Call Obama’s Iran Diplomacy ‘Reaganesque’
The Washington Post
Scowcroft’s Aug. 23 op-ed, “An epochal moment,” endorsing
the Iran nuclear deal, hardly came as a shock. He’d already previewed his
columnists this month. More surprising was Scowcroft’s attempt to
link the Obama administration’s diplomacy to President Reagan’s arms control
efforts with the Soviet Union . While both resulted in agreements with longtime
enemies, even a cursory review of the Reagan record highlights how little
resemblance his approach bears to Obama’s. Focusing on the superficial
similarities, rather than the stark differences, risks obscuring far more than
consider the irony: Reagan actually came to office trashing the
SALT II nuclear
deal that Jimmy Carter had negotiated with the Soviets. Like today’s
Republican presidential candidates, Reagan openly urged Congress to reject what
he considered a bad deal that would undermine our security.
office, Reagan embarked
on a massive arms buildup. He waited more than a year before entering talks on
strategic nuclear forces. At those, as well as the negotiations on
intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) in Europe, he put forward maximalist
demands that Moscow rejected. The majority of arms control experts attacked
Reagan’s positions as dangerous, delusionary, even a prelude to war. A massive
protest movement emerged demanding that the administration adopt a “nuclear
freeze.” In the face of the Kremlin’s threat to break off talks, Reagan went
ahead with the deployment of nuclear missiles in Europe. Moscow walked. The
chattering classes trembled.
there’s more. Even with negotiations underway, Reagan relentlessly waged
ideological warfare against the Soviet system. In June 1982, he warned
that “freedom and democracy . . . will leave
Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history.” Less than a year later, he
doubled down, labeling the
Soviet Union “the focus of evil in the modern world.” Pundits were aghast.
But Reagan plowed ahead. Weeks later, he unveiled his Strategic
Defense Initiative (SDI), a vision aimed at rendering offensive nuclear
weapons — as well as the doctrine of mutual assured destruction — obsolete.
The Soviets howled, condemning SDI as destabilizing, a reckless plot to give the
United States a first-strike capability. Most U.S. experts concurred.
As a centerpiece of his foreign policy, Reagan had a doctrine — the Reagan
Doctrine — to provide lethal support to forces fighting Soviet aggression. In
Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Angola and beyond, U.S. aid to anti-communist
insurgencies was systematically used to kill Russians and their proxies. It
didn’t matter whether arms control talks were on or off. Reagan knew that
simultaneously fighting Soviet expansionism and negotiating nuclear deals was
not only possible, but also essential to advancing U.S. interests.
Mikhail Gorbachev emerged and proposed a resumption of nuclear talks, Reagan was
certainly open to it. Nevertheless, at the 1986 Reykjavik summit, with a
historic deal to reduce offensive nuclear forces at hand, Reagan didn’t
hesitate to collapse
the negotiations when Gorbachev sought to extract a last-minute
concession to kill SDI.
take long for Reagan’s toughness to pay off. A little more than a year later,
an INF Treaty eliminated a class of nuclear missiles in Europe — the so-called
zero option that had been Reagan’s opening gambit and which most arms
controllers had universally derided as unrealistic. Major progress was also made
on a framework to reduce strategic nuclear forces, which President George H.W.
Bush and Scowcroft brought to a successful conclusion with the 1991 START
agreement. SDI was left untouched.
U.S.-Soviet relations made progress on arms control, Reagan never strayed from
his strategic purpose of weakening the “evil empire.” As much as he admired
Gorbachev, it didn’t stop him from going to Berlin in 1987 to demand that the
Soviet leader “tear
down this wall” — to the rapture of almost all Central European
dissidents and the tut-tutting of the American cognoscenti.
of Reagan’s approach? Nuclear deals consistent with America’s red lines, of
course. But that was the least of it. Within a few years of Reagan’s tenure,
the Soviets were out of Afghanistan and in retreat across the developing world.
The Berlin Wall collapsed. Central Europe was free. The Soviet Union
disintegrated and the Cold War won.
deal with Iran? An agreement intended to dismantle Iran’s enrichment
capability will now authorize it to grow without limit in 15 years. Last-minute
Iranian demands to remove restrictions on conventional weapons and ballistic
missiles were met with concessions, not rejection. Under cover of the talks,
Iranian aggression across the Middle East escalated without meaningful U.S.
resistance. America’s regional allies feel abandoned and demoralized, while
Iranian reformers who took to the streets in 2009 to protest the regime’s
oppression languish today with nary a word of U.S. encouragement.
certainly a lot you can say about Obama’s brand of diplomacy. Perhaps you can
even argue that it’s in the best interests of the United States. What you
can’t really do, not with a straight face, is ever call it Reaganesque.