Menckens Ghost

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What would Ronald Reagan have done in Libya?

What would Ronald Reagan have done in Libya?


By Mencken’s Ghost

Sept. 16, 2012


As the political blather about the recent events in Libya shows, most Democrats and Republicans seem to forget history.  Or to be more accurate, they selectively choose the history that is favorable to their politics and discard the history that is unfavorable.


The polite term for this is confirmation bias.  This means that once a belief about the world is formed--usually in childhood--people gravitate to information sources that reinforce that belief.  College faculties do this, talk-radio fans do this, CNBC fans do this, Joe Six-Pack does this, Upper-Eastside elites do this, and demagogue Sean Hannity does this best of all.


Case in point:  Hannity’s primary audience of nationalists, Zionists and neocons had at first criticized President Obama for doing too much in Libya.  Then they criticized him for doing too little.  Now they’re criticizing him for causing the death of four Americans in Libya and then not responding to the deaths with overwhelming force. 


At the same time, they idolize the foreign policy of Ronald Reagan.


Intellectual consistency is not their forte.


The idolizers conveniently overlook the 241 Americans, including 220 Marines, who were killed on Reagan’s watch in 1983 by terrorist bombs at a barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. 


That would make the score as follows: 241 killed under Reagan, versus 4 killed under Obama.     


What did tough guy Reagan do in retaliation to the most Marines being killed at once since Iwo Jima?  He withdrew all American troops from the country when the rest of the United Nations contingent withdrew (a wise decision, in my opinion).


What precipitated the Beirut terrorist attack?


First, as Reagan’s former defense secretary Caspar Weinberger subsequently wrote, the president ignored the warnings of his military advisors that the Marines were sitting ducks because they did not have sufficient troops and arms.


Second, the bombings were believed to have been in retaliation to the shelling of Muslim positions by U.S. warships, in contravention of the USA’s and U.N.’s stated mission of being a neutral peacekeeping force in Lebanon’s civil war.  This fueled the growth of Hezbollah and its sponsorship by Syria. 


Now, 29 years later, how are things working out with Syria?


But, hey, Reagan’s warrior image was redeemed as a result of his successful invasion of the great military power of Grenada soon after the Beirut tragedy.


Three years later, the Iran-Contra scandal took place.  Recall that it involved the Reagan administration violating its own embargo by selling arms to Iran, in the hope of freeing seven American hostages and also using the proceeds to fund the Nicaraguan Contras.


Now, 26 years later, how are things working out with Iran?


Confirmation bias also leads many on the right to believe that Reagan brought down the Soviet Union by outspending it on the military (and by embracing deficit spending).  At the same time, they say that communist systems are doomed to fail economically.  If the latter is true, then was the former necessary?  Those without a confirmation bias would look beyond the partisan responses of the right and left for the answer.


They would also look beyond the partisan criticisms of Jimmy Carter’s economic policies and the partisan praise of Reagan’s. 


It was Carter, after all, who appointed Paul Volcker as chairman of the Federal Reserve to institute deflationary policies that were later credited to Reagan.  And it was Carter who inherited the inflation time-bomb resulting from Richard Nixon’s wage and price controls and closing of the gold window.  Moreover, it was Carter who actually eliminated a federal agency and deregulated much of the transportation industry--actions that were much more free-market oriented than Republican actions of recent history.


Yes, Carter also did many stupid things, including setting off the inflation time-bomb.  But Reagan also did stupid things.  Likewise, Obama is doing very stupid things.  And if Romney is elected, he’ll do stupid things.


The point is that confirmation bias keeps most Democrats and Republicans from seeking out and admitting the stupidity of their leaders.


Admittedly, my own confirmation bias might be at work here, since I expect Democrats and Republicans to do stupid things that are harmful to me and my family.



Mencken’s Ghost is the nom de plume of an Arizona writer who can be reached at

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