View the H-Diplo Discussion Logs by month
View the Prior Message in H-Diplo's June 2004 logs by: [date] [author] [thread]
View the Next Message in H-Diplo's June 2004 logs by: [date] [author] [thread]
Visit the H-Diplo home page.
Professor Juan Cole's post on Ronald Reagan which appeared on his blog, Informed Comment, as well as on HNN and H-Diplo covered an array of Reagan's policies; I would like to comment on those points raised by Professor Cole that were related to foreign relations: Juan Cole's HNN piece wrote: "In foreign policy, Reagan abandoned containment of the Soviet Union as a goal and adopted a policy of active roll-back. Since the Soviet Union was already on its last legs and was not a system that could have survived long, Reagan's global aggressiveness was simply unnecessary. The argument that Reagan's increases in military funding bankrupted the Soviets by forcing them to try to keep up is simply wrong. Soviet defense spending was flat in the 1980s." Dr. Burgos has already addressed the anachronistic nature of this argument, I would like to make the additional observations regarding the USSR in the 1980's: 1. Soviet defense spending, in terms of budgetary expenditure, was relatively flat but that begs the questions of - "If the military budget was flat while the Soviet economy was contracting in real terms what did this say about Soviet priorities?"; "Had the USSR reached the point of diminishing returns in terms of the percentage of GDP consumed by defense spending by, say 1985?"; and "Are we discussing the real Soviet defense budget that included the military-industry complex, the Afghan war, military aid to client regimes and liberation movements and the KGB/MVD security troop divisions or the "official" defense budget that did not?" Under Ronald Reagan, American defense spending peaked at a high of roughly 6% of GDP circa 1985 and then declined thereafter - what were the comparabl;e percentages of Soviet expenditure? 2. As a counter-example to the "Inevitable Collapse" hypothesis invoked by Professor Cole, I hasten to offer up North Korea, which has had by any measure a far more dire set of economic problems since 1990 than the USSR suffered from 1980-1991. While the costs of the DPRK's policies can probably be measured in human lives more easily than dollars it remains that a totalitarian system has the means to muddle through fairly intense periods of privation if the political will exists. Professor Cole continues: "Reagan's aggression led him to shape our world in most unfortunate ways. Although it would be an exaggeration to say that Ronald Reagan created al-Qaeda, it would not be a vast exaggeration." Actually it would. As Professor Cole no doubt is aware, the ideology that forms the core of al Qaida style Islamism comes from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and was gestating years, if not decades earlier amongst the most exteme Salafi intellectuals and Hanbali scholars. Their ideas would have taken their acolytes down the same road regardless of Afghanistan. Most of the Afghan Mujahedeen, by contrast, did not subscribe to the ideas of the "Afghan Arabs", they were fighting the Russian invader and their local Communist stooges the way previous generations had fought the British. Outside of the Taliban, a Pushtun post-Soviet war creation of Pakistan's ISI, relatively few Afghans have been involved in terrorism compared to Saudis, Yemenis, Egyptians and North Africans. If Reagan's financial support of the mujahedeen is to blame for al Qaida then logically we ought to be seeing tens if not hundreds of thousands of Afghan jihadis involved in terror across the globe as they were the overwheming majority of anti-Soviet fighters. Perhaps ideas and ideology matter more than experience in a war? "The Pakistanis ultimately relented, even though they knew there was a severe danger that the holy warriors would eventually morph into a security threat in their own right." Which is why the Pakistanis channeled most of the military aid to the most Islamist of the various Mujahedeen groups and shortchanged the rest? And later created the Taliban? "Reagan's officials so hated the Sandinista populists in Nicaragua that they shredded the Constitution. Congress cut off money for the rightwing death squads fighting the Sandinistas." The human rights record of the Sandinistas was appalling and far exceeded their noxiously corrupt predecessor, Anastasio Somoza, in political repression. From the employment of Comité de Defensa Sandinista to Las Tejas prison to the murder of an estimated 8000 political opponents and ( if I recall properly) 15,000 Indians, Sandinista practices were denounced by Amnesty International and the UN Human Rights Commission, not just the Reagan administration. As for the Contras, even if we accept the idea that Somoza's entire National Guard went into that movement as a body ( which they didn't) we have to ask ourselves where the other thousands came from, much less Commandante Zero's group and the Miskito's. Perhaps not every anti-Sandinista fighter was the Nicaraguan equivalent of Roberto D'Aubuisson and Augusto Pinochet? Nothing in history is preordained and the assumption that the Soviet Union and it's various repressive satellites would have marched off into the dustbin of history at the time and manner they did without the added pressure of Reagan's policies is to say the least, counterintuitive. Mark Safranski Independent Scholar