Dr. Susmit Kumar

Conservative sycophants praise Reagan and Bush Jr., even placing him ahead of other, more capable presidents in terms of their contributions. In a September 12, 2005, Wall Street Journal article entitled “President Bush Is ‘Average’, but Far From Ordinary,” James Taranto, editor of OpinionJournal.com (the online editorial page of the Journal) ranked Bush 19th among 40 presidents and in the average category, ahead of both his father, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. In an article published in 2004, Taranto even wrote, “George W. Bush could eventually end up joining the ranks of the greats.”[1]

When noted historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., polled other historians in 1996, Ronald Reagan came in 25th out of 39 presidents, putting him in the “low average” category. Professors of history, law, and political science chosen in 2000 by The Wall Street Journal, however, put him in the “near great” category at 8th out of 39.[2]

Though some pundits would like to place Ronald Reagan in the “near great” category, the truth is that had there been no Japan, which financed the U.S. debt during his tenure of office, Reaganomics would have collapsed. Nor did the collapse of Soviet communism occur because of his policies. Communism has inherent weaknesses, as discussed in chapter 6, and collapsed for economic and financial reasons. Let us see what Henry Kissinger says about Reagan. According to Kissinger:

Reagan knew next to no history. He treated biblical references to Armageddon as operational predictions. Many of the historical anecdotes he was so fond of recounting had no basis in fact, as facts are generally understood. In a private conversation, he once equated Gorbachev with Bismarck, arguing that both had overcome identical domestic obstacles by moving away from a centrally planned economy toward the free market. I advised a mutual friend that Reagan should be warned never to repeat this preposterous proposition to a German interlocutor.

The details of foreign policy bored Reagan. He had absorbed a few basic ideas about the dangers of appeasement, the evils of communism, and the greatness of his own country, but analysis of substantive issues was not his forte. All of this caused me to remark, during what I thought was an off-the-record talk before a conference of historians at the Library of Congress: “When you talk to Reagan, you sometimes wonder why it occurred to anyone that he should be president, or even governor. But what you historians have to explain is how so unintellectual a man could have dominated California for eight years, and Washington already for nearly seven.” [3]

Reagan did, however, want to avoid nuclear war:

No one could “win” a nuclear war. Yet as long as nuclear weapons were in existence they would always be used….
My dream, then, became a world free of nuclear weapons….[4]

According to his biographer, Lou Cannon:

Speaking as if he were describing a movie scene, he related a terrifying episode in the Armageddon story where an invading army from the Orient, 200-million strong, is destroyed by a plague. Reagan believes that the “plague” was a prophecy of nuclear war, where “the eyes are burned from the head and the hair falls from the body and so forth.” He believes this passage specifically foretold Hiroshima.[5]

Reagan came close to realizing his dream of a world free of nuclear weapons in 1986. During the Reykjavik Summit with Soviet general secretary Gorbachev, Reagan committed the United States to destroying all its ballistic missiles and abolishing all nuclear weapons. It was a nightmarish situation for senior U.S. administration officials. The Reykjavik deal failed, however, because Gorbachev linked the deal to a ban on the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, also called “Star Wars”), which Reagan resisted. When Gorbachev started insisting on a ban on SDI testing for 10 years, Reagan left the room and the talks collapsed. Years later, when Kissinger asked a senior Gorbachev adviser who had been present at Reykjavik why the Soviets had not settled for what the U.S. had already accepted (the destruction of all ballistic missiles within 10 years and the abolition of all nuclear weapons), he replied: “We had thought of everything except that Reagan might leave the room.”[6]

The SDI was proposed in 1983 and entailed using ground- and spaced-based systems to protect the U.S. from nuclear ballistic missiles. It is still nonfunctional 24 years later. Emphasis later shifted from national missile defense to theater missile defense and from global to regional coverage. Had Gorbachev known at the time that Star Wars was just a fictional idea and incapable of being implemented, he would have accepted Reagan’s deal, and the U.S. might have had to undergo a disaster worse than the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Without its ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs, the U.S. would have lost its superpower status and its allies and interests would have become more vulnerable to military aggression. Not only was Reagan’s judgment poor, he used to fall asleep during cabinet meetings. Yet, a person of his stature was allowed to become president.

As discussed in my other articles, Reagan inaugurated the practice of chronic budget deficits out of his desire to give tax breaks to the wealthy. Once the U.S. economy collapses because of huge debt, historians will begin to re-evaluate him, since it was his administration that started the debt problem. In addition, had oil prices increased during the late 1980s, as it has during Putin’s administration in Russia the past few years, or had German banks financed Gorbachev’s perestroika, as Japan financed Reagan’s deficits, the U.S.S.R. and communism would still be with us rather than collapse in 1991.

Donald Regan, the Reagan's Secretary of the Treasury, and later Chief of Staff, criticized Reagan for his lack of attention to economics: "In the four years that I served as Secretary of the Treasury, I never saw President Reagan alone and never discussed economic philosophy or fiscal and monetary policy with him one-on-one....The President never told me what he believed or what he wanted to accomplish in the field of economics.”[7]

According to Reagan's communications director David Gergen:[8]

      "Reagan could be remarkably unaware of (and indifferent to) developments around him. If I were still working for him, I would probably pass it off as being "intellectually selective." But  it's hard for anyone to argue that he knew as much as a president should about the state of the world....

     His inattention to details and hands-off stance could be dangerous for his leadership. His Republican allies in the Senate believed that because he did not pay close enough heed, he turned down a budget deal in 1985 that they had carefully crafted to cut the deficits. By their account, he didn't seem to understand the terms of the deal.... Majority Leader Bob Dole was furious at the time. "

1 Taranto, James, “What Makes a President Great?” The Wall Street Journal, June 10, 2004.

2 Ibid.

3 Kissinger, Henry, Diplomacy, A Touchstone Book, New York, 1994, p. 794-5.

4 Reagan, Ronald, An American Life, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1990, p. 550.

5 Canon, Lou, President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1990, p. 289.

6 Kissinger, Henry, op. cit., p. 783.

7. Regan, Donald T., For the Record: From Wall Street to Washington, St. Martin's Press, 1989.

8. Gergan, David, Eyewitness to Power: The Essence of Leadership Nixon to Clinton, Simon & Schuster, 2001.

Additional information