but also because 747's are equipped with
five separate radios, two of which can reach anywhere in the world.
Furthermore, the route flown by 007 is well-travelled; there are
planes up there all the time, including another 747 twenty minutes
behind that was carrying Senator Jesse Helms. Why didn't 007 contact
any of these other planes and check where they were?

Moreover,
all Pacific pilots are well aware, and it is marked clearly on
their navigational maps, that one does not fly over Soviet
airspace without advance clearance, because the planes are likely
to be shot down. Why then the insouciance of the 007 pilot? Especially
since a civilian KAL airliner was shot down over the Soviet Arctic
in 1978? There is one crucial difference, however, between the
1978 incident and that of 1983: the 1978 airliner was a 707, with
little of the sophisticated navigational systems of the 747. Its
pilot could well have gotten lost; the 007 pilot could not.

Another
point: 007 was supposed to report every hour to air controllers
on the ground. Why didn't any of the U.S. or Japanese air controllers,
also well aware of the dangers of flying over Soviet territory – especially
the sensitive military installations in the Kamchatka-Sakhalin
area – why didn't they ever notify 007 that it was way off course
and to get back pronto?

Specifically,
we know that the RC-135, our spy plane, was flying on the course
that day to monitor Soviet tests. But our most capable monitor
for the Soviet tests is the U.S. Cobra Dane radar at Shemya, at
the tip of the Aleutians and only 450 miles from Kamchatka. The
Shemya radar would have seen quickly that 007 was off course,
and would have tracked it from then on. Why, then, didn't an American
official at Shemya immediately pick up a phone, call 007, or call
the Japanese controllers at Narita? It is no wonder that the London
Sunday Times concluded from its investigation of the 007
incident that "there is now a growing conviction in military,
political and aviation circles that Captain Byung was not in Soviet
airspace by accident."

2. Was
the 007 incursion planned, and, if so why? If KAL pilot
Chung Byung was "witting," and the U.S. and Japanese
air controllers were perhaps aiding and abetting, what was the
point? The suggestion in the media that Chung Byung might have
taken this dangerous route deliberately to save money on fuel
seems idiotic; surely a hell of a risk to take for saving some
gasoline. It is more plausible to look at Korean Air Lines, nearly
all of whose pilots are former officers in the South Korean Air
Force, and who retain high security clearance. Chung Byung himself
was considered one of KAL's best pilots, as witness the fact that
he was chosen to be the pilot for several 747 flights of the South
Korean president to the U.S. and to various countries in Southeast
Asia during 1981 and 1982. The present form of Korean Air Lines
originated in 1969; before then, the Korean government was running
the company. In that year, the government decided to put KAL into
the hands of a private transportation company, the Hanjin Group,
headed by two brothers, Cho Chong ("Harry") Hoon and
Cho Chong (u2018Charlie Cho") Kun. Most KAL business is manufacturing
aircraft for the Korean Air Force, which of course cements the
closeness of its ties with the Korean military.

Furthermore,
Fred Kaplan reports in the Boston Globe that the two brothers
have close ties with the Korean CIA. A former director of Korean
affairs at the U.S. State Department told Kaplan that throughout
the 1970's Charlie Cho ran money back and forth between the KCIA
and Japanese bigwigs. Kaplan was also told that KAL used to run
money and spies in and out of Korea and assisted the KCIA in its
lucrative drug smuggling.

And
where the KCIA is, can the US CIA be far behind?

The
Soviet Army newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda claimed, on Sept.
16, that Chung Byung had boasted to intimates that he was carrying
out special tasks for U.S. intelligence, that he had placed equipment
on 747's to spy on Soviet installations, and that he intended
to leave KAL soon because of the high risks entailed in flying
for the CIA. This could well be hokum, but it is surely suggestive
in light of the evidence.

If
the 007 incursion was planned by the KCIA, with or without US
connivance, why did they do it? There would appear to be three
possible reasons, or some combination of the three: First, the
747 could have been functioning as a spy plane. A former U.S.
Air Force intelligence officer remembers being told in 1967, according
to Fred Kaplan, that KAL habitually attached side-view cameras
to commercial airliners capable of long-distance photography.
Newt Royce of the Hearst press reported on September 4 that U.S.
intelligence officials admit that civilian airliners are routinely
used for spying: Aeroflot for the Russians, and Finnair and others
for the U.S. The common counter-argument that the U.S. needs no
such photos because of its satellites, runs against the fact that
satellites fly at regular times and so can be evaded if necessary,
and that photos taken at 30,000 feet can often tell more than,
or at least confirm, photos from satellites.

A
second, more plausible, reason was to test the quality and speed
of Soviet air defenses. What they found should have gladdened
their hearts, since they discovered that the Russian military
are a bunch of stumblebums. There is a peculiar tendency of right-wingers,
from conservatives to conservative libertarians, to look upon
the Soviet Union as a mighty, super-efficient, Satanic monolith,
omniscient if not omnipotent, and always ready to strike. Yet
what is the Soviet Union but a giant, rigidified bureaucracy,
and what is bureaucracy but a bunch of confused, ineffective stumblebums?
Free market advocates should, after all, be particularly alive
to this fact.

And
so what we saw in the 007 incident was a Soviet air defense that
didn't seem to know what was going on or what to do, that allowed
a large, slow, passenger airliner to fly for two-and-a-half hours
over sensitive Soviet airspace without interception, that took
all of thirty minutes to get the interceptor jets off the ground.
Not only that: three days after 007, several test-fired Russian
ICBMs blew up over the same area! With this record, it is very
possible that it took Marshal Ogarkov all of eight days to find
out what in hell happened over Pacific Siberia that night.

So
crummy have Soviet air defenses shown themselves to be that various
press reports have U.S. intelligence authorities believing that
up till the very end the Soviets were convinced that they were
tracking and shooting down not a civilian 747 but an RC-135 spy
plane. For one thing, Soviet interceptors may have misidentified
the plane because they were always at least 2,000 feet below 007
and therefore could not make out its distinctive silhouette. Furthermore,
the Soviets could have been misled by their obsolete radar equipment,
and by the fact that Soviet commanders don't trust their pilots
with access to radio frequencies with which they could have contacted
the Korean airliner. In fact, U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Charles
A. Gabriel happily concluded from the 007 incident that the Soviet
air defense performance "gives us a little more confidence"
in the ability of the U.S. Air Force to penetrate Soviet air space
"if necessary." (New York Times, Sept.
18.) Could finding this out have been the point of the whole exercise?

One
thing that the U.S. authorities acknowledge they discovered is
the tense, nervous state of the Soviet air defenders. The Americans
confirmed the Soviet account of nine U.S. military spy plane incursions
into Soviet airspace over the Kurile Islands this year. Take frayed
nerves, the deep fear that the next U.S. military air incursion
might be a nuclear attack, and the Soviet penchant to punish severely
any commanders who allow intruding aircraft to escape, and the
stage was set for the tragedy of 007.

A
third possible reason for the incursion, less plausible than the
others but which should not be dismissed out of hand, is that
007 was a right-wing US/South Korean intrigue designed to provoke
the Soviets into doing precisely what they did – thus heating
up the Cold War and ending any possibility of dtente for a long
time to come. There are various other conspiracy theories about
007 that can be dismissed tout court. One is the Bircher
theory that the Soviets shot down 007 because they knew that Rep.
Larry McDonald (D., Ga.), head of the John Birch Society, was
on the plane. It seems to me that in the improbable event that
McDonald was No. 1 on a Soviet hit list, they could have assassinated
him far more easily in Washington without causing an international
airplane incident in which they lose an enormous number of propaganda
points. (If I were in the Kremlin and had an Americanski hit list,
McDonald would scarcely be high up on it.) Even less plausible
is the kooky antipodal conspiracy theory, voiced by Larry Flynt
of Hustler fame, that McDonald himself was in on the disaster,
along with the CIA, in order to make himself an anti-Communist
martyr and heat up the Cold War. Another kooky sub-variant is
that 007 was a coordinated plot by the Reagan Administration and
the Russians to get rid of McDonald, since the Administration
is run by Trilateralists. A hilarious "sub-sub-variant,"
as noted by the Menckenesque Marxist journalist Alexander Cockburn,
"is that the Russians' true target was Scoop Jackson, knowing
full well that news of the incident would give him a fatal heart
attack." (Village Voice, September 20).

3.
What are the Lessons of 007? The alleged lesson pushed by
the war hawks, the right-wing, and the Reagan Administration (at
least in rhetoric), and following them the bulk of the media,
is that the shooting down of 007 was mass murder or even a "massacre,"
that this "proves" that the Soviet system is evil, and
that the Soviets are barbarians and mass murderers who should
be treated as such. What being treated as such really means is
never fully spelled out. Oddly enough, the policy conclusions
never match up to the bitter and sweeping analyses. Thus, a group
of orthodox, unreconstructed Randians, centered around Peter Schwartz
and his magazine The Intellectual Activist, took the trouble
and the enormous expense to take out a full page ad in the New
York Sunday Times (Sept. 11). The thrust of the ad was
that the Soviet Union should be treated as a "well-armed"
neighborhood police force would deal with murderers in their midst.
The Randians proceed to spell out what they claim to be the implications
of their analogy: specifically the breaking of all diplomatic
relations, since one does not engage in "détente" with
local murderers. Other right-wingers, pursuing the same logic,
have added a call for prohibition of all East-West trade. But
these logicians are acting haltingly and bizarrely on the basis
of their own logic. For of course this sort of thing – ostracism,
refusal to trade or negotiate – is not what neighborhood
police do to a murderer. What they do is to apprehend and execute
him. Following Randian and other right-wing logic, then, what
the United States is supposed to do, right now, is nuke the Soviet
Union.

The
interesting point is: Why don't the Randians and other
right-wingers see that this is their real thrust? Is their grasp
on the logic of their own position that weak? In short, are they
that dumb? Failing that conclusion, the Randian conservatives
can have only two things in mind: either (a) they favor
the immediate nuking of the Soviet Union and haven't got the guts
to say so, i.e. this is precisely the hidden agenda behind their
beating of the war drums; (b) something is holding them
back from going all the way in whooping it up for a nuclear holocaust.
If so, it would behoove them to examine what that something is,
and, if they focused fully on that for a while, they might begin
to reconsider their entire war-hawk perspective. Perhaps then
the Intellectual Activist, which proudly proclaims its
subtitle, "In Defense of Individual Rights," might begin
to see that a nuclear holocaust would, to put it mildly, be a
massive assault on the individual rights to life of countless
millions of innocent Russians and Americans. Perhaps then they
will also see that their own irresponsible rhetoric is tantamount
to threatening and bringing closer a nuclear confrontation that
would slaughter far more innocents than even Communist regimes
have managed in ruling their own subjects. In the good old Randian
phrase: Randians, "Check your premises!"

The
real lessons of 007 are very different, and have gotten
very little attention in the media. They can be summed up as follows:

a.
Americans Are Very Selective in Their Moral Indignation.

In
February 1973, the State of Israel shot down a Libyan commercial
airliner over the Sinai Desert, killing 109 persons. Yet no President
of the United States got on the air to denounce the "massacre,"
no media people claimed that this incident demonstrated the "evil
nature" of the "barbaric" Israeli system, no one
demanded that all trade and diplomatic relations with Israel be
cut off, and no Randians took out full-page ads declaiming that
Israel should be treated as local police treat mass murderers.
Why not?

b. No
Superpower Is To Be Trusted With High-Tech Weapons of Mass Destruction.

The
major lesson of this incident is that both superpowers are paranoid
and trigger-happy, and each has its finger close to the nuclear
button expecting momentary assault from the other side. Both sides
can unleash enormous destruction within moments. Instead of trying
to keep the 007 tragedy from ballooning into a full-blown war
crisis, the Reagan administration seized the opportunity to heat
up the Cold War, kill all attempts at détente, and intensify arguments
for any and all accumulations of nuclear weaponry. For a while,
the atmosphere looked very close to the blundering into World
War that marked the Guns of August, 1914. The major lesson of
the 007 crisis is the desperate need for joint nuclear disarmament
of the superpowers, for the permanent elimination of the nuclear
button by which the super-States hold the entire human race at
risk.

We
might as well consider here the agitation for unilateral U.S.
nuclear disarmament that has been pushed for the last couple of
years by people within the left wing of the Libertarian Party.
(The argument over unilateral disarmament transcends Crane Machine–anti
Crane Machine boundaries. It is, as it were, trans-Machine. Thus
the main advocates have been Sheldon Richman and Leslie Graves
Key of the left wing of the Machine, and Jeffrey Rogers Hummel,
in the anti-Machine camp. Hummel, in particular, has been an eloquent
and knowledgeable spokesman for unilateral disarmament.) My own
position is that while I would prefer unilateral disarmament to
the monstrous status quo, these are not our only choices.
For I vastly prefer mutual nuclear disarmament to unilateral;
clearly the people of the world, their rights and liberties, would
be far more secure under the former. The unilateralists like to
think of their position as more radical than that of us
mutualists; but isn't it more radical to have every superState
disarm their weapons of mass destruction than only one? In fact,
the shoe should be on the other foot: why wouldn't any libertarian
strongly prefer mutual to unilateral disarmament? Why are our
unilateralists hanging back rather than going all the way?

I
remember back in the 1950's and 1960's, when the antinuclear movement
was gaining strength in the United States. The all-out pacifists
took the peculiar position that they would rather see the U.S.
government disarm unilaterally than negotiate an agreement with
Russia for joint disarmament, The reason for this odd position
was not, of course, that these pacifists were secret Commies,
trying to open us up for a Soviet takeover. The reason was that
their idea of politics was making a moral statement rather
than accomplishing results. A government that disarms unilaterally
can be said to be making a purer, more heroic, moral statement
than one that persuades other governments to disarm together.
By extension, the pacifists themselves were making a purer, more-heroic
moral statement than those in the anti-nuke movement who advocated
joint nuclear disarmament. I am afraid that something like this
is driving our unilateralists, who, in their desire to make purer
and more heroic moral statements than anyone else, are losing
sight of the fact that mutual disarmament would be a far more
libertarian event, a far greater cause of rejoicing by us and
by the entire human race, than unilateral disarmament. So why
not go for it?

V.
Conclusion: Reagan: Rhetoric and Reality

Ronald
Reagan was swept into office by the conservative movement, whose
leader and spokesman he had become. He made a raft of campaign
promises to that movement, each and every one of which he has
broken egregiously. He raised income taxes rather than lowered
them, he brought us $200 billion deficits rather than balancing
the budget, he entrenched fiat money rather than bringing back
the gold standard, his budget is the highest absolutely and as
percentage of GNP in American history, he has deregulated nothing,
he has not abolished the Departments of Education and Energy,
etc. The conservative movement has long been animated by three
broad concerns: (a) Freeing the economy and Getting Big Government
Off Our Back; (b) using government to enforce Judaeo-Christian
morality (so-called "social" issues), and (c) engaging
in nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Simply listing these concerns
reveals that (b) and (c), the theocratic and the war-mongering,
contradict the libertarian (a), to put it very mildly. The conservative
movement is so constituted that in a tussle between these three,
(b) and (c) always win out in their hearts and minds over the
free market.

The
quintessence of Ronald Reagan is that he is a master in supplying
the conservative movement with the rhetoric they want to hear.
In all politicians there is a gulf between rhetoric and reality,
but in Ronald Reagan that gulf has become a veritable and mighty
ocean. There seems to be no contact whatever between Ronnie the
rhetorician and Ronnie the maker of policy. In that situation
it is hard to know which one is "the real" Reagan. The
conservatives, feeling betrayed but lacking any guts for a break
with the Administration, persist in asserting (publicly, at any
rate) that the rhetorical Reagan is the real one, and that
if only his evil pragmatist advisers would "let him,"
this real Reagan would finally emerge. Hence, the famous right-wing
slogan, "Let Reagan Be Reagan." But the problem with
that slogan is the "let." What do you mean, "let"?
Who picked these evil advisers, and who persists in maintaining
them in power? None other than Reagan himself. So in what sense
is this visible person not the "real" Reagan?

There
are only two solutions to his dilemma, neither one a happy situation
for conservatives. Either Reagan is a total cretin, a puppet
who gets wheeled out for ceremonial speeches, and who really
believes that he is putting conservative policies into effect.
Or Reagan is a cynical master politician, keeping the conservatives
happy by dishing out their rhetoric and his phony 3×5 card anecdotes,
while keeping corporate centrists happy by pursuing the New Deal-Fair
Deal-Great Society-Nixon-Ford policies that we have all come to
know so well. Either way: Reagan the imbecile or Reagan the cynical
manipulator, the situation is hopeless for conservatives, who
yet persist in willfully not perceiving this stark reality.

Of
the three conservative concerns mentioned above, Reagan has clearly
and flatly sold out the free market, and also pretty much for
the theocratic social issues. Unfortunately, the anti-Soviet part
of the rhetoric is something that Reagan seems to believe in more
firmly than the rest of the stuff, so that he has more difficulty
abandoning his conservative mass base on this issue than on the
others. "Unfortunately," because the more Reagan betrays
conservatism on the war front (and on theocracy), the better.
The drift toward war, and the ascendancy of the war-hawk troika,
are ominous signposts for the future. The only silver lining
in the cloud is that, despite the whipped-up hysteria, the Reagan
Administration hasn't really done anything to crack down
directly on the Russians. (He couldn't retaliate by banning Aeroflot
in U.S., since Carter had already locked that into place
when the Russians marched into Afghanistan.) His not doing anything
concrete has, of course, sent conservatives up the wall, for this
is by far their most emotional and most deeply felt of the three
broad issues. It is a helluva note when we have to rely, for saving
us from nuclear annihilation, on the likes of the Rockefellers,
the Trilateralists, the Shultzes, the Kissingers, and all the
rest. But that is unfortunately the way things are.

Hopefully,
as rhetoric and reality clash and as we weave back and forth in
the direction of the Final World War, Ronnie will be booted out
in 1984, and we will all be able to leave the question of who
or what is the "real" Reagan to shrinks and historians.
Ronald Reagan will, then at long last, become supremely irrelevant
for our time.

Murray
N. Rothbard (1926–1995), the founder of modern libertarianism
and the dean of the Austrian School of economics, was the author
of The
Ethics of Liberty
and For
a New Liberty
and many
other books and articles
. He was also academic vice president
of the Ludwig von Mises Institute and the Center for Libertarian
Studies, and the editor – with Lew Rockwell – of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report
.

Murray
Rothbard Archives

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