Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Reagan lesson

Kevin Drum gets the historical context for the Iranian NIE just right:
There may have been multiple reasons why Iran shut down its bomb program, but I think you'd have to do some pretty serious special pleading to argue that our invasion of Iraq wasn't one of them. And if that's the case, it's pretty good evidence that sticks have a place in foreign policy, just as Hillary says.

This isn't an argument that the Iraq war was a good idea. It's an argument that once Bush made the decision to go to war, it was foolish not to take advantage of one of the resulting upsides. Iran was pretty clearly spooked after we crushed Saddam with such stunning ease, and was pretty clearly ready to do a deal with us. But the Bush administration was so blinded by its own world historical importance, and so dominated by triumphant neocon ideologues, that it refused to see the deal that was in front of its own face.

Compare this to Ronald Reagan and the Soviet Union. It's true that the playground story of how Reagan stared down the Soviets and brought down the wall is tiresome: there were lots of reasons the Soviet Union fell, among them internal bleeding from the Afghanistan war, the mid-80s collapse in oil prices, and the ascension of Mikhail Gorbachev. Still, we now know that Reagan's defense buildup and enthusiasm for SDI was also part of it. But unlike Bush, Reagan was smart enough to take yes for an answer. When the other guy blinked, Reagan ignored the hawks in his own administration and signed the INF treaty with Gorbachev in 1987. Four years later both the Soviet Union and the Iron Curtain were gone.

Bush did the opposite. He wasn't willing to push back against Dick Cheney and the rest of the hawks in his administration, and so the chance to do a deal with Iran passed. But the chance was there, and if I were Hillary Clinton I'd argue that the threat of force was part of the reason. The only thing missing was a president smart enough to take advantage of it.
This is a point Small Precautions has made repeatedly over the years: the neocons fundamentally misunderstood the Cold War at the time, and even more fundamentally misunderstood why the Cold War ended. Reagan's primary credit for "winning" the Cold War was not primarily in his militarist build-up, but in actually believing Gorbachev when Gorbachev said he wanted to end the conflict. In doing this, he ran squarely against his neocon advisors, some of whom actually resigned in protest because they thought Reagan was going soft and being duped by the Russians. The Team B guys got the Cold War totally wrong, and then took credit for winning it, when it fact their intransigience was the primary obstacle to us actually securing victory. Alas, Bush is not nearly the man that Reagan was, and instead of listening to the sincere offers of motion in his favor, he pursued the maximalist visions of ideological rollback against the Iranians being promoted by the same Team B idiots.

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