With the 2016 presidential primary races seemingly just around the corner, one new face that has begun to emerge on the Sunday shows and all over the political commentary sites as of late has been Rick Perry. Perry seemingly began to lay the groundwork for a 2016 bid with a rousing speech at CPAC, where he literally brought the entire room to their feet with an impassioned cry to get the US economy back on track, and has followed this up recently with his high profile meetings surrounding immigration with President Obama.
Perry has begun to capitalize on this publicity by attempting to stake out his position in the 2016 field, and in a recent Washington Post article Perry took several shots at the foreign policy of current GOP frontrunner Rand Paul. Among these shots was the declaration that Rand gets the Ronald Reagan record on foreign policy wrong. Perry claims that Reagan confronted the Soviet Union in every theater (including, supposedly, on the battlefield) and paints a very confrontational picture of the Reagan presidency. However, when you look at the record of Ronald Reagan it is hard to square this chest puffing interventionism he supposedly engaged in with the facts of our military engagement record during his presidency.
The United States was engaged in direct military offensives with other nations for a total of four days of the Reagan presidency. These interventions were limited to a three day ground war against roughly 1,500 Grenadian militia and a one day bombing campaign on Libya in response to the bombing of the Berlin discotheque. This is a fact that is often brushed aside by many avowed interventionists who like to use Reagan as a false prophet of their foreign policy, but Ronald Reagan was among the most reluctant interventionists in our nations post World War 2 history. When compared to the major ground wars of Bush’s 41 & 43 as well as the many smaller interventions (not to mention major troop deployments in war zones) of Clinton and Obama, there is a rock solid case to be made that Reagan was a less interventionist president then any of his successors. He preached a policy of peace through strength that put peace first, and resisted many opportunities to become involved in foreign conflict.
Probably the greatest demonstrator of Reagan’s cautious approach to foreign policy was his consistent neutrality during the 1982 war in the Falklands. The British and Argentinians had both claimed ownership of the Falkland Islands, and many in the Reagan administration backed the calls to intervene on Britain’s behalf. Reagan resisted these calls and several others throughout his administration. Reagan even made the decision to remove US troops from their base in Beirut in response to attacks on the barracks, saying that we could not understand the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics. When neoconservatives in his administration pushed to invade Nicaragua, Reagan sternly objected, saying ““Those sons of bitches won’t be happy until we have 25,000 troops in Managua,and I’m not going to do it.” Can you imagine the “cut and run” jeers that would be launched upon him by the neoconservatives of today? This demonstrates that Perry’s take on the Reagan foreign policy is a revisionist one, and not one grounded in reality.
The reality of the Reagan foreign policy is that it is very similar to the one which Rand Paul has been advocating for; peace through strength. Reagan was not one to use military force as a tool to impose our will on other governments, provided they were not harming us. Therefore it should be no shock that Ronald Reagan’s son Michael gave a glowing commentary of Rand’s thoughts on his father, claiming that Paul “gets it” when it comes to his dad. Those who believe that Reagan’s foreign policy was the same as the careless policy of Rick Perry and George W Bush are simply unable to reconcile their views with the facts of the Reagan presidency. If Rick Perry is going to attempt to offer a substantial foreign policy challenge to Rand Paul when the presidential debates come around, he had better make sure that he has a better example than Ronald Reagan to attack him on, because he will find himself on the wrong side of history should he decide to go down this road again.