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The Reagan Paradox: The Conservative Icon and Today’s GOP

The Reagan Paradox: The Conservative Icon and Today’s GOP

Lou Cannon (Author), TIME contributors (Author), Joe Scarborough (Introduction)

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The World Is Safer Without a Republican House

Posted on Nov 1, 2010
AP / Rodrigo Abd

By Juan Cole

Although Congress for the most part leaves foreign policy to the president, it can occasionally intervene pivotally in that arena, as when it shot down Woodrow Wilson’s plan to have the U.S. join the League of Nations. Obama’s hopes for better relations with the Muslim world were based on a renewed U.S.-brokered peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, on direct negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, on gradually bringing the Afghanistan war to an end after an initial troop surge, and on a military withdrawal from Iraq. If the freshman class of 2010 comes into town riding atop elephants, it is likely to contribute to the failure of these policies, some of which were already in trouble, and thus to worsen U.S. security.

Some of Obama’s undertakings were unlikely to succeed from the beginning, such as an effort to have the right-wing Likud Party in Israel, with its far right-wing coalition partners, make peace with the deeply divided Palestinians. A Republican-controlled House, beholden to pro-Israel evangelicals, will back up the government of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in its refusal to freeze further settlements on the West Bank and its recalcitrance in negotiating in good faith with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Indeed, Eric Cantor wants to put aid to Israel in the U.S. defense budget so as to protect it from even the possibility of U.S. pressure. Republicans will pound a nail into the coffin of this round of peace talks, to the extent that they can do so. Since the worsening condition of the stateless Palestinians is the powder keg of Middle East politics, failure could lead to more uprisings and terrorism directed in part at the U.S.

Likewise, Obama’s overtures to the leadership in Iran have not borne fruit, and he has turned to stricter sanctions in an attempt to force Tehran to the bargaining table. A Republican Congress could do little more, short of war, which it is unlikely to declare. Its leaders will likely hold hearings and produce tendentious reports that can be used by a future, Republican administration for the purpose of making a case for military action against Iran. But Obama knows how overstretched the U.S. military already is, and how important Iran is to success in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he is highly unlikely to be stampeded into yet another conflict by the GOP.

Some Republicans on the tea party and Libertarian side of the spectrum, such as Rand Paul, running for the Senate in Kentucky, could offer foreign policy surprises if they win. Paul wants to reduce the number of U.S. military bases abroad and wants a “debate” on Afghanistan policy. A Sen. Paul would probably be an outlier in his own party who would be aligned with the Democrats least enthusiastic about the wars. Alaska GOP/tea party candidate Joe Miller, like Paul, wants to cut the defense budget and complains about the U.S. being overextended abroad, in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Obama’s Afghanistan escalation is not controversial with most Republicans, of course. Lisa Murkowski, who was defeated in the Republican senatorial primary in Alaska by Miller, is running for her old seat as a write-in candidate and has seen her numbers improve in recent days. If she wins she will likely caucus with the Republicans. She visited Afghanistan in January, and expressed support for Obama’s troop surge strategy. Likewise, Republican senatorial candidate in Pennsylvania Pat Toomey supports Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan, but has doubts, like many Republicans running for office, about the president’s determination to begin withdrawing troops from that country in summer 2011. The Stars and Stripes reports that a Republican House of Representatives could hold hearings on Afghanistan in the run-up to the beginning of Obama’s withdrawal, in an attempt to pressure the White House to keep the troops there.


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Hearings could also be called by the House in an attempt to delay the pullout from Iraq in fall 2011, though no Republican candidates have said in public that that is their goal. Republicans trying to arrange for the U.S. military to stay in Iraq in any numbers would risk a public backlash in the U.S. (Small numbers of U.S. trainers and Air Force personnel might well remain in any case, should the then-prime minister request it, and given Iraq’s lack of an air force.) The Iraqi parliament might well not put up with foot-dragging on this score, since a key parliamentary player is the Shiite Sadr Movement, led by anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Republicans could risk another sort of backlash. If the Sunni and Shiite guerrilla groups in Iraq reactivated themselves to strike at the few remaining U.S. troops in order to ensure a withdrawal, there could be a replay of tragedies such as those in Lebanon in 1983 and in Somalia in 1993, when Marines and special forces, respectively, were hit by deadly local attacks, impelling a swift U.S. departure and loss of face.

A Republican victory thus has the potential for keeping the U.S. in Iraq longer than either the U.S. public or the Iraqi public has a stomach for, and could expose the small remaining contingent of troops to a large-scale strike. It could delay the start of Obama’s drawdown from Afghanistan, and more firmly ensconce the administration in that building quagmire. It would strengthen the hand of the Likud Party in resisting Obama’s pressure to negotiate a two-state solution in Palestine, leading to further conflict with Palestinians and their supporters. And it would ratchet up even further rhetoric and sanctions against Iran (though it would be hard to out-do the present Congress in that regard). At best, the effect on America’s relations with the Middle East will be negative. At worst, Republican militancy could well drag us into further military conflicts in the region, and expand yet again our seemingly perpetual war there.

Juan Cole, the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, maintains the blog Informed Comment. His most recent book, just out in paperback, is “Engaging the Muslim World.” 

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By firefly, November 4, 2010 at 7:19 pm Link to this comment

If Republicans are truly fiscal conservatives as they
claim to be, then the best way to reduce the debt and
deficit would be to CUT the US military budget by at
least 50% (that would still make it the world’s biggest
spender on military - I won’t use the word ‘defense’ as
I don’t believe that the US army defends anyone except

That would save the country $300 billion a year for
starters! Perhaps Republicans can put words into
actions for a change!

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By yrscrewed, November 3, 2010 at 2:45 pm Link to this comment

Remember Vietnam, it was Johnson that escalated the war and he was a part of the Communist Party Democrats.

Remember the war on Poverty from Johnson, more people are poorer today that ever, thanks to the communist party (Democrats)

They created the biggest crime family of all time the “Federal Reserve” they control everything,the communist created them, they alone allow governments to wage useless wars.  They created all the depressions.  They were instrumental in creating “Hitler” and friends. They just create all the fiat currency you want who cares, no one. 
The American people are no longer stupid, stupid is to intelligent for them. 

Why do you think they keep the crime families from the people? World Bank, the IMF they are all criminals. 

The end is nearer than you think, who will be the next Hitler like leader?

So be stupid.

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By csavage, November 3, 2010 at 11:41 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Great links, guys!
What are we going to do about it?
I spent 2001-2006 thinking I was going to get “disappeared”. Will it have to come to that or are we going to be more publicly vocal? Bitching on the internets solves nothing..
“All it take for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing”
As for a direct reply to the author, we already know that the sentiment to engage Iran is there. In fact, it’s being called a “economic stimulus” now

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By shadrach, November 3, 2010 at 11:36 am Link to this comment

Juan:  wake up!

Barack Obama has been nothing but the Pentagon’s puppet in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  He didn’t “get out” of Iraq (just redefined the combat brigades as noncombat) and he won’t “get out” of AfPak either.

If anything he’s expanding the war into the Pakistani tribal areas. 

Republicrats or Demopublicans, it doesn’t matter. The war will go on until the generals decide it’s time to stop.

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By tedmurphy41, November 3, 2010 at 9:52 am Link to this comment

The World would be safer still without a Republican party, period.

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By ardee, November 3, 2010 at 5:23 am Link to this comment

I guess we will now see whether the GOP evil Democrat angel crowd has been correct. Nut we already know that it will be, as it has been, business as usual…oh shouldn’t ‘Business’ be capitalized?

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By lichen, November 3, 2010 at 1:15 am Link to this comment

The democrats are 100% dedicated to prolonging murderous privatized US wars as long as possible; there is no difference regarding support for war between most democrats and republicans. Obama’s criminal surge in Afganistan has murdered many Afgani’s, and he should pay.

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By GoyToy, November 2, 2010 at 6:13 pm Link to this comment

Wars R US

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By Fat Freddy, November 2, 2010 at 6:12 pm Link to this comment

If Ron Paul had won the 2008 election, our troops would be home. Real Libertarians are non-interventionists. Although Rand Paul is not as “libertarian” as his father, I believe he is non-interventionist, and anti-war, IIRC.

And that Murkowski bitch lobbied the Alaskan Libertarian Party for the ballot position of the LP candidate, Fredrick “David” Haase. At first the LP flatly denied her. Then, Haase said he would let her have his place if she signed a binding contract to endorse Libertarian principles. She refused. The LP is the only party of principle, and the only anti-war party. Deal with it.

And BTW, how many Predator Drone strikes have there been in Pakistan and Yemen since Obama took office? How many American citizens have been targeted for assassination with no due process, or judicial review? How many prisoners are there in Gitmo - being tortured? Fuck Obama, and the Democratic Party. Same for the Republicans and the phony Tea Partiers.

Vote LP and say no to God and Country and War.

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By exploitedtimes, November 2, 2010 at 6:08 pm Link to this comment

Do you really believe that Obama or anybody else is going to negotiate peace in the Middle East? That is just ridiculous. The US is and has been pro-Israel and is just as guilty as Israel for crimes against Palestine. Aid to Israel already is in the defense budget, whether officially or otherwise, and with or without Cantor getting his wishes. Obama, Democrats and Republicans alike are all beholden to Israel now as before.

Draw down troops? Fantastic thinking. The military industrial complex rules and is 100% independent of the distraction that are election results within the non-existent two-party system. The weapons makers have nothing to worry about no matter which puppets happen to dangle at the end of their strings.

Don’t forget this is the good ‘ol USA you’re writing about. War is what it does. Period. Professors of history know this.

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By severed2009, November 2, 2010 at 2:03 pm Link to this comment

A war with Iran would give an excuse for deficit spending that would stimulate the
economy, and for ignoring and cracking down on all sorts of dissent, not just anti-
war rhetoric.  But it is a war that cannot be won and would do to us what the
Afghan adventure did to the Soviets.  A horribly expensive and dangerous way to
defeat the military-industrial complex, but it would probably work.

Pulling out of Iraq and/or Afghanistan would provide the basis for a new back-
stab legend that the treasonous Dems cut and run rather than staying the course. 
I have a hunch that this rather than any hope of victory is why we are still fighting
there.  Given our inability to diminish the strength of the mindset to which
backstab legends appeal,  staying the course may keep something worse from

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By dihey, November 2, 2010 at 1:37 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

1. The next Congress can only “keep us in Iraq” by violating the SOFA-Iraq agreement signed by George W. Bush. If they do the issue will go pronto to the UN Security Council which will do nothing. However, action will be taken by the reborn militia of El Sadr who has vowed to kill every American remaining in Iraq in that case.
2. The notion that a Democratic congress would “get us out of Afghanistan” is laughable.

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By Michael Janket, November 2, 2010 at 1:32 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The people and organizations who control the US government pay both parties handsomely when they see an election trend in the making.  To say the neocons want war more than Obama is a real stretch.  Obama, being very weak, is clearly a shill for the people who seek war and mitigate toward war.  All Obama’s promises have gone up in smoke relative to ending war.  Now, Yemen is next.  Neocons are all bad and Dems are all good?  Come now, who are we trying to kid here?

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By thebeerdoctor, November 2, 2010 at 1:26 pm Link to this comment

@ mdgr thanks for the link!

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By SarcastiCanuck, November 2, 2010 at 1:01 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Mr.Cole,I bet you still believe in Santa and the easter bunny.Fact:no matter who controls the government,they(most Arabs) still hate you and will keep hating you as long as you have ‘boots on thier ground’.They now see themselves as biblical Davids and you are Goliath.They got one stone through on 9/11 and the odds of probability dictate they will get another stone through eventually in the future.Good luck.Lie:Israel wants peace with the Palestinians.Right wing Israel wants a Greater Israel and doesn’t give a rats ass what the Arab world thinks of them.Since you are their ally,thier enemies are also your enemies.The Islamic fundamentalists are also very patient,resourceful and vengeful.Pray they don’t figure out WMD’s.Good luck.Lie:Sanctions are going to stop Iran from developing nukes.Iran sees itself as an ever increasing power in the middle east and has payed a pretty heavy butchers bill to earn the right of self determination.They have a disciplined population,brilliant academics,strong cultural heritage and nationalistic pride.They have a large sophisticated arms industry and are quite resilient and brave.Thier first hand experience with the Shah has made them mistrust the Great Satan,and they have lots of oil as currency.They see the bomb as thier ticket to keeping America and anyone else with imperial designs off of thier doorstep.Good luck.
  Finally,ask Cuba if having a Republican or Democrat in Washington makes any difference.Both parties have made thier share of global enemies in the last 60 or so years….Good luck with your denial Mr.Cole

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By Lori, November 2, 2010 at 11:42 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Professor Cole made some valid points in this piece, without coming off as a bot for Obama, in my opinion.

The right, Michael Ledeen and others, are already ramping up the rhetoric for war with Iran. I am personally grateful to Professor Cole for speaking out against the Republicans (neocons) and against another war.  That is the only message I got.

Since Professor Cole is not an elected official, he cannot be blamed or held accountable for the failed policies of this or the prior administration.  Take the politics out of it and absorb the information for once.


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By Jo, November 2, 2010 at 10:03 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

One question Mr. Cole. Have the Democrats made us
safer? They ran in 2006 on the rhetoric of ending the
war and yet we are still fighting 3 wars (even after
Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize). Neither party can
make the world safer….so this article was a waste of
my time for reading it and a waste of your time for
writing it.

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By mdgr, November 2, 2010 at 9:56 am Link to this comment

Eloquent and persuasive refutation of the author’s entire perspective from someone who should know.

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By thebeerdoctor, November 2, 2010 at 6:52 am Link to this comment

Just think of it: I once assumed that Professor Cole was intelligent. Shame on me. Is he so caught up in being Obama’s cheerleader that he actually believes that The Pentagon is concerned about any of this? Read what Nick Turse discovered about their long range “strategic” plans. The pageant Presidency is exactly that: a pageant.

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By PatrickHenry, November 2, 2010 at 6:29 am Link to this comment

This article is garbage.  The Democrats have only escalated the military for the past 2 years.  The defense budget is larger than it ever was.

What an incredibly criminal waste of treasure blowing away villagers in mud huts with drones.

We have become the evil we set out to destroy.

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By FRTothus, November 2, 2010 at 12:59 am Link to this comment

Woodrow Wilson was a self-righteous ass, who also
promised what he did not deliver, got us into a
foreign war after he promised not to, at the behest
of the banks who love to lend nations money for war,
at interest.  Wilson also gave away the US Treasury
and the power to control our currency to a banking
cabal, allowing himself to be convinced that the
nastiest of men for the nastiest of reasons would
somehow ignore their personal gain and engage in
self-less acts of civic good. And didn’t he allow the
witch hunts of the Red Scare to get out of hand, even
encourage it?  A pathetic figure, a moral coward.  It
reminds me of… 

Wilson was not the first and certainly not the last
in a long line of betrayals of the public trust by
the elite’s suited hucksters with whatever letter
trails their name, or whatever circus tent they stand
in front of.  The ruling-class agenda is always the
same, and all their monkeys dance the same jig, sing
the same song: welfare and patronage for the rich,
austerity and freedom to starve to death for everyone
else, dissent a criminal offense, torture and
imprisonment and/or execution without trial
acceptable, accountability non-existent. 

A government as corrupt as ours is the problem, and
we will see both factions of the Business Party soon
welcoming the further restriction of civil liberties,
the continuation of domestic spying and monitoring, a
press that sees nothing but the bottom-line (always
the cost - to the elite, never the value to the
people), and the growth of private military and
prison (fascism) spending while social programs get
eviscerated.  The militarization of the United States
will be enthusiastically legislated, demanded by a
fear-steeped populace, ever alarmed by a dangerously
paranoid armed fundamentalist state. Intentionally
frightening its citizens is a despicable thing for
any government to do to its people. Borders are being
sealed.  Travel is begin restricted.  The social good
is a loss-leader. It doesn’t sell ads.

The question boils down to this:  Which brand would
you rather have in power: the Brown Shirts or the
Black Shirts? 

Personally, I’m with the Resistance.

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By SteveL, November 2, 2010 at 12:21 am Link to this comment

I am sure when we finally go bankrupt fighting these worthless wars the terrorists will have finally learned their lesson.

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By mdgr, November 1, 2010 at 10:40 pm Link to this comment

And once again the editor of Truthdig—who recently said the two party system was bunk—adds another unabashed Democratic Party apologist to a list of regular contributors that, with the exception of Chris Hedges and David Sirota, includes mostly DNC/Vichy-sponsored apologists (Dionne, Robinson and now Mr. Cole).

Has anyone told the author of this rather fatuous article that Obama still holds veto power?

Has anyone told him that Reid and Pelosi voted to confirm every war budget that Bush ever proposed?

Has anyone told him ANYTHING at all about Obama’s real actions relative to Israel, Gaza, Afghanistan or Iran?

The author—and by extension, the editor of Truthdig—seems to be living in a fairy tale world fueled mostly by DNC rhetoric.

One step forward, two steps back. Way to go, Mr. Scheer.

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By Jimnp72, November 1, 2010 at 10:15 pm Link to this comment

The world would also be safer if they do not try to gut every environmental and
financial regulation, which is exactly what they will do. I am sorry to say, but the
republicans are just evil bastards. house speaker john boehmer, I shudder.

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By Robespierre115, November 1, 2010 at 9:13 pm Link to this comment

There isn’t much of a difference between who rules in this country, let’s be honest. Just look at the record of the Democrat-controll Congress during Bush’s last two years in office, they weren’t exactly putting the breaks on the wars. Obama’s “drawdown” is a fantasy anyway, just ask the Iraqis and Afghans taking a stroll where there’s an eye-view of the bases and Vatican-size embassies we have built and Obama is expanding.

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