Friday, February 19, 2010

A Rare Admirable Quality in Ronald Reagan?

I'm going to write words I never thought I'd write or say: it may not be such a terrible to look to Ronald Reagan on a key issue in the United States for the last several years:

Reagan was far to the left of the 2010 Republican Party on issues such as torture. The convention that he signed in 1988 holds that there is no circumstance of any kind that permits torture, which certainly would include the 9/11 aftermath and related anti-terror efforts today.

But it goes even deeper than that. As I noted in an early 2010 blog post: “Reagan would not have approved of drone-fired missile attacks aimed at killing terrorists; as president, he several times rejected anti-terrorism operations for the sole reason that civilians would have been killed by collateral damage. In 1985, he surprised aides such as Pat Buchanan by ruling out a military response to a Beirut hijacking for fear of civilian casualties; Lou Cannon reported then in the Washington Post that Reagan called retaliation in which innocent civilians are killed “itself a terrorist act.” And the idea of trying terrorists in military tribunals as opposed to a civilian court of law? The Reagan administration was completely against that. Paul Bremer (yes, that Paul Bremer) said in 1987, “a major element of our strategy has been to delegitimize terrorists, to get society to see them for what they are — criminals — and to use democracy’s most potent tool, the rule of law, against them.”

To be clear, I absolutely do not think Reagan was a saint, nor does Will Bunch, who also points out that the "'Reagan Doctrine' in Central America, leaving the fight to anti-Communist thugs and death squads that the then-president called “the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers,” is arguably the gravest moral failing of his tenure." I couldn't agree more.

But that doesn't take away from the rather stark stance Reagan took against torture, nor does it detract from the obviously-opposite stance of current torture-apologists who claim to look to Reagan as their guiding light. Again, this is in no way an apology for Reagan, and I think his policies were overwhelmingly terrible and negative on both the U.S. and the world. That said, the fact that he was so strongly anti-torture does matter, and just serves as another reminder of how far the right has gone in the last 30 years, as well as how the vision of Reagan that today's right props up as its paragon does not always reflect the Reagan who was actually president.