Friday, October 22, 2004

George W. Bush v Reagan, Cold War Victory and Stuff

I'm not a historian nor am I a political scientist, but I have been struck, I suppose just as everyone else has been, by Bush's desire to imitate Reagan and wear his mantle. Ron Reagan, the late President's son, always remarks that why does this adminstration want to copy his father's, why don't they just be themselves?

I got to thinking about this Bush/Reagan thing after hearing an NPR report on Poland and that Bush is more popular there. The conservative analyst noted that because of its history, the Poles understand why Bush is doing what he is doing in Iraq. He noted that the Poles remember another US President that was derided by the liberal Europeans, but yet won the Cold War, Ronald Reagan. Here again, Bush is walking the same path Reagan did in the eyes of his supporters.

I don't see the similarities between both and I wonder if it is just me. Reagan had spent decades in serious politics, Bush pretty much wasted his life with drugs and drinking until relatively late in life.

Reagan, even in Hollywood, had assumed a relatively serious interest in politics and had been seriously politically engaged for many years. He had served as a two term governor of a very complicated state, unlike the weak and almost part time governorship of Texas. Reagan competed for the presidency in 1976 and had a whole campaign to hash out ideas and issues and had the "benefit" of losing, which always provides an opportunity for introspection. Furthermore, the "failure" of the Carter Presidency narrowed the options for what could be acceptable and succesful in regard to foreign policy with the USSR in Reagan's administration, four years later. Carter's four years would have provided Reagan more time to hone and clarify a proscribed course of action when he assumed the presidency.

Also, Reagan, like most men of his generation, saw the rise and growth of the post war communism. Reagan had spent as much as four decades analyzing the Soviet Union and had the benefit of seeing over ten administrations deal with the Soviets. So my point is that Reagan did not simply stroll in and spew out a doctrine out of the air or right out of a conservative think tank briefing. His ideas, though simple, yet not simplisitic, had been honed from decades of political experience and political observations.

Reagan was clearly in the twilight of his abilities when he assumed the presidency and was not the sharpest pencil in the box, but at that point it didn't much matter. Reagan, we now know, had spent decades honing his political ideology. His letters and journals/writings show that many of his ideas were hashed out very early and for many years in his early days in politics. Thus, he had a clear idea of what he wanted to accomplish in regard to the Soviet Union. If he was firm, if he had conviction, it was because he was standing on decades of reflection and thought, unlike the current president, whose certitude is arbitrary and who misunderstands conviction. Reagan ultimately was a pragmatist.

Bush differs on just about every point. He has no original thoughts of his own. He is not in control of his presidency, everyone knows that. He is a pure ideologue and nothing of a pragmatist. Coming into office, he had no mandate and no original ideas. All he had planned to do was NCLB, $1.3 Trillion dollars in tax cuts, mostly to the wealty and a few other things. The first few months of his presidency were spent virtually on vacation.

With the whole war on terror, which Bush supporters now compare with the Cold war, Bush was previously uninterested and secondly, did not have and is not capable of having, anywhere near the original reflection and thought processes of Reagan in regard to the Soviet Union. I saw an article today which noted that Bush studies the baseball box scores as closely as anything else, perhaps, even more so. The comparisons with Reagan are not apt, but lacking. What we have is a copycat administration that has shown itself out of touch because it is trying to re-fight Reagan's war, a war for Reagan's times.

One point though about Reagan winning the Cold War. I'm not a believer in that necessarily--I don't see how the metric for measuring victory works. We see what Russia and its Republics are today. Since the breaking up of the Soviet kingdom, the separate Republics have gotten worse, we all know about Chechneya, we see what Putin's doing to destroy democracy, Russia does not appear to be advancing, they are breeding terrorists with the Chechen situation, the loose nukes are a huge problem for everyone, Russian pride is destroyed to the point that Stalin is fondly remembered. In over ten years of Cold War victory, has Russia progressed? Is this real victory?

I point to China as another approach. China is as close to a antagonistic super-rival as we will find in the world today. We understand that rather than fight the communists in an antagonistic way, we should rather feed the natural longings of people for freedom. We have opened the world to China, opened up markets, opened up technologies, introduced capitalism, introduced some western values, etc. China has a long way to go, but there is a sense that we can "turn" China from communist to a more capitalistic and freedom loving society without it experiencing the trauma that Russia is experiencing.

I say this to note that the simplistic ascribing of a Cold War victory to Reagan, I don't think, uses a good metric in valuing success. The simple abolition of communism without change is useless. We are working to destroy China's communism yet feeding it a progressive subsitute. It is almost like the Iraq success metric, "Is the world better off with Saddam behind bars?" What a stupid question. Saddam deserves to be behind bars, but with the Iraq quagmire we're in today, we've jumped from frying pan to fire.

Anyway, Bush is not Reagan; the jury is still out on Russia as a Cold War victory and perhaps China will prove to be a better metric of Cold War success.

Just thoughts, after all, that is the name of the blog.


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