Richard Perle challenges Peter Beinart's representation of Reagan's foreign policy.
One could assume that the dubious straw men invented by Peter Beinart are the result of innocent misconstruction ("Think Again: Ronald Reagan," July/August 2010). After all, Beinart was 10 years old when Ronald Reagan became president and began the daunting task of re-establishing American pride, confidence, and global leadership after Jimmy Carter's disastrous presidency. But they are more likely yet another example of the refusal of liberals to acknowedge the success of Reagan's Cold War policies.
Beinart attributes to the "American right" the view that Reagan's policies led the Politburo to install Mikhail Gorbachev, "who threw in the towel." But Beinart seems alone in taking this view. Instead, many of us who served in the Reagan administration argue that the delegitimization of the Kremlin dictators (accomplished, in part, by what Beinart calls "virulent Cold War rhetoric"), the rebuilding of U.S. military capabilities, and a skillful arms-control strategy led to the West's victory in the Cold War.
Reagan negotiated with the Soviets from the moment he took office, but with a subtlety that escapes Beinart completely. Reagan knew what he wanted, and he knew how to achieve it. This was especially true with respect to arms control, where -- often against the advice of the experts, the liberals, and much of the media -- Reagan stayed the course until the Soviets gave him the agreement he wanted.
What Beinart calls Reagan's "sudden infatuation with arms control" is pure invention. When Reagan proposed eliminating all intermediate-range missiles in 1981, he was denounced for overreaching. Indeed, he was accused of having put forward a proposed treaty for the express purpose of assuring that the talks would fail. For Reagan's success in out-waiting and out-negotiating the Soviets, Beinart and those who share his outlook will never forgive him.
Beinart is not alone in confusing a tough, deliberate application of American power with the bellicose reckless abandon that he seems to think is the essence of a "conservative" foreign policy. In Beinart's worldview only liberals, relying on the United Nations, international law, and multilateral diplomacy, can secure U.S. interests and preserve peace. But Reagan, following his own beliefs and proceeding in his own way, achieved results no liberal foreign policy has approached -- or is likely to achieve.
Resident Fellow, The American Enterprise Institute
U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense, 1981-1987