Reagan Is Dead; Who Was He?

by Brendan Lalor

Amidst all of the bipartisan jellybean anecdotes commemorating the recently deceased former President Ronald Reagan, it is easy to forget what his real legacy is. Reagan, like Bush II, was so ideologically oriented that he was willing to inflict massive suffering on defenseless civilians in the name of the mistaken cause of security against mostly make-believe foes. In Reagan’s case, the fight against communism “justified” such horrors as genocide in East Timor, mass slaughter of civilians and anti-democratic regime change in Nicaragua, and support for Islamic radicals in Afghanistan.

Jose Luis Oliveira, head of an East Timorese rights organization, reminds us that Reagan had close ties with Indonesian dictator Suharto while the latter was slaughtering East Timorese civilians:

“The world must not forget that under [Reagan’s] leadership, America helped the Indonesian military commit genocide in East Timor”….

Despite pleas from human rights groups, Reagan – who visited Indonesia at the height of the bloodshed in 1986 – refused to ban the use of US-supplied arms in East Timor.

Paul Wolfowitz, one of Reagan’s main foreign policy advisers and his ambassador to Jakarta, was highly supportive of Suharto’s hardline policies in East Timor. Wolfowitz, currently the Pentagon’s deputy head and a key architect of the Iraq war, is now said to be spearheading efforts to re-establish military links with Jakarta. (Sydney Morning Herald, 6 June 2004)

And who can forgive Reagan for supporting the Contra terrorists in Nicaragua — who killed tens of thousands of Nicaraguan civilians during their war against the democratically elected Sandinista government?

Phil Gasper reminds us of Reagan’s “support for the Islamic radicals in Afghanistan who later formed the al-Qaeda network.”

Gasper’s abridged list of Reagan’s “achievements” — published by piece — is worth quoting:

Reagan refused to mention AIDS publicly for six years, under-funded federal programs dealing with the disease and, according to his authorized biography, said, “Maybe the Lord brought down this plague,” because “illicit sex is against the Ten Commandments.”

C. Everett Koop, Reagan’s surgeon general, later revealed, “because transmission of AIDS was understood primarily in the homosexual population and in those who abused intravenous drugs, the advisors to the president took the stand, they are only getting what they justly deserve.” ….

Reagan’s economic policies were a disaster for working-class Americans. Reagan presided over the worst recession since the 1930s, and economic growth in the 1980s was lower than in the 1970s, despite the stimulus of military Keynesian policies, which created massive federal budget deficits and tripled the federal debt. By the end of the decade, real wages were down and the poverty rate had increased by 20 percent.

… As for a “moral man,” Reagan’s morality included union busting–beginning with his dismissal of striking air traffic controllers in 1981–an unprecedented war on the poor, opposition to civil rights and support for apartheid South Africa.

Reagan was also a liar. In November 1986, he publicly denied that his administration had been illegally selling arms to Iran and using the proceeds to fund the contras. One week later he was forced to retract this statement, but denied that the sale was part of a deal to free U.S. hostages. The following year, Reagan admitted that there had been an arms-for-hostages deal, but denied he knew anything about it.

In 1992, that too proved to be a lie when former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger was compelled to release notes from a January 1986 meeting revealing, “President decided to go with Israeli-Iranian offer to release our 5 hostages in return for sale of 4,000 TOWs [U.S. missiles] to Iran by Israel.”

There are also the suspicious Iran hostage crisis, Reagan’s harmful influence in El Salvador, in Argentina, in Grenada. Reagan is dead. But his legacy lives on … unfortunately, it is alive and well in today’s West Wing.

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