Why Obama cannot do what Reagan did

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Why Obama cannot do what Reagan did

Written by Dmitri Drobnitsky; Originally appeared at VZ, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront

Sunday was the 28th anniversary of the historic visit of Ronald Reagan to Moscow in 1988. I would not have remembered this date if not for the vivid contrast between the then leaving president of the USA and today’s.

Reagan was always precise in his definitions and sincere in his judgments. In 1983 he truly considered the Soviet Union as the “evil empire”.

Not so in 1988. He came to the USSR to reconcile and gradually, without hurry to negotiate a long-term disarmament. It was a friendly visit, in the course of which some unimportant agreements were signed (something about student exchanges and fishing zones), but after this visit, the whole world sighed with relief, the cold war ended, a “hot” one will not happen.

The dissolution of the USSR was still relatively far away. Ronald Reagan did not come to dissolve the Soviet Union. He came to determine the status of the relations between the two powers and the trajectory of their development. Status: a cautious friendship. Trajectory: peace and cooperation.

And how they branded Reagan in his country! The well-known conservative thinker William Buckley (1925-2008) ahead of the visit using his publication National Review, tried to convince the president to either cancel his flight to Moscow “under any pretext” or, if the meeting with the “commie” is unavoidable, to adopt one strategy: “pressure, pressure and more pressure”. And when Buckley heard on live television that the president no longer considered the USSR the “evil empire”, began to compare what was happening with scenes from the famous novel by George Orwell.

Buckley was one of the ideologues of contemporary American conservatism. To understand how Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney or John McCain think, we must read William Buckley. Only at the end of his life the critic of the US-Soviet rapprochement recognized Reagan’s work and his own mistake. As his friend Jeffrey Hart remembered, William realized the tragedy of the conservative movement, which could not distance itself from the Bush Jr. administration, making bellicosity part of its ideology and supported war in Iraq.

However, long-time associates of Reagan and many members of his cabinet fully supported the president. Libertarian Ron Paul, who was an active supporter of Ronald Reagan in the 1976 primaries (which he lost), though split with the head of the state on questions on the economy and the budget deficit, supported the warmer relations with the USSR. In his recent book “Swords into Ploughshares” Paul describes Reagan as much less of a “hawk” than Bill Clinton or George W. Bush.

Reagan’s prominent companions, such as Patrick Buchanan, Dana Rohrabacher and Paul Craig Roberts, consider the imperial behaviour of the American leaders of the end of the 20th beginning of the 21st centuries a “mistake” and “catastrophic”, walking away from the “spirit of Reaganism”.

In March 2014, when the co-called bill on assistance to the Ukraine was discussed in the House of Representatives, Rohrabacher was the only one who bluntly came out against sanctions on Russia. This is what he said:

«I dedicated practically all my life to the fight to defeat communism… We are not trying to be enemies of the people of Russia; we fought against the Soviet threat…

And now we have a situation in which one can clearly see national interest conflicts. And instead of trying to play a constructive role, we fan hatred. Many people… do not understand that Russia has its national interests, just as we have our national interests that we must seek ways for rapprochement in peace and friendship, aware of the fact that we are two great powers that have threats to national interests.”

Ronald Reagan’s active fight against communism was based on his deep religious beliefs. After his visit of the USSR, he felt that there were no more communist threats. He understood that there were no more existential threats and not because a few months earlier, a regular agreement on the reduction of missile armament was ratified.

Nancy Reagan later remembered that Ronald had a lasting impression after visiting the Kremlin’s churches and the Danilov monastery. The leader of the USA was pleasantly surprised as well with meeting people on Red Square, Old Arbat and inside the Moscow State University (MSU).

And that is why at the straight question of the correspondent, whether he thought that the Soviet Union was the “evil empire”, Reagan truly answered “No”. When he tried to pry what words were uttered in 1983, the president with disarming frankness said: “I was talking about another empire”.

Regardless of why Washington did not like the “new Reagan”, the president continued on his course. The strength of his position was such that all his first (and it turned out to be his only) term George Bush Sr. in whole maintained his former boss’s line.

The neocons were already talking about the future of the “American Century” in the Oval Office, developing in the bowels of the administration the Wolfowitz Doctrine, and the expansion of NATO to the East was still a forbidden topic, because, as he was leaving the Office, Ronald Reagan left a clear legacy: live in peace and friendship.

Today’s president of the USA, starting as an absolute peacemaker, is leaving the world a very vague message.

Wishing to claim as his legacy his foreign policy, he, at the end of his second term, started in the international arena a flurry of activities. The conclusion of the Iran question, the resumption of diplomatic relations with Cuba, the first official friendly visit to Vietnam…

One must admit that under the indeterminate nature of the agreements and the obvious lack of time to complete the job, he still did a lot. Let’s take for example the Iran-US relations. Their thaw has seriously undermined the position of Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf monarchies as one of the main centres of power in the Middle East.

It is worth remembering that the main intelligence centre of the so-called Arab Spring was located in Riyadh and not in Washington. In addition, in 10 years time, freed from the sanctions, Iran will become a new centre for rapid economic growth; the prospects are difficult to overestimate. We will surely hear about the “Iranian economic miracle”. Not to mention that without the participation of Iran, neither victory over ISIL or the end of the civil war in Syria is possible.

The Cuban and Vietnamese projects are no less promising. They were begun not long ago and for this reason the next president of the USA can conclude them. Although here we have a clear position of the out-going administration: to seek understanding and roads for closer ties.

What is not clear are the Russian-American relations. Obama and his subordinates persistently refuse to name what is happening between our nations as the “New Cold War”, although journalists and experts all over the world talk only about it. They have invented a new term: “Cold War 2.0”.

But for the laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize, the president, chosen under the banner of “Hope” and “Change”, sending to Moscow a “reset” button, it is very difficult to admit that he managed to damage relations with Russia to such an extent that they returned almost to the time of the Iron Curtain. Propaganda can trumpet about “Putin’s aggressive behaviour”, but Obama himself cannot admit his responsibility for all his mistakes and his inability to cope with grievances.

The cooling of relations between our countries started long before the reunification of Crimea. First the Edward Snowden business happened, who told the journalists about the total surveillance of the citizens of the USA by the NSA, ran and received asylum in our country. Then Russia took the initiative with the Syrian chemical weapons. Each time Obama fell into zygzwang, a situation when whichever step is taken leads to a negative outcome. Obama was more and more offended. The matter came to such a point that under false pretences the USA almost boycotted the Sochi Olympics.

All this happened before the coup in Kiev, before the Crimean referendum and before the conflict in the Donbas. There were no sanctions yet, but relations already were worse than ever. On top of this, in 2015, The New York Times published an investigative piece, which indicated that, the coup in the Ukraine prepared by the neoconservatives (the key role played by the notorious Victoria Nuland) and with the help of the US intelligence community, was carried out without Obama’s knowledge.

Obama, who started his presidency with the denunciation of American diktat in relations with other countries and a passionate speech in Prague in 2009, promising peace and prosperity to humanity, but the end result turned out to be the worst relations with Russia in the last 25 years. Even when the Bush Jr. presidency was ending and the total “hawk” John McCain threw himself into the political fray, relations were better.

Worst of all in this situation is that Americans and the majority of citizens of the Earth do not understand what is truly happening between our nations. Is it a temporary worsening of relations? Simple misunderstandings? “Lovers’ tiffs are harmless”? Or full-blown cold war, serious and for the long haul?

If it is indeed a cold war, then on the Syrian territory wrecked by civil war, would be at least a hybrid war between the USA and us. But there is nothing like that. On the contrary, both countries jointly forced the conflicting parties, not linked with IS, to sue for peace. So if this is not a cold war, what is the point of these sanctions and hostile rhetoric? Why up until now the forces are not joined in the war against international terrorism?

And until this misunderstanding is resolved, the world will be falling apart. And who will receive the rewards from this? Hardened NATO bureaucrats, Baltic ultras, Ukrainian nationalists, Islamic terrorists…

In fairness, one must admit that Barak Obama inherently is not prone to aggressiveness. But he cannot rein in his “hawks” either. He failed to establish relations with Russia and he preferred not to try again but chose to simply do nothing. He walked away from the problem, as if it did not exist.

It would be hard to believe that Reagan would behave is such a fashion. Even harder to believe would be an Obama visit to Moscow. If only! Back then nations trusted each other less. And mutual grievances were accumulated markedly more then now. There were even more nuclear warheads. People of our countries did not communicate, did not know each other. There were even sanctions, unlike today.

The Ukraine, Syria, Snowden, all these are trivialities compared with the threat that was hanging over the heads of the leaders in the USSR and the USA in 1988. Each dot on the map outside the territorial countries, members of NATO and Warsaw Pact, was problematic and contentious.

Despite all, Reagan decided to come and extend his hand. Peace, according to him, was worth all mutual grievances.

So now, we’ll have to wait half a year.

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  • M2

    “People of our countries did not communicate, did not know each other.” Suggestion, leave Facebook and start a profile on vk.com.

  • Lord Lemur

    the neoconservatives are truly a poison upon the world, and despite their name (a title of political convenience) are hated and loathed by most conservatives properly so called. If we had our way, we’d withdraw Western military forces to their home countries, and work toward a sphere of influence peace with other Great Powers. We’re far more interested in maintaining the remaining ethnic purity of our countries than the ‘invade invite’ method of present Western foreign policy.

    As the article mentions, Buchanan went to war with them, as did Ron Paul. Now Trump candidacy has diminished their power further in the GOP. That said, liberal interventionists are the flipside of the same coin (basically a good cop bad cop routine), and they are a powerful force among the democratic party, which could beat Trump. Trump isn’t perfect either of course (pro-Israel anti Iran when there is no good reason for the US to pick a side); but he is a hell of a lot better than the HRC.