The Myth of St. Ronald, Epic Tough Guy

The Worldnetdaily provides a textbook example of the dishonest hagiography surrounding St. Ronald the Magnificent, the mythical Ronald Reagan that lives in the conservative imagination but not in the real world. Former Sen. Tom Tancredo is peddling the nonsense this time:

While much of the news about Sony’s decision to cancel its distribution of a film that mocks communist North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has focused on First Amendment issues, a former congressman who served in the Reagan administration says the real problem is what the rest of the world now thinks of the U.S.

“When it comes to Obama, the North Koreans, as well as dictators around the world, know that whatever they do to us the administration’s response will be tepid at best,” said former Republican congressman and Colorado gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo.

“None of these threats would have emanated from these countries under the Reagan administration,” he said.

Ah yes, St. Ronald the eternal tough guy, a real man’s man and various other macho cliches. He would never cut and run, would he? Well, unless you count the fact that he withdrew the Marines from Lebanon after their barracks were bombed in October, 1983. 241 servicemen were killed by Muslim terrorists with ties to Iran using two car bombs. So what did the eternal tough guy, St. Ronald, do? After immediately swearing that the U.S. would stay in Lebanon and retaliate against those who carried out the bombing, three and a half months later he withdrew our troops from the area. He cut and ran, as the platitude goes.

Then to really prove his point, he gave thousands of TOW missiles and other military equipment to Iran in a secret deal to free hostages held by Iranian-backed groups in Lebanon and Syria. “We don’t negotiate with terrorists,” St. Ronald declared over and over again. In the real world. the actual Ronald Reagan did exactly that. In fact, no less than Robert McFarlane, Reagan’s national security adviser and envoy to the Middle East argued that it was Reagan’s lack of reaction to that bombing that led the Muslim nations and terrorist organizations to believe that we didn’t have the will to respond to such attacks:

Today is the 25th anniversary of that bombing, which killed 241 Americans who were part of a multinational peacekeeping force (a simultaneous attack on the French base killed 58 paratroopers). The attack was planned over several months at Hezbollah’s training camp in the Bekaa Valley in central Lebanon. Once American intelligence confirmed who was responsible and where the attack had been planned, President Reagan approved a joint French-American air assault on the camp — only to have the mission aborted just before launching by the secretary of defense, Caspar Weinberger. Four months later, all the marines were withdrawn, capping one of the most tragic and costly policy defeats in the brief modern history of American counterterrorism operations.

One could draw several conclusions from this episode. To me the most telling was the one reached by Middle Eastern terrorists, that the United States had neither the will nor the means to respond effectively to a terrorist attack, a conclusion seemingly borne out by our fecklessness toward terrorist attacks in the 1990s: in 1993 on the World Trade Center; on Air Force troops at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996; on our embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998; on the destroyer Cole in 2000.

There was no effective response from the United States to any of these.

As usual, the Ronald Reagan that existed in the real world bears no resemblance of all to the St. Ronald the Magnificent of the right wing imagination.

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  • colnago80

    We might also note that somehow Ronnie the rat evaded military service during WW 2.

  • http://www.thelosersleague.com theschwa

    “None of these threats would have emanated from these countries under the Reagan administration,” he said.

    Well, it IS true. But not because of Reagan, but rather because back then, Lt. Frank Drebin was still on the force!

  • daved

    @1

    We might also note that somehow Ronnie the rat evaded military service during WW 2.

    I am no fan of Reagan, but this is not correct. From Wikipedia:

    Reagan was ordered to active duty for the first time on April 18, 1942. Due to his poor eyesight, he was classified for limited service only, which excluded him from serving overseas.

  • kantalope

    Of course we all remember Reagan’s forceful response to the Soviets shooting down the Korean Airlines flight. Boy that sure taught everyone a lesson.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    To be fair, at the time Reagan was too busy to concentrate on minor players like Lebanon and Iran because he was focused on larger and more important tasks, like defeating terrorism in the Middle East.

  • rationalinks

    How did Obama even get pulled into this? I’m confused. This was Sony’s decision to pull “The Interview” not Obama’s…unless he is also now an executive at Sony and I missed that news. The hacking bit, OK, but Obama has come out and said we will respond in kind to these types of attacks. Yeah, North Korea is a joke, but they are a joke with nukes…nukes that threaten some of our closest allies, Japan and South Korea. It would be wise not to put our friends in danger just to show North Korea how big and tough we are.

  • colnago80

    Re daved @ #3

    Considering the fact that I know of no photographs showing Ronnie the rat wearing glasses nor did he wear glasses in any of his movies, which would have to be the case if his eyesight was that poor, I suspect that the Wiki article is seriously in error.

  • bahrfeldt

    For the record, my father, who was a lot bigger and tougher than I ever was, volunteered after Pearl Harbor and was told that being extremely nearsighted he would never be allowed to serve. In October 1942 he was drafted, trained as a medic and sent to North Africa, later to Sicily, Italy and France.

  • freemage

    The whole myth of Reagan was one of the first things that tipped me off that conservatives in this country had gone off the rails. Reagan didn’t just cut-and-run from Lebanon; I recall several other confrontations where the U.S. pretty much came in, made a mess of things, and then withdrew. His one ‘victory’ was in Grenada, when the world’s most expensive military force managed to successfully defeat an island with a population smaller than its armed forces.

  • culuriel

    Ronald Reagan is literally the only politician who could tell a population that knew he did “X”, that he actually did “Y” and it got those Commies good. What’s sad about the 80s is that people believed him.

  • sugarfrosted

    @6 Not quite accurate. They do have enough conventional weapons to wipe out their neighbors though, so this is a meaningless distinction. (Thank you China. I mean granted this was so they could have North Korea as a buffer zone, and I think they’re regretting it now.)

  • sugarfrosted

    @11 Not their neighbors. I meant South Korea specifically.

  • eamick

    We might also note that somehow Ronnie the rat evaded military service during WW 2.

    He did serve, actually, but not combat duty.

  • Pieter B, FCD

    As a child, Reagan would have to sit in the front row in class to see, which embarassed him. In sports, Reagan sometimes got hit in the head with the ball he could not see. It was only at age 9 or 10 that a visiting nurse made the diagnosis. Reagan later said that when he got glasses, he was surprised to discover that trees had leaves and that butterflies existed — neither of which he had ever been able to see.

    http://www.doctorzebra.com/prez/g40.htm

  • mithrandir

    Pieter @14, the following paragraph after that is also worth noting:

    Later in life, Reagan wore contact lenses. When delivering a speech he would remove one lens so he could read his notes and leave one lens in so he could see the audience. Thus, for those around Reagan it was common practice to see him re-inserting a contact lens after speaking.

    I think that addresses colnago’s point above.

  • Michael Heath

    freemage writes:

    [President Reagan’s] one ‘victory’ was in Grenada, when the world’s most expensive military force managed to successfully defeat an island with a population smaller than its armed forces.

    Historians generally include President Reagan as a key contributor to both ending the Cold War and a key framer in developing policies to reduce nuclear weapons.

    The latter accomplishment should have us also considering the idea that we should judge presidents not only by what wars they win, but also by how well they avoid going to war altogether. From this latter perspective President Reagan’s foreign policy was very successful; though of course with some significant defects as we observe by nearly all presidents.

    The fact President Reagan was not a war-monger continues to be denied or avoided modern day conservatives who constantly advocate for more war. Mr. Reagan’s record on war-mongering also leads to liberals spasmodically making arguments that Reagan was in fact a most evil one, with arguments so bad if we used them against all other presidents, it would make the most respected non-conservative presidents come across as the craziest of Hollywood’s version of a war-monger. Though in Harry Truman’s case, I would argue that he fits that bill even on a normative standard given his nuclear bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

  • daved

    @7 colnago80:

    Considering the fact that I know of no photographs showing Ronnie the rat wearing glasses nor did he wear glasses in any of his movies, which would have to be the case if his eyesight was that poor, I suspect that the Wiki article is seriously in error.

    I’ve seen pictures of him wearing glasses, at least later in life. However, as to the whole movies thing, there is a technology called “contact lenses” that you really should look into. It’ll broaden you.

  • dingojack

    MH – Yeah, because St. Ronnie of Altzheimers never dubbed Russia ‘The Evil Empire’, nor did he state he was ‘outlawing Russia forever. Bombing starts in five minutes’. Truly a child of god, amiright? @@

    Perhaps your contacts are getting a little of that “’80’s rose-tinting”. You should get that fixed.

    Dingo

    ———

    Ronnie wasn’t a war-monger, he was worse than that, he was a chicken-hawk.

  • Nick Gotts

    The fact President Reagan was not a war-monger – Michael Heath@16

    He didn’t want a nuclear war, but his idiocy nearly got us all killed by convincing the Kremlin gerontocrats that an American first strike was possible – not just the rhetoric, but moving cruise and Pershing missiles into western Europe. Exactly how close we came to nuclear war in 1983 is not clear (see Stanislav Petrov and Able Archer, but too fucking close for comfort, and in large part thanks to St. Ronald. He was also far slower than, for example, Margaret Thatcher, to realise that Gorbachev really was a radically different Soviet leader. And of course he illegally sold arms to the Iranian theocrats to finance a terrorist campaign in Nicaragua.

  • dingojack

    Nick – and part of that near-miss in ’83 was the US victory in Grenada, which really pissed Maggie off, which in turn increased the US/UK chatter, further convincing the paranoid Soviet ‘Dr Stangeloves’ that an attack was imminent.

    As a character in a movie released only one month after the crisis stated:

    “A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.”

    Dingo

  • colnago80

    Re daved @ #17

    Oh come on, almost everybody need glasses for reading later in life.

  • lorn

    Ahhh … but that is the point. The right doesn’t think about things. It feels things. Everything is based upon a visceral feeling of honest and truth.

    Reagan projected power, and reliability, and a sense that any insult will be immediately answered with decisive manly action. He looks the part and has cinematic gravitas. His actual feelings and inclinations behind the facade were typically equivocal, self conscious, bothered by and often unable to understand complex issues and so frustrated and prone to impulsive action, often with a dramatic often violent action worthy of a movie, to try to make the problems go away.

    Obama, IMHO, far more responsible, able to manage complex issues that have no easy answers, and decisive, doesn’t project himself the same way. His thoughtfulness, willingness to patiently hear a wide variety of viewpoints, and nuanced reaction looks to people used to the TV and movie cowboy brand of manliness, to be weak, indecisive, even dishonest.

  • Michael Heath

    Lorn writes:

    Reagan projected power . . .

    Well, a lot of Europeans perceived President Reagan as not merely projecting power, but also behaving in a way that promoted the idea he was a reckless cowboy. That where Europeans were in the line of fire from both sides.

    There was also some anecdotal evidence that buttressed the ‘reckless cowboy’ perception of Mr. Reagan; some of which was early-term missteps. E.g., calling the USSR an ‘evil empire’ in 1983, which he quit using after that and was walking back by 1987. Personally I thought the term was self-evident and helpful, but I appreciated arguments back then by some that argued the opposite.

    President Reagan was an enigma, where his rhetoric so often didn’t square up with his policy actions and it was difficult to understand what his motivation was for the difference. But this contradictory behavior is often true of many presidents, including the current one, though President Obama isn’t an enigma. Given the failure of journalists to ask Obama tough questions, I’m not sure what Mr. Obama’s motivation is for so many of his hypocritical actions; but I don’t think those motivations are as inscrutable as Reagan’s sometimes were.

  • Michael Heath

    lorn writes:

    His actual feelings and inclinations behind the facade were typically equivocal, self conscious, bothered by and often unable to understand complex issues and so frustrated and prone to impulsive action, often with a dramatic often violent action worthy of a movie, to try to make the problems go away.

    Obama, IMHO, far more responsible, able to manage complex issues that have no easy answers, and decisive, doesn’t project himself the same way. His thoughtfulness, willingness to patiently hear a wide variety of viewpoints, and nuanced reaction looks to people used to the TV and movie cowboy brand of manliness, to be weak, indecisive, even dishonest.

    As a big admirer and continued supporter of President Obama, I agree his personal qualities far exceed President Reagan’s on many fronts. In addition, nearly all the credible criticisms of President Reagan are ones I share. He’s not my kind of top executive, especially since I prefer technocrat leaders over cheerleader leaders. But those quality advantages alone don’t necessarily yield superior results.

    Reagan’s administration was largely successful in spite of Reagan’s conservative mindset and the incompetency of many of his senior officials (e.g., Edwin Meese). Sometimes leadership is about:

    a) compelling actions from others – particularly one’s opponents,

    b) having the wisdom to not let one’s ego get in the way of their position and therefore remain willing and capable of switching positions or compromise,

    c) attract superior talent and to delegate authority to them and,

    d) have good judgement to make big decisions based on the input one receives not just from the in-tribe counsel, but one’s competitors as well.

    This last attribute was one Reagan constantly used and one rarely finds within conservatism anymore (MI Gov. Rick Snyder is one exception) – openness is after all a trait contrary to the conservative mind.

    While President Obama’s been largely unsuccessful advancing his agenda by getting Republicans to cooperate, contrary to President Reagan’s incredible success in this area, I do not blame Mr. Obama. Instead my observation is that Republican obstruction is entirely the reason and this obstructionism is guaranteed to cause billions to suffer in the future. Whereas Democrats in Reagan’s time put country first over petty partisan manuevering. We live in a historic pivotal moment where Republicans are committed to doing an incredible amount of damage to the U.S. and to the entire planet, and that has nothing to do with Obama as we observed during the Clinton era when this new kind of Republican began to become the only kind of Republican.