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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 2/5/11

Reagan Celebration Hides Brutal History

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two men who know what they're talking about -- Lawrence Wilkerson and Robert Parry.

Watch the video. The transcript is below. Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Washington. On February 6, the United States and many parts of the world will celebrate the hundredth anniversary of Ronald Reagan, the champion and victor, we are told, of the Cold War. Now joining us to talk about Reagan and his foreign policy is Larry Wilkerson. Larry is a retired Army soldier and former chief of staff of Colin Powell. He's now an adjunct professor at the William and Mary College, where he teaches courses on national security. And also joining us is Bob Parry. Bob is an investigative journalist that broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s. He's the author of Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, and he directs Thanks for joining us.


JAY: So, Bob, let me read a little quote of something you wrote. "[T]here's a growing realization that the starting point for many of the catastrophes confronting the United States today can be traced to Reagan's presidency." Now, this is not the narrative we are hearing about Ronald Reagan. Why do you say this?

PARRY: Well, basically because it's true. If you look back at even some of the reports coming out now, there's always this reference that this problem started 30 years ago. People often don't make the connection that 30 years ago was also the start of the Reagan presidency. We saw this recently even with the economic financial crisis report, which talks about that problem starting 30 years ago. But in foreign policy, we saw -- instead of the narrative being that Reagan won the Cold War, the reality was -- and this was perceived by people at the CIA at the time, including people in the analytical division -- was that the Cold War was pretty much winding down, it had been pretty much won or prevailed upon by the early '70s. And this led to the idea of detente that President Nixon and Secretary of State [Henry] Kissinger pushed, and then President Ford. And that idea was that the Cold War had been pretty well resolved in the West's favor. The Soviets had failed with their economic model, they'd fallen behind in technology, and therefore we could start moving out of that phase. Reagan sort of revived the Cold War. He wanted to insist that the Soviets were much more powerful, they were on the march. So we saw in the early '80s the beginning of the politicization of the CIA, which is a problem that's come back to haunt us more recently. And in part that was the idea of taking the analytical division, where you had criminologists who were seeing this problem, Soviet collapse or coming collapse, and they were basically weeded out and replaced by people who would say what the White House wanted, which was that the Soviets were on the march, 10 feet tall, about to take over the world, and requiring a major pushback, more military, a whole more aggressive approach. So that's what we got with Reagan. And the effects have been pretty much disastrous as we go forward. In part, we spent much too much money on building up a military when the threat was declining. Secondly, some of the policies, like going into Afghanistan and supporting the mujahideen against the Soviet forces there, led to the growth of Islamic fundamentalism.

JAY: Now, to be fair, on Afghanistan the policy really begins with Carter and [Zbigniew] Brzezinski.

PARRY: Correct. The first stages of it do begin with Brzezinski pushing the sort of Cold War approach on Afghanistan under Carter. But it gets escalated far -- by many times when Reagan comes in.

JAY: Well, let me bring Larry in. The basic headline "Reagan is the winner of the Cold War" is not a deserved mantle and was actually more a rationale for an expansion of projecting US military power.

LAWRENCE WILKERSON, FMR. CHIEF OF STAFF TO COLIN POWELL: I think in the American mind the president who's president when an event occurs usually gets the moniker, whether it's a disaster or whether it's a triumph. I think that's more the reason Ronald Reagan gets that title, if you will, than anything else. I disagree with some of what was just said. For example, Kissinger and Nixon were not really convinced that the Soviets were fading from the scene. They were more convinced -- and if you read Henry's [Kissinger's] memoirs, though they are somewhat misleading, in this sense they're not. And one of the reasons Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld take great exception to Henry and worked to move him out of Ford's administration is that he thought US power was in decline. Vietnam had damaged our prestige considerably. We had spent beyond even Keynesian economics of trying to maintain the Great Society and war at the same time. If you want to find a place where our fiscal problems begin, it's with LBJ, if you don't take the broad sweep like I do. And here's my real answer to your question. The broad sweep is that state-building in the post-World War II world was -- as Michael Hogan has said quite eloquently in his book A Cross of Iron, which comes from Eisenhower's '53 speech, was essentially building a national security state. And building a national security state while attempting to maintain a reasonably well-run democratic federal republic is a real challenge, especially if you have people, like was just suggested, bringing threats up to a level that causes spending to go off the charts.

JAY: Well, isn't this part of what Bob's argument -- I guess I can ask you, Bob -- but that this is what was really driving Reagan's policy, more than a real Soviet threat? It's more about building this national security state and strengthening and expanding [inaudible]

WILKERSON: Well, it's true, but it begins with -- the greatest increase in American military spending in our history was with Truman. NSC 68 became the bible of the Cold War. Eisenhower was so frightened by it he held the Solarium Project and tried to calm things down a little bit. But we went from about $13 billion -- and /noUrs/, Truman's budget director at the time, trying to convince Truman, and not having to do too much, because Truman was of this mind himself, that $13 billion or $14 billion was too much for the damned Armed Forces. And then all of a sudden NSC 68 gets articulated, we get the Korean War, and we go to about $54 billion to $60 billion, depending on whose figures you look at. I mean, we just leapt into the national security state with both feet and both hands, and it's been that way ever since. And World War II gave us the reasonable way to deal with this for a time, and that was Japan. Japan -- people talk about China. China--pfft. China just last year surpassed Japan in buying our debt. There was this deal, you know, that was concocted, and Japan would get its way out of its mess with export-driven economic measures. It did so. We were the principal consumer. We've been borrowing from the Japanese and trading them the nuclear umbrella and security in general for 35 years.

JAY: If -- I mean, if you don't think Reagan deserves this moniker as the victor of the Cold War, does he deserve the villain either? I mean, is he just a continuation of US policy, whether it's Republican or Democrat? Or is there something specific about Reagan?

PARRY : I think he escalated it back up. I mean, Larry's correct that there was this -- there has been this historical buildup in the United States for a national security state in the post-World War II era, going through the Cold War. But there was this period in the '70s when the American government was beginning to pull back from that and trying to work out various deals with the Soviets on controlling weapons, the various -- the SALT treaties and so forth. And this idea of detente, detente was essentially scrapped in 1976 by Ford, because Reagan was challenging him for the Republican nomination, and out of fear that this was costing Ford too much support among the conservative Republicans, Ford banned the word. He also allowed -- because of the Reagan pressure, he allowed the so-called "Team B" experiment to go on at the CIA, which was the first real effort by the neoconservatives and the right to pollute the relative integrity of the CIA analytical process, when they came in and they said the Soviets were making a much bigger buildup, when the CIA was saying, no, the Soviet Union military is not growing in that way. So you had that happening back in '76. By the time Reagan comes in in '80, the pressure's enormously placed on the CIA and the analytical division. It was essentially restructured to get rid of some of the criminologists who were pointing to the Soviet decline, which would have meant less need for a military buildup. Reagan wanted the buildup, and so did the people around him. So they were -- they essentially politicized the CIA to make it provide the intelligence that the White House wanted. And that was a major change. And if you talk to people like Mel Goodman -- I've talked to CIA people in not just the analytical side but on the operations side who were saying that they were getting from their best spies in Moscow information about the coming Soviet decline, which was well known inside the Soviet government. But the pretense had to be maintained by Reagan that the Soviets were on the march, they're about to take Central America, they're making all these moves around the world, and that the United States needed to respond aggressively. And that's how he revived the Cold War, even when it was, in the '70s, on the decline and being phased out.

JAY: Larry?

WILKERSON: No, I don't disagree with that, but I still say it comes in and takes a snapshot. You know, I can go back to Kermit Roosevelt and the overthrow of Mossaddegh in 1953 in Tehran, I can go to Guatemala in '54, I can go to any number of operations and--.

JAY: Yeah, but I don't think the point is that Reagan started something new, but it's this--

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