Reagan worship in Republican politics reaches unhealthy levels from time to time – “Ronaldus Magnus,” for example – though it’s generally the result of Reagan fans not remembering the 40th president nearly as well as they think they do.
A few years ago, for example, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia was the result of Reagan’s historic leadership. That didn’t make any sense at all – the Prague Spring happened in 1968.
Or take today’s example, from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the former chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“It is against the norms of international standards and to let something like this go unanswered, I think will weaken our resolve. I – I know that President Reagan would have never let this happen. He would stand up to this. And President Obama – the only reason he is consulting with Congress, he wants to blame somebody for his lack of resolve. We have to think like President Reagan would do and he would say chemical use is unacceptable.”
Look, I realize the 1980s seems like a long time ago, and on Capitol Hill, memories are short. But if prominent members of Congress are going to talk about Reagan and the use of chemical weapons, at a bare minimum, they should have some rudimentary understanding of how Reagan approached the use of chemical weapons.
So long as saying unpleasant-but-true things about Reagan is still legal, let’s set the record straight.
The Reagan administration was, of course, quite ambitious when it came to foreign policy and national security. For example, Reagan invaded Grenada without telling Congress he intended to do so; he bombed Libya without congressional approval or consultation; and he illegally sold over 1,000 missiles to Iran to finance an illegal war in Nicaragua.
And as Hayes Brown explained, Reagan also did largely the opposite of what Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said he did with regards to the use of chemical weapons.
For the majority of the 1980s, Iraq under Sadaam Hussein was locked in combat with the Islamic Republic of Iran in a war that killed more than 100,000 people on both sides. The United States explicitly backed the secular Hussein over the Ayatollah Khomeini’s government in Tehran, still smarting from the embassy hostage crisis that had only ended when Reagan took office. That backing not only included the shipment of tons of weapons to support Baghdad, but also looking the other way when Iraq unleashed its chemical weapons stockpiles – including sarin and mustard gas – against Iranian civilians and soldiers alike.
Recently declassified documents from that time indicate that not only did the U.S. government know that Hussein possessed these weapons, but “conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that Hussein’s military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin.” President Reagan also remained silent during the Al-Anfal campaign, in which Hussein used poison gas against the Kurdish population in Northern Iraq to put down a revolt against his rule. In what has later been called a genocide, more than 100,000 men, women, and children were killed, nearly 100 times more than the attack that took place outside of Damascus last month.
Indeed, after Saddam Hussein gassed his own people, Reagan dispatched … wait for it … Donald Rumsfeld to help solidify the relationship between the Reagan administration and the brutal, murderous Iraqi dictator. Rumsfeld gladly shook hands with Hussein after he used chemical weapons to kill Iraqi dissidents.
Perhaps someone can let Rep. Ros-Lehtinen know.