The Soviet Union’s stated policy for 70 years was the total eradication of American capitalism and democracy — backed up during the cold war with actual nuclear weapons. But while challenging the policies and ideology of the Evil Empire, Ronald Reagan understood he had to engage Mikhail Gorbachev, not ignore or insult him. . . .
Wouldn’t sticks and carrots — cultural fluency, smart psychology and Reaganesque dialogue — be a better way to bring the Iranians around than sticks and stones?
For starters, I can’t imagine what rhetorical advantage Dowd believes she’ll gain by equating the Soviet Union (ca. 1987) with Iran (ca. 2007). Even if you oppose Bush’s policies toward Iran, this is a bovine comparison that unnecessarily accepts the framework being provided by the bombs-over-Tehran lobby. It’s perfectly possible, as Matt Duss reminds us, to castigate the Bush administration for missed opportunities in its relationship with Iran. This can be done, however, without resorting to more Reagan mythology that defines Reagan’s foreign policy by forgetting all but the last two years of his administration.
Rob has already said much of what needs to be said about the “status quo” nature of the Soviet state from — I’d argue — the late 1960s onward. When a nation with more arable land than any other country on earth is forced (as the Soviets were after 1971) to import grain from the nation whose “total eradication” it supposedly seeks, one would be wise — especially in retrospect — not to overstate that nation’s inherent might. Even Reagan’s speechwriters and advisers understood this, which is part of the reason that his administration could opt for a more aggressive policy of “rollback” in the so-called Third World, where the Soviets were alleged to be “on the march.” Rollback, not dialogue, was thus the Reagan administration’s weapon of choice against the Soviet “threat,” and it either created or prolonged bloody disasters in Nicaragua, El Salvador Angola, Afghanistan, Cambodia and — cough cough — Iraq and Iran.
Dowd probably knows this, though I’m open to alternative explanations. Then again, since the range of acceptable statements about the Reagan Cold War has been permanently narrowed for the pundit class, I can’t say I’d be surprised either way.
. . . Obviously, I wasn’t clear enough here for at least one reader.
My argument is pretty simple: if Dowd wants to scold Bush for not being diplomatic enough with Iran, she’d do well to leave the Reagan mythology out of it. When someone urges a more “Reaganesque” line, they’re doing more, I think, than just emphasizing “one aspect” of Reagan’s legacy — they’re buying into the notion that at the end of the day, Reagan’s foreign policy was really quite sensible. Perhaps by comparison to Bush’s policy, that’s so — but compared to Bush’s policy, nearly anything would.
Moreover, when Dowd urges a more “Reaganesque” stance toward Iran, she’s obscuring the fact that Reagan’s policy toward the Soviets was conditioned by their strengths (e.g., they could in theory have killed us all) as well as their weaknesses (e.g., their sickened economy and lopsided state). Reagan’s actions in the Third World — including Iran — were shaped solely by their weaknesses (or his administration’s sense of those weaknesses.) Bush’s policy toward Iran is a fucking catastrophe in the making, but the making of that catastrophe has roots that stretch back to the Reagan years. If Dowd wants to compare and contrast Bush’s policies with Reagan’s, she should actually compare them in a way that makes sense.