RealNews

His military successes had a price

In his first hour as president, Ronald Reagan managed an act of stunning stagecraft for a new commander in chief. The 1981 Inauguration Day release of 52 American hostages held in Iran was a gift to the new president, due more to negotiations by departing President Jimmy Carter than Reagan’s own string pulling. But it was Reagan who proclaimed the hostages free after 444 days in captivity, leaving the impression of a new commander who would succeed on battlefields where the former one had failed. That image of Reagan still is strong today. But like the choreographed hostage release–Iran held the plane carrying the hostages to freedom in its airspace until Reagan was sworn in–the impression of Reagan’s military successes and the reality of his actions don’t always fit easily together. “Today the United States is basically waging war in Afghanistan and Iraq with an arsenal that was put in place by Ronald Reagan,” said Loren Thompson, who heads the Lexington Institute, a defense policy think tank. “In terms of military modernization, the Defense Department has had a 20-year free ride on the buildup that Ronald Reagan funded.” But some of Reagan’s most ambitious military initiatives became costly misadventures. In October 1983, 241 Marines died in Lebanon in a truck bombing, leading Reagan to reverse course and order the Marines’ eventual removal. Other plans, such as a covert program to aid anti-communist rebels in Central America despite a congressional prohibition, mired the White House in scandal. Billions of dollars were spent on weapons systems, some of which have seen only limited use and may soon be obsolete. Full Story

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