25 Feb 2012

Big Government “Conservatism” Doesn’t Work in Foreign Policy, Either

Foreign Policy 9 Comments

Someone on Facebook posted the below, presumably because the person likes Ron Paul and wants to out every other Republican candidate:

But I’m more interested in the spectacular failure of Gingrich’s analysis. (And note, his complaint is that Ronald Reagan isn’t doing enough abroad, in his role as Command-in-Chief of the mighty U.S. military.)

Gingrich praises what Truman accomplished, and contrasts it with Reagan’s limited achievements. And yet, if Gingrich could just look a few years into the future, the record would be:

TRUMAN: Ushered in Cold War.
REAGAN: Ushered in fall of Soviet Union.

Incidentally, I know many Austro-libertarians will say, “No way Murphy! Reagan was a big warmonger! He spent way too much on the military! The Soviet Union fell because of the calculation problem.”

I would agree with the specific claims of such an objection, but my general point against Gingrich is still valid. He thought Reagan was being too weak on the international scene–he pulled the Marines out of Lebanon, remember, something that if Obama did would be “giving in to the terrorists”–in contrast to Truman’s assertiveness. He wanted Reagan to “accomplish” more, not seeing that Reagan’s ostensible passivity was paving the way for the USSR’s downfall. It’s easier for economic problems to lead to social unrest, when the population isn’t worried about getting nuked from a foreign conqueror.

Also, I really think this moment was a turning point in world history. (Really, watch it and listen to the crowd’s reaction.) So I do think Reagan is rightly credited by his fans for doing a lot to bring down communism, it’s just they vastly overrate the power of physical might and vastly underrate the power of ideas.

9 Responses to “Big Government “Conservatism” Doesn’t Work in Foreign Policy, Either”

  1. Jonathan M.F. Catalán says:

    I’m not sure that it was the threat of the United States that held the Soviet Union together for so long. It was undoubtedly social unrest which caused the collapse, but I don’t think it was the threat of NATO that maintained the Warsaw Pact. I think it’s clearer that the Soviet Union fell as a result of the changing politics in Warsaw Pact nations (i.e. East Germany, Poland, et cetera), which in turn influenced politics in the periphery republics (Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, et cetera). Maybe the Soviet Union would have held together for a bit longer had Reagen taken a more belligerent stance against them, but I think there were independent forces pushing for its dissolution anyways.

    I took a course on Soviet and Russian Government last semester, and the professor made us read quite a bit of different academic articles on the subject — I don’t remember the United States’ and Reagan’s policy as being considered an important factor.

    Those internal problems (and not just between peripheries and Moscow, but within the Communist Party, as well) already existed, and even though US policy might have been a factor, things were already developing to form the “perfect storm,” so to speak.

    • Major_Freedom says:

      Did / Have you read “Main Currents of Marxism”, by Kolakowski?

      It is, I think, the best book on Marxism and an indispensable source for understanding the foundations of Soviet politics.

  2. lwaaks says:

    I think liberals push the thesis that the downfall was an historical necessity; and conservatives credit Reagan with hastening the USSR’s downfall. I think this is a sideshow. But I do think containment was necessary in the early years of the Cold War and perhaps Truman’s foreign policy is vindicated for this reason.

  3. Chris Rossini (@ChrisRossini) says:

    Reagan did not need to be more belligerent towards the Communists….He should have listened to Ron Paul when he spoke on the House floor in Oct. 24, 1983:

    “Why are we engaged in military action against the Communists in which American lives are being lost when we cannot take the simple action of cutting off the flow of money to the Communists? For decades we have pursued this immoral course of action, asking American men to die fighting an enemy the American government has financed.”

  4. lwaaks says:

    I think the USSR had an aggressive foreign policy and the means to implement it. I don’t think the “red mence”, at least for Europe, was far-fetched. The U.S. kept them at bay. When libertarians say that the State is evil, I agree. But it’s not just aggressive toward its own citizens; it’s aggesses against other states, especially when ideological driven.

    • Jonathan M.F. Catalán says:

      I don’t know the exact details of the Soviet military at the time, but I do know that the majority (~70%, if I remember the data from David M. Glantz’ Clash of Titans correctly) of the WWII Soviet logistics supply line (in terms of machinery) was provided by the United States, through lend-lease. I’m not sure how much of this was replaced by the Soviets during the 1950s and 1960s, so I’m not sure how much the Soviets could have really sustained a war with Western Europe (unless it was chemical/nuclear).

      I think the Cold War is exaggerated when you look at it at the weaponry employed by all sides. The Soviets employed some ridiculous number of T-54/55 tanks, but I’m not really sure how many they could have really expected to deploy.

      I’m also not sure what interest the USSR had in war with Western Europe and the United States. The ideological clash, on both sides, I think, was more for domestic politics purposes. Having a common enemy — on both sides — served to politically unify the respective nations. If the Soviets were really interested in war, I’m sure they could have used land deployments in Eastern Europe during the Cuban Missile Crisis to pressure the United States, but they didn’t to the degree that it made Kennedy second guess his resolve to block a Soviet nuclear presence in Cuba.

      Nobody really had any territorial ambitions. They were political ambitions that above all were related to global influence. The USSR and the USA used wars in third party nations to compete for this influence, but I don’t think there was ever any threat of a direct confrontation.

  5. Carl D'Agostino says:

    Warsaw Pact just too expensive to maintain. How can we say Truman started Cold War? His efforts were reactionary to prevent Soviet expansion and that of Red China. I think Jonathan’s point about posturing is accurate. The Russians always had a sense of inferiority because they could never know the actual military might of US. So Sputnik was a “close the tech gap” effort. The A-bomb was quite a shock and I agree with the position that it’s use was to intimidate a post war Russia thanto defeat Japan. The J air force was destroyed and last 4 months we bombed with impunity on cities averaged 50,000 deaths a mission.

  6. Paul Poenicke says:

    Hmmm….”vastly overrating the power of physical might and vastly underrating the power of ideas.” I think the world’s first libertarian, Zhuangzi, said something about this a long time before anyone in the West caught on. Libertarians still have yet to appreciate the power of what seems powerless, which includes the power of ideas. We can easily accept the power of ideas, but what about social power, in the guise of MLK’s theories of nonviolent resistance or Thich Nhat Hanh’s applied Buddhism? I have read a bit from libertarians about this, but we need to do a lot more.

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