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The Hypocritical United States of Amnesia and Russia

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Vladimir Putin at Red Square
Vladimir Putin at Red Square
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During the mid-1980s, right-wing Americans loved to invoke President Reagan's observation about the Soviet Union: "They reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat," in order to attain a one-word Socialist or Communist state. The Soviet Union was the "Evil Empire."

But, it was the Reagan Administration, you'll recall, that ordered the execution of Operation Urgent Fury, the invasion of Grenada in October 1983. Eleven of the twelve members of the United Nations Security Council called the invasion a "flagrant violation of international law." The only Security Council member to veto the condemnation was the very country accused of the flagrant violation.

It also was the Reagan administration, you'll recall, that was hauled before the International Court of Justice in 1984 by Nicaragua, and found to be "in breach of its obligations under customary international law not to use force against another State", "not to intervene in its affairs", "not to violate its sovereignty," "not to interrupt peaceful maritime commerce", and "in breach of its obligations under Article XIX of the Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation between the Parties signed at Managua 21 January 1956."

Moreover, when the Reagan Administration gave the CIA the order to mine the harbors of Nicaragua, it was legally obligated to inform the Senate Intelligence Committee, headed by Barry Goldwater. When it failed to do so, Goldwater went ballistic. In a letter written to Secretary of State, George Schultz, Goldwater wrote: "But mine the harbors in Nicaragua? This is an act violating international law. It is an act of war."

But, such criminality, lying and cheating was nothing when compared with Reagan's "Iran-Contra Scandal." In order to circumvent the funding prohibitions, which the U.S. Congress (with its Boland Amendment of 1984) placed on the covert war that the Reagan administration was waging against Nicaragua, Reagan and his right-wing zealots decided to sell weapons to Iran secretly, initially through Israel, and use those funds to continue the war that Congress refused to finance.

Time magazine put it well when it asserted that Reagan "stands exposed as a President willfully ignorant of what his aides were doing, myopically unaware of the glaring contradictions between his public and secret policies" unable to recall when, how, or even whether he had reached the key decision that started the whole arms-to-Iran affair" the President has consistently and vehemently denied that the U.S. was swapping arms for hostages, though the voluminous record assembled by the Tower commission leaves no question that that is what happened."

Reagan probably escaped impeachment due to his reputation for stupidity, lax management, and inability to remember his own actions. People genuinely believed him when he attempted to explain his lies: "I'm afraid that I let myself be influenced by others' recollections, not my own"the simple truth is, I don't remember -- period."

Thus, the very President who accused the Soviet leaders of reserving unto themselves "the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat," in order to achieve their broad objectives was at least as immoral as the doddering Soviet gerontocrats he slandered. Reagan became a monument to U.S. hypocrisy in international affairs.

Today, America's conservatives ignore his crimes and, instead, credit President Reagan with ending the Cold War and precipitating the collapse of the Soviet Union. They are wrong on both counts. Moreover, that was not the tune they were singing when Reagan left office.

Some felt that Reagan had been duped by Mikhail Gorbachev. For example, Henry Kissinger, William Safire and George Will accused Reagan of "creating a false "euphoria' that would give breathing space to an unchanging enemy." Mr. Will went so far as to claim, "Reagan has accelerated the moral disarmament of the West -- actual disarmament will follow."

Nevertheless, the criminality continued under the leadership of President George H.W. Bush when, in December 1989, the United States invaded Panama and deposed its dictator, Manuel Noriega.

The invasion sparked international outrage. On 22 December, the Organization of American States passed a resolution that denounced the invasion. Seven days later the General Assembly of the United Nations condemned the invasion as a flagrant violation of international law. When the UN Security Council drafted a resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Panama, it was vetoed on 23 December by France, Great Britain and the U.S. -- which cited its obligation to protect some 35,000 Americans in the Canal Zone. (Sounds eerily similar to President Vladimir Putin's justification for Russian troops in the Crimea today, does it not?)

In February 1990, President Bush's Secretary of State, James Baker, flew to Moscow to discuss the peaceful unification of Germany. He promised Gorbachev that there would be no further eastward expansion of NATO if he assisted the West in the peaceful unification of Germany under NATO. According to Jack Matlock, America's Ambassador to the Soviet Union, "We gave categorical assurances to Gorbachev back when the Soviet Union existed that if a united Germany was able to stay in NATO, NATO would not move eastward."

Secretary Baker subsequently denied making such a deal. In addition, some American diplomats, policy wonks and news reporters noted that, even if there was such a deal, no such deal was put in writing. Apparently, none of them understand what it means to be a man of one's word.

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Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, the Moscow Times and the San (more...)
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