Not Too Late for a War Crimes Tribunal

He turns 91 this week, so its possible Ronald Reagan cant remember. But Jim Washburn cant forget

To counter international fears that SDI could give the U.S. a first-strike advantage, Reagan claimed he would share the technology with the Soviets. Top military officials followed in his wake to say, no, we wouldn't. The Soviets themselves gave little credence to Reagan's offer, since, as Mikhail Gorbachev pointed out, the U.S. was unwilling to share even dairy-farming technology with them.

The SDI research money was in addition to our military budget, which, coupled with rich-favoring tax cuts, gave us the multitrillion debt we've been saddled with ever since. As if all those resources weren't enough, the White House also diverted a substantial chunk of Federal Emergency Management Agency monies to build nuke-shielded mobile communications centers, handy only if your emergency happened to be an atomic war. That left the agency shortchanged for the workaday disasters—floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and the like—that didn't stir Reagan's fancy the way armageddon did.

Two decades and $100 billion later, we are not one whit safer, which is what happens when you sell wishful thinking as science.

After Gorbachev came to power in 1985, the White House never noticed things were changing and didn't notice until the Bush administration was blindsided by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Reagan always enjoyed recounting his first private meeting with Gorbachev in Geneva, which he made sound like a movie scene: he coaxed the Soviet leader aside to a private room where, he said, the two of them could get to know each other man-to-man. Unless they did it by kissing, it's hard to see how, since neither spoke the other's language.

They might as well have done without interpreters at the summits, for all the attention Reagan paid. Members of his administration have since said they went to the Reykjavik summit mainly because they saw it as a meet 'n' greet that could give their man a boost in the polls. They arrived unprepared and were caught off-guard by the sweeping arms-reduction proposals the Soviets made, including an offer to reduce even conventional forces. Reagan countered by telling jokes with anti-Soviet punch lines and relating a story he'd read in People magazine about a 1,200-pound man. Even Reagan fan Colin Powell found the president's lack of preparation offensive. After that first day of meetings, Reagan told an aide, "I'd better go do my homework. Mikhail has all those details."

The sticking point in the summits was always Reagan's cherished if chimeral Star Wars plans. Gorbachev, whose scientists told him the same things about its feasibility that American scientists were saying, ultimately told Reagan, "Go ahead and deploy it. Who am I to tell you what to do? I think you're wasting money. I don't think it will work."

When the two sides did eventually forge an INF treaty, it was signed at precisely 1:45 p.m. on Dec. 8, 1987, because that's when Nancy Reagan's astrologer, Joan Quigley, said to sign. Quigley, it transpired, made several decisions for the White House. I know a Christian Republican who told me last year that he could never vote for John McCain because the war-hero senator had once been involved with a New Age organization. This same man adores Reagan and is unbothered by the notion of a president who paid more attention to arcane mumbo jumbo than he did to the "details" of waging a nuclear war.

While America continued to build guns and missiles, Gorbachev acted unilaterally to reduce Soviet conventional and nuclear forces. The tremendous political and social changes rippling through the USSR, Reagan boosters will tell you, were due to the Gipper standing tall.

Bullpucky. What happened is what the grand old Republican Harold Stassen had predicted: the Soviet Union collapsed under its own dead weight. Gorbachev was a realist who recognized the system had failed. He didn't need a fantasist like Reagan to tell him change was needed. Russians wanted what the West had, and it wasn't missiles or Reagan's hair dye. They wanted Levi's and rock & roll, the very music James Watt had tried to ban from America's Fourth of July celebration in D.C.

While Reagan had little effect on the Soviet Union, he had a devastating one on Central America, where a popular revolution and a subsequent election had brought the Sandinistas to power in Nicaragua, and another revolution was raging in El Salvador.

Within two months of taking office, the White House and the CIA covertly created an insurgent force to wage war on Nicaragua. Some who joined Reagan's fight were patriots who had fought against Somoza but felt betrayed by the new regime's move to the left. Most, though, and the ones Reagan's CIA backed, were the same ex-National Guard totalitarian thugs the country had just rid itself of. Their anointed leader, Enrique Bermudez, had headed the National Guard and been Somoza's military attaché in Washington. Reagan called these goons "the moral equivalent of the founding fathers" struggling at Valley Forge.

U.S. support for the contras, as they were dubbed, was originally sold to Congress as a limited operation to staunch the flow of arms to rebels in El Salvador. When it became clear the White House was instead orchestrating the overthrow of the Nicaraguan government, congressmen weren't happy. On Dec. 8, 1982, they passed the Boland Amendment prohibiting funding for the contras. The amendment carried in the House 411 to 0.

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