Monday, June 07, 2004

Reagan's Legacy

I posted this on a comment thread from dKos, edited here for relevance.

It is fairly clear that Reagan sowed the initial seeds which have led to Bush2's ability to isolate our nation and use the "bully pulpit" of the Presidency on a global scale.

It could certainly be argued that other US presidents, such as either of the Roosevelts, or Truman, used his position on the world stage as a means of forcing the American position on the rest of the world, but long before Bush2's unilateral aggression strategy, no one better exemplified the desire to push the US so far out ahead of other nations than did Reagan.

Reagan's use of military force, at times against the designs and orders of Congress, was wildly reckless. But thanks in large part to the combined isolation and self-destruction of Russia, Reagan's foreign policy decisions were, at a minimum, relatively successful. And this is coming from someone (me) who disagreed strongly with practically all of Reagan's domestic policies. Regardless of where things now stand, Reagan certainly changed the "standings" in the global competition to be a world power.

However, by eliminating any real competition, Reagan magnified the ability of a President to abuse his power, especially in regards to foreign policy. Likely the single most important event during Reagan's presidency was the crumbling of the Soviets. However, as is seen in other large and small scale situations, the resulting power vacuum had to pull in someone. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, the US was the only nation able to fill that vacuum, thus increasing our economic, militaristic, and diplomatic powers exponentially. Rather than expending tremendous resources in an escalating competition with a comparable world power, we found ourselves quite alone at the top. And thus, more than 15 years after the fall of our only rival, we now fill the role of two superpowers, not one.

Now, coming back to Bush, the US has demonstrated its ability to use the combined global influence of the two cold-war powers in ways considered taboo only a handful of years ago. Reagan at least tried to conduct his illegal war by hiding it from Congress. Bush, with his powerful position intact thanks to Reagan, simply lied to Congress, and shrugs off any suggestion of power-mongering or abuse.

With the success of Reagan in defeating our only serious rival, the US had an opportunity to change the world stage for the better, but unfortunately, we never took advantage. Instead, we let the situation fester, possibly correctly, in an attempt to intervene in Northern Ireland, Israel, and Bosnia without serious concern to the vacant position formerly filled by the USSR. In our naivety, we allowed our own power to grow like interest from a CD.

That CD matured during Bush2's term, and rather than reinvesting what we gained back into peacekeeping and multilateral activities, GW cashed it in, and bought the US a completely different position in the world arena.

Rather than being the respected and somewhat feared sole superpower in the world, GW transformed our nation into a belligerent sarcastic bully, practically begging to be punched.

Reagan was likely proud to see the US in a position where the President could so liberally make use of our nation's military and economic supremacy for pursuing the goals of the Executive Branch.

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