Whatever happens to Bashar Assad, you can be sure that Ronald Reagan is rolling in his grave. That’s the assessment of a small but loud faction of conservatives who are perplexed that Republicans aren’t rushing to join Barack Obama’s march to war in Syria.
If Rand Paul gets more than 10 percent of the 2016 Republican primary vote, Hugh Hewitt fears “the party of Ronald Reagan is dead, and former Ohio Sen. Bob Taft will finally get his due.”
The Wall Street Journal‘s Bret Stephens also sees Robert Taft’s ghost, and he is very afraid. The wild-eyed view that Congress has the power to declare war, expressed in a subversive document known as the Constitution, penned by peacenik pinkos like James Madison, “would have astonished Ronald Reagan.”
But such “faux-constitutional assertions,” as Stephens describes them, “would have sat well with Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio.”
Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol helpfully divided the GOP into two factions: “Reagan Republicans” and “Snowden Republicans.” Guess whose side the hawks are on?
“Now Ronald Reagan wasn’t a libertarian, folks,” Lindsey Graham reminded the crowd at a Charleston fundraiser. Graham is among the minority of Republican senators likely to vote with Obama on authorizing military force in Syria.
“Ronald Reagan, if he were president, would get Assad like that,” Bill O’Reilly blustered.
Well, Ronald Reagan was president at the same time Assad’s father was running Syria and he didn’t. And Reagan might have had stronger grounds for doing so than Obama has today.
Republicans who almost seem to be itching to fight wars — or at least type on their laptops while other people fight them — often say they are adhering to Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy. Peace through strength, better dead than red. They don’t much like it when less hawkish Republicans invoke Reagan.
But Reagan’s actual foreign policy was more complicated than authors of the thousandth call for a “neo-Reaganite foreign policy” would have it. Yes, he built up the military and invaded Grenada. He also, as the American Conservative Union’s Donald Devine writes in America’s Way Back, “actively committed fewer U.S. ground forces on foreign soil than any modern chief executive other than Jimmy Carter.”
Reagan, writes George Mason University professor Colin Dueck, “generally avoided protracted, failed, or militarily improbable entanglements abroad.” The Grenada invasion was undertaken to rescue American medical students and prevent the establishment of a Soviet base camp in the region, at the request of treaty allies, against an army of 600 men.