Thursday, July 26, 2007

President Reagan: the Re-assessment

There are signs that in Europe the reputation of President Ronald Reagan is being re-assessed for the better.

The latest is a review of his diaries in The Times Literary Supplement

The review is entitled: "Reagan the Astute".

"Memoirs, biographies and policy studies gradually replaced the bungling-bumbling caricature with more realistic depictions, but it is only now, with the publication of his diaries, that we encounter a shrewd and watchful Reagan determined to have his way not only with political opponents and evil or misguided foreigners, but also with his own officials and bureaucracies – the greater challenge in many cases, for diversions can be very subtle, and obstructionism is so easily disguised."

Interestingly, there are a number of facts and incidents in the Diaries of the late President which totally undermine the image of the bumbling and utterly crazed ideologue which was in vogue whilst he was in office:

"early on he told his utterly shocked military chiefs what he could tell nobody else without destroying deterrence, that he would never authorize the use of nuclear weapons, even if the United States were attacked with them.";

"Monday January 11 1982 . . .
Press running wild with talk that I reversed myself on Taiwan because we’re only selling them F5Es & F104s. I think the China Lobby in State Dept is selling this line to appease the P.R.C. which doesn’t want us to sell them anything. The planes we are offering are better than anything the P.R.C. has. Later on if more sophistication is needed we’ll upgrade & sell them F5Gs.

That last phrase, incidentally, is one of a myriad fragments of evidence in the diary that Reagan’s stance of casual bonhomie – in sharp contrast to the Carter and Clinton displays of relentless diligence – concealed much very detailed knowledge accumulated by reading the documents that kept landing on his desk. Unlike the F-4 Phantom or F-104 Starfighter, the F-5G was not a fighter in operational service that would often be depicted and reported in the normal course of events, but rather a project of the Northrop Corporation, whose existence was only known to specialists.";

"The diary is also full of fun. Reagan did not merely take time off to have fun as all presidents must do to survive (Jimmy Carter failed in that too, visibly declining in office), he also enjoyed himself presidentially. Of course, he relished every opportunity of kicking the Soviet Union in the shins: “Friday July 24 . . . Then off to Ukrainian Church for lunch & ceremony recognizing Captive Nations Week. Extremely well received. The Soviets will be unhappy”. There are many other such entries.";

and my favourite-

"When he did encounter outright racism, Reagan knew what to do:

Monday May 3 1982 . . .
Read this morning of a black family – husband and wife both work in govt. printing office. They live in a nice house near U of Maryland. They have been harassed and even had a cross burned on their lawn . . . . We cleared the last part of the afternoon schedule and Nancy & I went calling. They were a very nice couple with a 4 year old daughter . . . the whole neighborhood was lining the street . . . I hope we did some good. There is no place in this land for the hate-mongers and bigots