The Man Called 'the Gipper'


America buried one of its former presidents last Friday, June 11, 2004. After a 6000-mile trip from coast to coast, between Los Angeles and Washington D.C., Ronald Reagan's body was finally placed to rest at his presidential library on a hilltop in Simi Valley, California in a Hollywood like finish. The sunset burial service closed the curtain on six days of remembrance. Thousands of mourners lined up on the streets, some waving flags and some waving banners, to watch the funeral motorcade and say a final farewell to the gipper.

At a funeral at the majestic Washington National Cathedral earlier in the day, current world leaders like Tony Blair, Hamid Karzai and Gerhard Schroeder came to pay their tribute. The front two rows across from the Reagan family were reserved for President George W. Bush, Vice President Cheney, and four former presidents - Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. The audience included Britain's Prince Charles and former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev among other dignitaries. The powerful shared the pews with the once-powerful.

Flattering eulogies that remembered Regan as a man of bedrock American values, humor and humility were delivered by leaders of the yesterdays - Margaret Thatcher (former PM of Great Britain), Bush Sr. and Brian Mulroney (former PM of Canada). Minutes after the DC service, churches across the country rang their bells 40 times for the 40th president. It was a superb show befitting the richest country on the planet and a magnificent tribute to a dead man who was once its President.

How will future measure Reagan? It is highly unlikely that it will look as rosy as it has been the past week. Very few will, however, argue about his charming personality and superb communication skills.

I saw President Regan nearly 22 years ago when he came to receive the Columbia astronauts from their space shuttle mission at the Edwards Air Force Base, California on July 4, 1982. He observed the landing from a position not too far from me near the giant flag in the hangar door on the other side of the runway. For a 71-year old man, he appeared very handsome.

In March 1983, Reagan initiated the so-called Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), better known as Star Wars - a wide-scale research and development effort aimed to build an antimissile defense shield. He and his supporters believed that SDI would be capable of protecting the US from the Soviet nuclear threat. He showed great interest in NASA's space exploration program. In January 1984, during his State of the Union address, he gave official green light to the ambitious project, which envisioned permanently manned space station by 1991. Despite his unrelenting enthusiasm, this legacy faced continuous political and financial challenges.

Early in his first term as the President, Reagan issued an order that would effectively deny foreign Muslim students the privilege to earn graduate degrees in certain engineering disciplines, notably the nuclear and computer engineering. Many of these students were at the last throes of their graduate program when the order was issued. One such victim was a Bangladeshi graduate student doing a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering in California in the area of thermal hydraulics. His supervisor told him that he couldn't allow him to graduate because he might one day make the "Islamic Bomb."

I remember how the lives of many of these Muslim students were ruined forever - many returning to their home countries brokenhearted after 3 to 7 years of their studies without the coveted Ph.D. degree from American universities.

Reagan came to power at a time when the national pride was hurt by the Iranian hostage crisis. Lebanon had been wrecked by a brutal civil war for seven years when, in June 1982, Israel invaded in order to crush the PLO. U.S. troops were briefly deployed in August in Beirut to help secure a ceasefire to facilitate the withdrawal of the PLO forces to Tunisia. U.S. troops exited Beirut after the PLO withdrawal was largely completed. Then Ariel Sharon's Israeli Defense Force committed war crimes by letting its proxy Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia to butcher nearly a thousand of residents of the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps; the militia was armed, aided, and fed by the IDF, which surrounded and blockaded the camps.

The Lebanese government appealed to President Reagan to send American troops back into Beirut as a stabilizing factor, and Reagan quickly obliged. As fighting escalated between Christians, Muslims, Syrians, and Israelis in Lebanon, the original U.S. peacekeeping mission became a sham. The U.S. forces were increasingly perceived as a pro-Christian, anti-Muslim force. On April 18, 1983 a delivery van pulled up to the front door of the U.S. embassy in Beirut and detonated, killing 46 people (including 16 Americans) and wounding over a hundred others. By late summer 1983, the resistance movement against Israeli/American/Phalangist forces grew, and Muslim snipers were targeting Marines. 

On September 13, Reagan authorized Marine commanders in Lebanon to call in air strikes and other attacks against the Muslims to help the Christian Lebanese army. This further worsened the situation. On Sunday morning, October 23, 1983, a lone Muslim drove a Mercedes truck into the lobby of the Marine headquarters building in Beirut, where he detonated explosives, killing 241 marines. A second truck bomb moments later killed 58 French soldiers. Reagan quietly withdrew U.S. combat troops from Beirut in early 1984.

It was also Reagan who ushered in the age of codified racial politics that the GOP, a.k.a. the Republican Party, continues to practice by coining the phrase 'welfare queen.' He marginalized the Afro-American community. He vetoed twice the Martine Luther King Jr. holiday bill further alienating GOP against Afro-American interests. Despite strong protests from civil rights groups to stop doing business with the Apartheid South African regime, he continued his administration's so-called 'constructive engagement' policy. 

As a very religious man, [1] Reagan opened the floodgate for evangelists, who would later control the White House. Religious references, much heard today in George W. Bush's speeches, were a continuous thread in Reagan's words, in public and in private. [2] Just as Bush Jr. has fundamentalists like John Ashcroft, Condie Rice and Karl Rove in his White House, Reagan's closest 'prayer partners' included Edwin Meese, William Clark and Richard Allen. [3] The night Reagan returned to the White House after nearly being shot to death, he confided in his diary: "Whatever happens now I owe my life to God and will serve Him every way I can." According to biographer Edmund Morris, Reagan told New York's Roman Catholic cardinal at the time, Terence Cooke, "I have decided that whatever time I have left is for Him." [4] 

Reagan's supply-side economic policies (termed as "voodoo economics" by reputable economists) were based on the false premise that tax cuts would generate new revenues and wipe out deficits. The theory was incorrect resulting in skyrocketing of federal deficits while nonmilitary investments and jobs shrank. Only the rich benefited from the policy, while the average real wages for middle- and low-income Americans fell. His natural heir - Bush Jr. - would later adopt this failed policy.

Reagan's foreign policy was initially based on a massive arms build-up to threaten the leaders in the Kremlin and their client states. The CIA was used to recruiting Muslim youth, including Osama bin Laden, around the world to fight the "Jihad" against the Soviet Army that had occupied Afghanistan. In a White House reception of the Afghan mujahideen in 1985, Reagan dubbed them as "moral equivalent of America's founding fathers." Only 13 years later in August 1998, another President, Bill Clinton, would order missile attacks against OBL. (See, my essay: Was it really a history of hatred that brought about 9/11?, Media Monitors Network, Oct. 10, 2002; Bernard Lewis and What Went Wrong?, Weekly Holiday, Dhaka, Sept. 19, 2003) And yet another 3 years later, Bush Jr. would declare an all-out war to either kill or capture OBL. What went wrong with the White House and OBL?

Reagan is much touted as the one who brought down the collapse of the "evil" Soviet Empire. The credit should probably belong to the brave Afghan and Muslim mujahideen who gave their lives to bring the Soviets down to their knees in a prolonged guerilla war that ruined Soviet economy and demoralized the nation. Afghanistan was in deed the Vietnam for the Soviets.

Reagan Administration invaded the Caribbean island of Grenada on Oct. 25, 1983 and mined the harbors of Nicaragua on Jan. 1984. He also used the proceeds from the sale of arms to Iran to aid the Contras in their guerrilla war to unseat the Sandanistas. It did not work. (Sandinistas were later defeated in a peaceful election in 1990.) The Sandinistas took their case to the International Court of Justice in the Hague (popularly known as the World Court) and won, though the administration refused in advance to recognize the court's jurisdiction. The mining of the harbors was an example of "force against another state," the court said; US support of the contras "amounts to an intervention of one state in he internal affairs of the other."

In the Middle East, Reagan, in marked contrast to his predecessor and successor, did virtually nothing to promote peace, a policy that is also copied by Bush Jr. today.

In 1982, as the Iran-Iraq war began to heat up, the USA quietly took Iraq off the State Department's list of states that supported terrorism. This allowed money to start flowing from America into Saddam's coffers. Reagan sent Donald Rumsfeld as an envoy to Baghdad before Christmas of 1983 to meet with Saddam Hossein to pledge US support. He allowed the US to secretly arm Saddam with weapons of mass destruction (WMD), supported Iraq's military expansion, turned a blind eye to Saddam's use of chemical weapons against Iran and the Kurds in Halabcha. The Reagan presidency made America complicit in Saddam's war crimes. [5] The US forces in the Gulf actively aided Iraq during the Iraq-Iran war, sinking Iranian mine-layers and -sweepers, speedboats, and gunboats. USS Vincennes shot down Iranian Air Bus in the Persian Gulf on July 3, 1988 killing all 290 passengers. The fact that it was in Iranian territorial waters was covered up. 

Reagan ordered air strikes on Libya on April 15, 1986 in retaliation for the alleged Libyan bombing nine days earlier of a West Berlin nightclub that killed two U.S. service men. The German government, however, remained skeptic. The raid killed more than 40 Libyans, including Gaddafi's adopted daughter.[6] 

The Reagan Administration withdrew from the UNESCO, cut off America's contribution to the UN Fund for Population Activities, cast the single vote against a World Health Organization code for infant formula, and did not oppose the Kassebaum amendment reducing America's contribution to the General Assembly by 25% unless the UN should amend its charter.

No administration, including the much-maligned Richard Nixon's, was swamped in more scandals and corruption charges than Reagan's. Some of the President's closest allies and advisers faced serious ethics probes. More than 100 Reagan officials and appointees were caught up in indictments and convictions. A total of 14 White House officials were also indicted and 11 were convicted in connection with the Iran-Contra scandal. They included Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, later to be pardoned by President Bush Sr. in 1992. [7] The official 1987 report depicted Reagan as confused and uninformed, and concluded that his relaxed "personal management style" had prevented him from controlling his subordinates.

Reagan's failures need to be reevaluated as part of his legacy the same way the current Bush Administration is celebrating his success. There are already talks about having his picture on the $100 bill. If America fails to learn the lessons from his failed policies, it is doomed to repeat them, something that has already become the hallmark of the current Bush Administration. The latter is blindly mimicking the supply-side 'voodoo' economics, unaccountable foreign policy (pushed by such former Reagan appointees as Richard Perle and the ex-convict Elliott Abrams), and pre-emptive strikes. Many of the same ghosts, once responsible for soiling American image, have also been resurrected to take the nation into a world that is spiteful of bullish America. But would the heir to Reagan legacy listen?

 

Notes:

  1. See the Philadelphia Inquirer, June 13, 2004, p. C4 (Reagan's faith shaped life, policies - and was 'deeper than most knew.')

  2. In a 1983 speech to the National Association of Evangelicals convention, Reagan said that Soviet leaders were the "focus of evil in the modern world." He warned against "temptation" to "ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulse of the evil empire."

  3. God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life by Paul Kengor (Regan Books). 

  4. Quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer, op. cit.

  5. The secret State Department account of the Rumsfeld-Saddam meeting, written in a staccato telegram-style, reads: "Saddam Hussein showed obvious pleasure with ... Rumsfeld's visit ... Rumsfeld told Saddam US and Iraq had shared interests in preventing Iranian and Syrian expansion. He said the US was urging other states to curtail arms sales to Iran and believed it had successfully closed off US-controlled exports by third countries to Iran." (For a detailed report see the issue Sunday Herald, Ronnie and Saddam, June 13, 2004: http://www.sundayherald.com/42648.

  6. Gaddafi Regrets Reagan Died Without Facing Trial (Reuters)

  7. Philadelphia Inquirer, June 13, 2004, C7 (Reagan: He led with might and flaws by Sean Wilentz).

 

Dr. Habib Siddiqui lives in suburban Philadelphia, PA, and is the author of the book Islamic Wisdom. He can be reached at [email protected]


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  9 Comments   Comment

  1. Akbar Khan from Canada

    Hey Mr. Wiesl...refer to the notes at the end of this article on page 3 to see the source material if you doubt that they don't exist. You say: "ravings of an anti-American muslim who didn't like Reagan....", remind you of far worse? how about millions of looney toon Americans who think Islam is the religion of the devil and that women are supposedly inferior and lower than men in Islam, Astagfirullah, May Allah forgive me for even talking about deen al-haqq, Islam, the greatest solution brought forth from Allah (STW), for humanity, next to such ridiculous idiotic assumptions by the deaf,dumb, and blind. Islam is the best solution to solve our innermost and most outward problems. This is no place for me to waste my energies in an online yelling match with those who have a mental block when it comes to learning about Islam.

    To the editors at Iviews...I just wanted to suggest, maybe your writers could do a piece about how the values and morals in the Qur'an, and teachings of the Nabi Karim (saaw), and the models of Islam as built upon over the past centuries, could be a solution to many of the world's problems today. Do something about how Islam can provide many solutions to our problems in the world today, and how some of these initiatives are already being taken...?

    Or, you bro's and sis's at Iviews could also do a piece about the historical works of Muslims in areas which even have arabic names, such as Zenith, Arithmetic, Algebra, Sofa, Algorithm, Guitar, Influenza, Lemon, Orange, Saffron, Sesame, Tambourine, Talisman, Sugar, Gazelle, Mattress, Mummy, Massacre, Mocha, Mascara...I dunno there are too many to list, but maybe Iviews/Islamicity could dedicate a section to Islamic influence to the english language, and make it a bold featured topic where these so called "Islamic worlds and Western worlds" could realize the truth about human history, that there is more in common between us than what meets the eye?

  2. bob wiesl from usa

    I have always beleived that the foreign policies of the west have been machiavellian and hypocritical to their national policies for their own people. So what you say may be true it asserts many things without providing the source of the fact given. You are making many factual statments about a beloved American president without proper source notation so how can one use this article to dissuade Reagan fans? It won't! It will be veiwed as just the ravings of an anti-American muslim who did'nt like Reagan in the 1st place and lacks the ducaton to know he must support his facts wwith source material.

  3. Mohammad PP from Australia

    He was the enemy of Islam and communism,but he successfully managed to use one against the other.

    He knew that he will be the winer anyway.

    Now "they" are controling the world according to their wishes.But some moslim still believe that he was a "hero" because he helped them in war against ex USSR.

    The real story is that he encourged the stoped leaders of Russia to enter their army to Afghanistan.Although the latest leader of "commonist" party of Afghanistan has tried alot to get support from US but "THE GIPPERS" had another plan which was the "destraction" of Islam.

    They have successfuly managed to acheave it.

    They had created and supported the Taliban rigem and encourged a large number of "Islamic fighters" to go to afghanistan in orther to be easeily killed through BOMBING Afghanistan.They perhaps knew,through thier agent between Taliban that some teroristic activites might hapen by "Al-Qaida" and than they will attack Afganistan,which they have done it.

    Anyway,I think Moslem should learen from thier mistakes and to get cliver and oppen minded.

    Attacking here and there might upset the enemy and causes "happiness" in the "islamic fighters" and many other others ,but what is the result?.

    The result is and will be more damage to moslims,because The westran Impair and thier appointed leaders in most Islamic counties will atack more Moslim and their families.

    So what to do?,I dont know the anser now,but I knew it 20-30years ago.The Anser was to try to keep the enemy devided,if they are commonist or imperialist,as long as they are divided,life for the rest of as will be easier.But is it too late?

  4. Safiulla from India

    Now that Reagon rests, he will definately answer for his deeds. I am really surprised to know that a nation which claims to stand for freedom and justice, can stoop to such a level of issuing orders denying graduate degrees to only Muslim students, holding the UN at ransom to amend charters by cutting contributions UNESCO/WHO and such likes.....

    This just shows how fanatical, unethical, racist and discriminate the nation and some of its Presidents are.

    Everybody knows and understands the American motives, hypocrisy and double standards very well. Its only wise for the Muslims all over to learn and understand this before its to late

  5. Abdul Rashid Farooq from USA

    ...Reagan was certainly amongst the best Presidents that the US has EVER had, stands right up there with giants like Washington, Hamilton, TR, FDR, and Nixon, (yeah you heard me right Nixon).

  6. saif from u.s.a

    President Reagan, has passed away and now Allah will be his judge. Undoubtably the man suffered terribly for many years, some will view his last years as divine punishment for his deeds, yet for others it is Allah tesing His servant and purifying him.

    The problem with American policies in relation to the muslim world, is that too often, that which is morally right has given way to that which is in America's best interest. Consider the U.S and Saddam during the '80s, the support and safeguard of oppressive nonrepresentative regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the support of the Pakistani military govenrment, a blind eye to the madness of the current dictator of Turkmenistan, Abu Ghraib and the list could go on and on. Very often it is others who are sacrficed because while claiming to hold the higher moral ground America is often unwilling to suffer in doing that which is right.

    All that having been said, bringing down the atheist communist ideology deserves praise, it was a victory for all believing people. In that particular instance America had it exactly right, and President Reagan deserves a lot of praise for his actions.

    Americans are not immoral, but truly believe that they are the bench mark of morality. Here in lies the problem, America has shown its steadfastness as a friend by sticking with Israel through thick and thin, yet this friendship is like a giant weight around this countries neck choking it's ability to do the right thing, there are so many reasons for this, and if you are a muslim you are well aware of the reasons. America must do the right thing "IN" Palestine instead of trying to remake the entire middle east into a Zionist friendly zone.

    I guess muslims can only get justice from the west after an Islamic Holocast, and believe me the ground work for this is being laid as we speak, through talk radio, Aschroft and anti Islamic books.

  7. abdullah hakim

    BISMILLAH. THE LATE PRESIDENT REAGAN ACTED IN THE BEST INTERESTS OF AMERICA AND THE WORLD. IT IS UNFORTUNATE THAT WHENEVER AMERICA ACTS TO PROTECT ITS INTERESTS IT HURTS THE FEELINGS OF

    OTHERS - GENERALLY THE FEELINGS OF THOSE WHO ARE NOT WELL DISPOSED TOWARDS THIS GREAT NATION. AMERICA CAN NEVER HAVE THE SAME NATIONAL INTERESTS AS, SAY, SYRIA OR LEBANON OR EVEN ISRAEL. MANY OF THE FRUITS OF PRESIDENT REAGAN'S FOREIGN POLICIES ARE ONLY NOW BEARING FRUIT.

    FOR EXAMPLE, THE COMMUNIST THREAT IN CENTRAL AMERICA AND EVEN IN LATIN AMERICA HAS ENDED AND WITH IT THE SENSELESS KILLING OF INNOCENT AND POVERTY-STRICKEN VILLAGERS BY RADICAL COMMUNIST HOOLIGANS. ALSO, THERE CAN BE NO DOUBT THAT PRESIDENT REAGAN'S RETALIATORY STRIKE AGAINST

    THE HOTHEAD COLONEL QADDAFI HAS CONTRIBUTED TOWARDS BRINGING THAT TERRORIST TO HIS SENSES SO MUCH SO THAT HE EVEN DECLARED THAT ISRAEL IS NOT REALLY A THREAT IN THE MIDDLE EAST!! LKET'S FACE IT. IT WAS MASSIVE AMERICAN MILITARY SUPPORT OF THE ANTI-SOVIET FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN INCLUDING THE SUPPLY OF HAND-HELD STINGER MISSILES THAT BROUGHT ABOUT THE DEFEAT OF THE SOVIET ARMY IN AFGHANISTAN. NO DOUBT MOST OF THE ACTUAL FIGHTING WAS DONE BY THE MUJAHUDIN WHO SUBSEQUENTLY TURNED AGAINST THEIR AMERICAN BENEFACTOR DUE TO THE MISGUIDED AND OPPORTUNISTIC

    POLICIES OF THE TALIBAN WHO CAUSED MORE DAMAGE IN AFGHANISTAN THAN DID THE SOVIETS. PRESIDENT KARZAI YESTER ADDRESSED CONGRESS AND THANKED AMERICA FOR STANDING UP AGAINST TERRORISM BOTH IN AFGHANISTAN AND OTHER PLACES. HE STATED THAT THE US ARMY WAS A FORCE FOR GOOD IN THE WORLD. THERE CAN BE NO DOUBT THAT SAINT GEORGE WILL SLAY THE DRAGON OF TERRORISM THROUGHOUT THE WORLD. PRESIDENT REAGAN WILL BE SMILING AND SAY GOOD BOY.

    GOD BLESS AMERICA THAT SIMPLY REFUSES TO ALLOW TERRORISTS AND OTHER MISGUIDED ILLITERATES IN PAKISTAN TO HOLD THE WHOLE WORLD CAPTIVE TO THEIR HARAM DEEDS.

  8. Ailia from IRAN

    So much torcher coz some nostradamus spoke of Islam bomb.That's it.......u do so much not to let muslims hold a matchstick.but with this attitude u have created all the circumstances for an ISLAM BOMB.Quran says destruction will be done on the day of judgement.SoOO, give it a thought.

  9. Dilawar Khan from U.S.A.

    Reagan was no more than a war criminal, but I want to point out a few inaccuracies in the article.

    Clinton was not President in 1988 and could not have ordered American bombing then.

    Contras were not "guerillas", they are better known as "death squads", conceived, financed and armed by U.S.A. and their aim was to destabilize the Nicaraguan government through large scale assassinations of peasants and ordinary civilians. Sandanistas were not "defeated" in elections. U.S. gave an open and ominous choice to Nicaraguans - " Get rid of Sandanistas or face the murderous rampage of contras ". The ordinary Nicaraguans realized that they could not defeat the American-armed and financed "death squads"; so they chose their personal safety over their political freedom.