"Reagan Banished the Vietnam Syndrome."
Yes, but not how you think. Reagan's political genius lay in recognizing that what Americans wanted was a president who exorcised the ghost of the Vietnam War without fighting another Vietnam. Although Americans enjoyed Reagan's thunderous denunciations of Central American communism, 75 percent of them, according to a 1985 Louis Harris survey, opposed invading Nicaragua. A 1983 ABC poll found that Americans opposed sending troops to El Salvador by almost 6-to-1, even if that meant letting the communists win.
So Reagan created Potemkin Vietnams. His biographer Lou Cannon calls him "shameless" in using Grenada to revive America's Vietnam-wounded pride. The war resulted in more medals per soldier than any military operation in U.S. history. When he bombed Libya in 1986, Reagan goosed American nationalism again, declaring, "Every nickel-and-dime dictator the world over knows that if he tangles with the United States of America, he will pay a price."
That last phrase was the key. America's enemies would pay the price, not the American people. Americans loved Reagan's foreign policy for the same reason they loved the 1985 blockbuster Rambo, in which the muscle-bound hero returns to Vietnam, kicks some communist butt, and no Americans die. Reagan's liberal critics often accused him of reviving the chest-thumping spirit that had led to Vietnam. But they were wrong. For Reagan, chest-thumping was in large measure a substitute for a new Vietnam, a way of accommodating the restraints on U.S. power while still boosting American morale.