NEOCONS AND REAGAN FOREIGN POLICY
Yesterday, Geitner Simmons responded to charges made in the American Spectator that Neocons were seriously diverging from the foreign policy tradition of Ronald Reagan. Specifically, the implication was that if Ronald Reagan had been president after 9/11, the United States would never have invaded Iraq. There’s a lot of problems with that counterfactual thesis and Geitner dealt with many of them, if you haven’t read it yet I urge you to go back and read his post on Regions of Mind.
Ronald Reagan had a deeply divided foreign policy apparatus but it would be no more accurate to argue that neoconservatives were not a key component in shaping administration foreign policy than it would be to argue that they were running the show by themselves. Moreover while ideology was a factor in these internal disputes, personality and institutional turf battles were equally or often more important than political philosophy in determining alignments within the administration.
The Reagan Neocons, People, Positions, Policy and Power:
The Neoconservatives were numerous in the NSC and in the mid-lower levels of the appointed positions at Defense, State,CIA, PFIAB, UN and other bureaucracies having been selected like other appointees during the transition by Ed Meese and Pendleton James. The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 had vastly expanded the range of presidential appointments in the upper tiers of the Federal bureaucracy and Reagan’s team were determined to fill these posts with reliable conservatives of all stripes. The Heritage Foundation provided critical personnel recommendations but the Neocon presence was also strong. The Committee on the Present Danger sent sixty members into high and mid-level posts in the Reagan administration including William Casey, Paul Nitze, Eugene Rostow, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Richard Allen and David Packard. Nitze’s Committee to Maintain a Prudent Defense Policy, contributed Peter Wilson, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz.
The Neocons had a significant power base that centered around William Casey’s special position as DCI that was buttressed by an executive order (NSDD-2) making the DCI a member of the cabinet and a foreign policy principal on par with the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State. Casey enjoyed a close political relationship with Reagan ” that amazed ” his moderate deputy, Bobby Ray Inmann; Casey also placed a close associate as vice-chairman of the National Intelligence Council and placed some of his people on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. Papers from the CPD and the Committee of Santa Fe became foreign policy blueprints at the NSC, an anti-Communist bastion that included Harvard historian Richard Pipes, Chris Lehman, Lt. General Gordon Summer and RAND’s Constantine Menges, who authored the initial paper that later germinated into ” The Reagan Doctrine “. (Menges also served under Casey at the CIA as a National Intelligence Officer)
In addition to the Reagan Doctrine of supporting anti-Communist fighters across the globe, neocons can count in their policy column SDI which brought the Soviets back to the negotiating table and Richard Perle’s ” Zero Option ” bargaining position much reviled by the liberal foreign policy establishment that led to the historic INF treaty. Eventually, the neocons were routed but only after many of their ideas had been adopted by their bureaucratic rivals. George Shultz, Casey’s nemesis and a leader of the more pragmatic officials, for example overruled his own State Department on Afghan aid and saw the very tough positions taken by the neocons and hardliners as a good ” bargaining chip” for negotiations with Gromyko and Shevardnadze.
The Reagan administration contained a wide spectrum of figures on the right – Pat Buchanan,Richard Perle, Jim Baker, George Schultz,Jude Wanniski,Paul Wolfowitz, George Bush – some of whom later became bitter enemies. Libertarians, Paleocons, Neocons and mainstream Republicans all contributed to and can lay a claim to part of Reagan’s legacy. Sectarian arguments to exclude on group or another on some alleged basis are ahistorical at best.