Why Progressives and Conservatives Should Read Reagan’s Diaries

In the coming days I will write about various portions of the Reagan diaries and will also recommend that everyone look up Douglas Brinkley’s discussion over the weekend on C-SPAN.

Note: I worked for the House Democratic leadership during the much of the period discussed, including the period when Tip O’Neill was Speaker, and there was wide bipartisan consultation on matters such as Lebanon.

For now, I raise a few points about Reagan and the Middle East.

Reagan was opposed for reasons of policy and principle to sending large numbers of American troops into Middle Eastern conflicts.

He believed, correctly, that our troops would be embroiled in sectarian-style warfare that involved ancient hatreds, was not subject to easy solutions using American troops, and raised enormous risks of Americans being stuck in Middle Eastern quagmires.

Reagan was generally opposed to using massive American air power in Middle East conflicts because he feared that the world would see endless pictures of children and civilians being bloodied by bombings of limited military value.

Reagan spent a great amount of time pushing cease-fires in the Middle East, working closely with Philip Habib and other diplomats, with some success.

There were exceptions, particularly Libya, and no doubt Reagan was ahead of his time anticipating the growing terrorist threat.

What comes through in the diaries very clearly is how deeply Reagan was personally involved in the details of Middle East diplomacy, how closely he worked with Habib and others to achieve cease-fires, and how strongly he preferred this approach to large-scale bombing or the introduction of large numbers of troops.

In this, Reagan was wise. There is much to learn from Reagan, especially that America should now escalate attempts to seek a cease-fire among Iraqi combatants in the hope of ending that carnage and unifying all Iraqis to kill al Qaeda terrorists.

Those of you on the American Right might ponder his views. Your disagreements are not with me, but with Ronald Reagan.