February 12, 2005


'Ronald Reagan and His Quest to Abolish Nuclear Weapons': In a Galaxy Far, Far Away: RONALD REAGAN AND HIS QUEST TO ABOLISH NUCLEAR WEAPONS
By Paul Lettow (JACOB HEILBRUNN, 2/13/05, NY Times Book Review)

Republican presidents should be grateful for the scorn of liberal elites. After they leave office, their reputations have nowhere to go but up. This tendency first became apparent when historians transformed Dwight Eisenhower from a doddering golfer into a political wizard. Then it picked up steam as Richard Nixon went from war criminal to the last great liberal Republican president. Now it's threatening to reach epic proportions as Ronald Reagan, famously dismissed by the Washington insider Clark Clifford as ''an amiable dunce,'' comes in for a reappraisal.

Enter Paul Lettow. In ''Ronald Reagan and His Quest to Abolish Nuclear Weapons,'' Lettow offers revisionist history with a vengeance. Lettow is a young scholar who has drawn extensively on newly declassified documents and interviews with numerous Reagan administration officials. He seeks to show that far from being Silly Putty in the hands of his advisers, Reagan was a thoughtful leader who manipulated them. Throughout, Lettow maintains that Reagan championed the Strategic Defense Initiative, or ballistic missile defense program, not to ensure American military superiority but -- to the consternation of administration hawks -- in the utopian conviction that it would eventually make nuclear weapons obsolete.

The result is a provocative, informative and largely persuasive account.

The funny thing is that their critics might not so badly misjudge them if they'd just listen to them. Here's the pertinent part of the speech where President Reagan announced Star Wars:
[T]hus far tonight I've shared with you my thoughts on the problems of national security we must face together. My predecessors in the Oval Office have appeared before you on other occasions to describe the threat posed by Soviet power and have proposed steps to address that threat. But since the advent of nuclear weapons, those steps have been increasingly directed toward deterrence of aggression through the promise of retaliation.

This approach to stability through offensive threat has worked. We and our allies have succeeded in preventing nuclear war for more than three decades. In recent months, however, my advisers, including in particular the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have underscored the necessity to break out of a future that relies solely on offensive retaliation for our security.

Over the course of these discussions, I've become more and more deeply convinced that the human spirit must be capable of rising above dealing with other nations and human beings by threatening their existence. Feeling this way, I believe we must thoroughly examine every opportunity for reducing tensions and for introducing greater stability into the strategic calculus on both sides.

One of the most important contributions we can make is, of course, to lower the level of all arms, and particularly nuclear arms. We're engaged right now in several negotiations with the Soviet Union to bring about a mutual reduction of weapons. I will report to you a week from tomorrow my thoughts on that score. But let me just say, I'm totally committed to this course.

If the Soviet Union will join with us in our effort to achieve major arms reduction we will have succeeded in stabilizing the nuclear balance. Nevertheless, it will still be necessary to rely on the specter of retaliation, on mutual threat. And that's a sad commentary on the human condition. Wouldn't it be better to save lives than to avenge them? Are we not capable of demonstrating our peaceful intentions by applying all our abilities and our ingenuity to achieving a truly lasting stability? I think we are. Indeed, we must.

After careful consultation with my advisers, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I believe there is a way. Let me share with you a vision of the future which offers hope. It is that we embark on a program to counter the awesome Soviet missile threat with measures that are defensive. Let us turn to the very strengths in technology that spawned our great industrial base and that have given us the quality of life we enjoy today.

What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest upon the threat of instant U.S. retaliation to deter a Soviet attack, that we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies?

I know this is a formidable, technical task, one that may not be accomplished before the end of this century. Yet, current technology has attained a level of sophistication where it's reasonable for us to begin this effort. It will take years, probably decades of effort on many fronts. There will be failures and setbacks, just as there will be successes and breakthroughs. And as we proceed, we must remain constant in preserving the nuclear deterrent and maintaining a solid capability for flexible response. But isn't it worth every investment necessary to free the world from the threat of nuclear war? We know it is.

In the meantime, we will continue to pursue real reductions in nuclear arms, negotiating from a position of strength that can be ensured only by modernizing our strategic forces. At the same time, we must take steps to reduce the risk of a conventional military conflict escalating to nuclear war by improving our nonnuclear capabilities.

America does possess now the technologies to attain very significant improvements in the effectiveness of our conventional, nonnuclear forces. Proceeding boldly with these new technologies, we can significantly reduce any incentive that the Soviet Union may have to threaten attack against the United States or its allies.

As we pursue our goal of defensive technologies, we recognize that our allies rely upon our strategic offensive power to deter attacks against them. Their vital interests and ours are inextricably linked. Their safety and ours are one. And no change in technology can or will alter that reality. We must and shall continue to honor our commitments.

I clearly recognize that defensive systems have limitations and raise certain problems and ambiguities. If paired with offensive systems, they can be viewed as fostering an aggressive policy, and no one wants that. But with these considerations firmly in mind, I call upon the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace, to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.

Tonight, consistent with our obligations of the ABM treaty and recognizing the need for closer consultation with our allies, I'm taking an important first step. I am directing a comprehensive and intensive effort to define a long-term research and development program to begin to achieve our ultimate goal of eliminating the threat posed by strategic nuclear missiles. This could pave the way for arms control measures to eliminate the weapons themselves. We seek neither military superiority nor political advantage. Our only purpose–one all people share–is to search for ways to reduce the danger of nuclear war.

My fellow Americans, tonight we're launching an effort which holds the promise of changing the course of human history. There will be risks, and results take time. But I believe we can do it. As we cross this threshold, I ask for your prayers and your support.

Thank you, good night, and God bless you.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 12, 2005 6:03 AM

Democrats don't listen in general. Most use the Cliff Notes version of simply talking to the bitterest Democrats from the home state of whatever Republican they're looking at, listen to them spew out their anger, and then pronounce that person either evil and/or stupid, with stupid being the default option because then they think they don't have to intellectually contest their opponents ideas.

Bush follows in the Reagan tradition on the "stupid" side, while someone like Condi Rice is being directed down the Nixonian "evil" path (outside of the few liberal racists out there who try to make her into a 21st Century version of Hattie McDaniel in Gone With the Wind). In fact, it would be interesting to go through the list of poential 2008 GOP candidates and guess whether they'll end up being portrayed by the Democrats and the media on the "evil" or the "stupid" side of the ledger when the campaign gets underway.

Posted by: John at February 12, 2005 9:12 AM

Although he was pretty emphatic about not running, Dick Cheny definately falls in the "evil" category. Bill Frist, too. I think Condi's going to stump them. After all, it's pretty clear she's not stupid, but how can a goodthinkful liberal say that a black woman is ever stupid?

Posted by: at February 12, 2005 1:19 PM

Harry Reid has already called Clarence Thomas 'stupid' (while praising Scalia), and Boxer and Kerry basically told Condi that she is a (dumb) liar. If she runs in 2008, some fool like Mark Shields, Tom Oliphant, Larry O'Donnell, Katrina Vanden Heuval, or Molly Ivins will cross the line and call her evil or stupid on national TV, while mentioning her race at the same time.

Of course, what the DU and Kos and Oliver Willis will say will be much, much worse.

Posted by: jim hamlen at February 12, 2005 10:57 PM

Given that Nuclear weapons are the only obstacle between our crushing tyranny and being forced to live some sort of compromise with them, perhaps Reagan was on to something.

Posted by: bb at February 13, 2005 10:56 AM
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