In those days, the Reagan administration backed or fomented many civil and other wars around the world – via the “sons of Reagan” murderous Contras in Nicaragua against the democratic government of Nicaragua, built up the Osama bin Laden-led forces of Islamic fundamentalism in Afghanistan, militarily intervened in Grenada, sold arms to Iran, backed Saddam’s war of aggression against Iran in which around a million people were killed. Claims by human rights organisations – backed by evidence – that Iraq used chemical weapons during the war on the West’s (and their repressive friends in the Gulf) biggest ‘enemy’ were rejected as inadequate by the British and American authorities. The world lives even today with the fruits of Reagan’s achievements.
Reagan’s greatest achievement was in pulling the US out of the national hand-wringing that arose from the war of aggression in Vietnam, where ca 2 million Vietnamese lost their lives, alongside around 55,000 US servicemen, mostly conscripts, and the coruption at the heart of America’s politics exposed by the Watergate scandal. Reagan taught America that it was “morning again” and time to walk tall and to not worry too much about the costs of America’s past aggressions, but instead to celebrate her achievements. President Carter had begun the process but Reagan completed it. Eliding history is a core principle for imperial powers.
At home, Reagan did his level best to reverse the gains of the civil rights movement, cutting the largest welfare bureaucracies that employed minority workers the most, and radically increasing racialised social polarisation. For white workers, Reagan was no better, despite electoral backing from that grouping. Reagan famously declared that he did not care what the US produced – potato chips or microchips, so deindustrialising America was no problem for the millionaires who backed and gained most from the ‘ no taxation with full representation’ Reagan Revolution. America’s rotting cities are a testament to the Reagan revolution.
President Barack Obama declared an interest in learning lessons from Reagan.
In the 1980s, we talked of the ‘Reagan Revolution’, a metaphor for reversing the legacies – what was left of them – of the New Deal, inaugurated by Reagan’s original inspiration, Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Resurrecting Reagan today is to empower and encourage the most reactionary elements of US imperial power and their supporters in this country. It is to declare that might is right and wars of aggression will continue. It is to confirm America’s self-serving right to continue its imperial mission.
But there was another, alternative 1980s too: one in which there was mass opposition to US militarism and its Thatcherite backers, and a slogan was advanced across Europe when Reagan visited 10 Downing Street and the other capitals of Europe: “Yankee Assassin Go Home!”
There may not be a statue to mark that resistance, but it remains a powerful legacy nevertheless.
First Published in USBlog.