The eighth chapter of the video documentary series can be viewed here. The series can also be viewed in its entirety on Netflix, or purchased directly at untoldhistory.com. Below is our transcribed text, written by Peter Kuznick, Matt Graham and Oliver Stone.
narrated by Oliver Stone...
In 1970, Attorney General John Mitchell gloated "...this country is going so far right that you are not going to recognize it." But how much further to the right could the U.S. go? In 1970 where was Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, nuclear threats, surveillance, sabotage, dirty tricks, official lies, racial polarization, crime, and still to come were the war on drugs, Chile and Watergate. But compared to the world Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush would usher in, one could almost look back nostalgically on the Nixon era.
Right wing forces have always operated freely and openly in the dark chasms of American life, where racism, militarism, imperialism, and blind devotion to private enterprise festered. The raw underbelly of fanaticism has spawned groups as disparate the Ku Klux Klan, Nazi Party, the Liberty League, the American Firsters, the John Birchers, the McCarthyites, and the Tea Party, spewing either hatred, bigotry or ignorance of history.
Beginning with Nixon's courting of a new Republican South, and the success of George Wallace as a third party candidate, these forces migrated from the fringes of American politics, and the nether reaches of rationality, to a new home in the Republican Party which gradually banished its once thriving moderate and liberal wings.
Nixon once said that domestic politics interested him about as much "...as building outhouses in Peoria." But on his watch, whether he liked it or not, 18 year olds won the vote, censorship declined, and gays and lesbians emerged from the shadows. He established the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, supported the Equal Rights Amendment and new regulations governing the health of workers, and even strengthened the Voting Rights Act. His former right-wing allies were belatedly recognizing that this was not the 1950s anti-communist hatchet man Richard Nixon they had known. Though he was pulverized SouthEast Asia, he horrified the right when he turned around and, seeking to ease the stresses of the U.S. land war in Asia, recognized Chine in 1972. On top of that, he went to the Soviet Union and signed the historic SALT I Treaty, placing limits on missile and anti-missile systems.
When Nixon took the country off the gold standard and imposed wage and price controls in 1971, and then pulled all remaining U.S. troops out of Vietnam in '73, it seemed he had lost his mind and totally betrayed his base. By the time of Watergate, Nixon had made far too many enemies on both the left and right than he could afford. Facing a probable impeachment, he resigned on August 9, 1974. The presidency was now in the hands of the amiable Gerald Ford, a man who Lyndon Johnson once said could not fart and chew gum at the same time. Ford announce that "...our long national nightmare is over" but, sending the wrong signals, pardoned Nixon.
Among these was a radical return to the concept of privatization that in their minds had been destroyed by Roosevelt's loathed New Deal - Roosevelt's old enemies, The Monied Class, were back.
But, even more troubling for the future, was that Nixon's fall brought out the deepest impulses of rage and revenge in the core of Nixon's new Republican Party - his legendary anger became theirs, but now directed against the government itself. Reinvigorated by anger at the so-called 'liberal media' which had played such a toxic role in their mind in distorting Vietnam and driving Nixon from the presidency, a network of conservative think-tanks as well as rich foundations invested large sums of money to push for their agendas. Among these was a radical return to the concept of privatization that in their minds had been destroyed by Roosevelt's loathed New Deal - Roosevelt's old enemies, The Monied Class, were back.
This burgeoning right-wing network had little use for a relative moderate like Gerald Ford, and itched to put a real right-winger like former Governor Reagan of California into the White House. Bowing to pressure, Ford and Donald Rumsfeld, a young Congressman who'd made a name attacking the Soviets in the '60s, engineered a major Cabinet shakeup, known as the Halloween Day Massacre, in October of '75. Rumsfeld, who Nixon had called a "...ruthless little bastard", took over Defence; Kissinger staying on at State, lost his National Security post to General Brent Scowcroft; Bush took over the CIA, and Dick Chaney, a protege of Rumsfeld's, replaced him as Chief of Staff; Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, a moderate, was forced off the ticket in '76. Rumsfeld helped block a new SALT Treaty and Ford banished the word 'detente' - associated now with Henry Kissinger - from the White House.
But the people wanted change, and the entrusted the presidency in 1976 to Governor Jimmy Carter, a former peanut farmer and long-time Sunday School teacher form Plaines Georgia, who narrowly defeated Ford. Carter was anything but a typical candidate - he sought to end the arms race, revive detente, restore America's moral standing and learn from Vietnam, saying:
"Never again should our country become militarily involved in the internal affairs of another nation, unless there is a direct and obvious threat to the United States."
Following his gut, Carter scored some significant early successes. He helped secure the Camp David Accord in 1978, leading to Israeli withdrawal from Egyptian territory captured in the 1967 war, and established diplomatic relations between the two countries. He negotiated a SALT II Treaty with the Soviets, mandating a reduction in nuclear missiles and bombers. But Carter knew little about foreign policy, and had been deeply influenced by the ideas of Zbigniew Brzezinski, his National Security Advisor. An author, professor, and fierce anti-communist, he tapped the rising - though still little known - Carter for membership in the Trilateral Commission, a group founded by Chaise Manhattan Bank Chairman David Rockefeller in 1973 to bolster the world capitalist order. With 180 elite members with offices on 3 continents, most rejected the rigidity of right-wing anti-communism, but Brzezinski, like Kissinger before him, marginalized the more liberal Secretary of State (Cyrus Vance) and engineered a return to Cold War orthodoxy. He bragged about being "...the first Pole in 300 years in a position to really stick it to the Russians."
Massive arms sales to Iran, half of all U.S. sales worldwide, had kept the unpopular Shah in power and, despite his dismal human rights record, the Carters shared a lavish New Years Eve in Tehran: "...there is no leader with whom I have a deeper sense of personal friendship."
"Iran, because of the great leadership of the Shah, is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world."
Within a year, the Shah had imposed martial law, and his troops shot down hundreds in the street.
Fearing that the Soviets would occupy Iran's oil fields in this chaos, Brzezinski warned Carter that the United States now faced "...the most massive American defeat since the beginning of the Cold War, overshadowing the setback in Vietnam." Two months later, the Shah fled for his life. Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile, demanding the Shah's return to face trial. Carter, under pressure from Brzezinski, Kissinger and David Rockefeller, allowed the Shah into the United States for treatment of cancer, infuriating the Iranian public. In November, students burst into the embassy and seized 52 American hostages, whom they held of 444 days, effectively destroying Carter's presidency.
Crises seemed to be flaring all over. Central America, after suffering decades of poverty, brutality and corruption under U.S.-backed right-wing dictators, was ready to explode by the late 1970s. In Nicaragua, the Sandinistas seized power in July of '79, Latin America's first successful revolution since Cuba's twenty years earlier, and began an ambitious program of land, education and health reform. Brzezinski argued for military intervention, fearing the revolutionary ferment would establish forces in neighbouring Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, where 40 families had ruled for over a century. Right-wind death squad murders and tortures increased, and the progressive Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated in 1980. Later that year the FNLN insurgents were on the brink of another successful revolution, when Carter, pressured by Brzezinski, restored significant needed military aid to the government.
Another storm was brewing in Afghanistan, an impoverished remnant of the British Empire, where life expectancy was 40 years. Only one in ten could read and most lived as nomads or as nomads in muddy villages scarcely different from when Alexander the Great had passed through two thousand years before. It was in July, 1979, that Brzezinski had Carter sign a little known directive for secret aid for the Islamic fundamentalist opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. On that day, Brzezinski proudly note that "...this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention." His intention was to drag them into their own Vietnam.
Brzezinski understood the Soviet's fear that the Afghan insurgency might spark an uprising by the 40 million Muslims in Soviet Central Asia (Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan). He compared it, and its affect on the U.S., to a communist insurgency in Mexico. The Soviets conclude correctly that the Americans were instigating the insurgency, possibly with help from China, but they still hesitated to intervene. Veteran Foreign Minister Gromyko knew that "...we would largely be throwing away everything we achieved...particularly detente, the SALT II negotiations." With their top-heavy, bureaucratically ossified economy stagnating, the Soviets saw arms control as their chance to finally escape the wartime treadmill.
The provocation worked. President Brezhnev, a stolid, unimaginative leader, insisting the war would be over in three to four weeks, launched a full scale invasion of 80,000 troops into Afghanistan on Christmas Day, 1979. The inexperienced Carter hyperbolically called the invasion the greatest threat to world peace since World War II. A New York Times columnist felt compelled to remind him of the Berlin Blockade, the Korean War, the Suez Crisis, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the war in Vietnam. Carter withdrew the U.S. Ambassador and took SALT II off the table. He cut trade between the two countries, banned U.S. athletes from the upcoming Moscow Olympics, and sent his Defence Secretary to sound out Chinese leaders about military ties - he effectively extended the Truman Doctrine to the adjacent Persian Gulf region, including Iran, which would now be regarded as a U.S. vital interest.
Muslim nations condemned the aggression. Saudi Arabia sent money, and thousands of young Muslims from all over the Middle East now began the journey to Afghanistan for jihad, holy war, against the Soviet infidels. Brzezinski traveled to meet with the dictators of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to work out financial and military aid for the holy warriors who were particularly upset over the Soviet-supported government's reforms to emancipate and educate their women.
Brzezinski has repeated denied having any regrets about fuelling Islamic fundamentalism which would blow back against the United States on 9/11, and plague it for years to come. Brzezinski:
"Because your cause is right, and god is on your side."
Later he would say:
"What is more important in world history, the Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some agitated Muslims or the liberation of central Europe and the end of the Cold War?"
At what price?
Carter's policies, ironically, in the end, laid the groundwork for the even more extreme actions that Ronald Reagan would bring to the White House.
In seeking to destroy the Soviet empire, Brzezinski instead destroyed Carter's presidency. Carter never fulfilled his promise to reduce defence spending, increasing it from $115 billion to $180 billion. Carter more than doubled the number of warheads aimed at the Soviet Union. Carter even repudiated his earlier criticism of the Vietnam War - Vietnam veterans became "...freedom fighters who went to Vietnam without any desire to impose American will on other people." Carter's policies, ironically, in the end, laid the groundwork for the even more extreme actions that Ronald Reagan would bring to the White House.
There's never been a president quite like Ronald Reagan, with his charm, humour, elegant good looks, and his driving compulsion to transform America into a conservative fortress. The folksy homespun actor turned General Electric pitch man, Reagan served eight years as California's Governor. He was underrated by many as a "B" actor in Hollywood, and titled his autobiography "Where's the Rest of Me?", based on his 1942 movie "Kings Row", based on a gothic classic of small town America; in the film his legs were amputated by his girlfriends sadistic surgeon father. The film marked his transition from New Deal liberal to Cold War conservative. He had discovered his missing half in his fight against communism, a fight that, as President of the Screen Actors' Guild, turned him into a highly public crusader against the Red Menace, as well as a secret FBI informant, who denounced colleagues as communists.
Political consultant, Roger Ailes, who would later create Fox News, drawing on tactics he developed with Richard Nixon, reminded the 73 year old Reagan he got elected on themes, not details, happy thoughts like "morning in America", or the Puritan belief that America was the "shining city on a hill". His critics were "...defeatists, who would blame American first". Or there were dark, fictional themes, such as:
"We're in greater danger today than we were the day after Pearl Harbour. Our military is absolutely incapable of defending this country."
The facts never quite mattered if there was a good punch line. He loved to repeat the story about the Chicago welfare queen with 80 names, 30 addresses and 12 Social Security cards, who had a tax-free income of $150,000. He preferred films to reading, and had visual aids specially prepared on issues such as the Soviet threat, or the problem in the Middle East. For meetings, even with a few people in the room, Reagan would read his lines like an actor, from 3 x 5 index cards - at one meeting with U.S. automobile leaders he read from the wrong cards until he finally caught on. He liked to go home to his beloved wife, Nancy, late in the afternoon, exercise, eat dinner in his pyjamas, watch TV and be in bed early.
"There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakeable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."
Less than two and a half years later, the wall did indeed come crashing down, and by 1991 the Soviet empire had collapsed.
The Cold War was over. Many credit Reagan with winning it. Admirers lionize him as the greatest president since World War II, one of the greatest ever. But the real story is far more complex. Reagan left behind a bloody trail of death and destruction, but also came excruciatingly close to achieving enduring greatness.
Reagan's disengaged style and lack of foreign policy experience left a void that the administration's anti-communist hawks scrambled to fill. Leading the pack was William Casey. The movies could not have invented a man like Casey - a Catholic Knight of Malta, he attended Mass daily and proclaimed Christianity to anyone who asked his advice; statues of the Virgin Mary filled his mansion on Long Island. He had been head of the Securities and Exchange Commission and before that he'd worked with the OSS (Office of Strategic Services). According to Casey's deputy, Robert Gates, the Reganites saw their arrival as a hostile takeover.
Casey had read Claire Sterlings apocryphal "The Terror Network" and was convinced the Soviet Union was behind international terrorism, including the recent assassination attempt on the Polish born Pope, and fellow Catholic. The head of the CIA's office for Soviet analysis, Melvin Goodman, said that much of Sterling's evidence was based on black propaganda, anti-communist allegations that the CIA itself had planted in the European press. Yet Casey told analysts that he had learned more from Sterling than from all of them. Al Hague, the hardcore Secretary of State, agreed, and thought the Soviets had tried to assassinate him when he was the head of NATO in Europe. Experts knew that the Soviets actually disapproved of terrorism, and had not supported the nihilist terrorist groups of Europe. But Casey and Gates purged analysts who refused to knuckle under, crippling the Agency in such a way that, when the Soviet Union fell apart later in the decade, the Agency was unable to predict it.
"I'd always felt from our deeds it must be clear to anyone that Americans were a moral people, who had always used our power only as a force for good in the world."
At his first press conference, using the language of John Foster Dulles and James Forrestal, Reagan quickly reversed almost two decades of progress in easing of Cold War tensions when he declared:
"The only morality they recognize is what will further their cause, meaning they reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat, in order to attain that."
America's morality, he insisted, was different:
"I'd always felt from our deeds it must be clear to anyone that Americans were a moral people, who had always used our power only as a force for good in the world."
In reality, Reagan's election encouraged right-wing elites throughout the Third World to take back perceived losses of land or power resulting from indecisive American leadership since Vietnam. The methods would be cruel. The colonel who headed the U.S. advisory team in El Salvador said "real counter insurgency techniques are a step toward the primitive", an apt description of U.S. leaders efforts to test their new post-VIetnam counter insurgency doctrines, and defeat uprisings without commitment to large U.S. forces.
Many top Guatemalan, Honduran and El Salvadoran army officers were trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas in Panama, and then after 1984, Fort Benning in Georgia. The emphasis on counter insurgency techniques, honed from Vietnam, was expanded. Visiting neighbouring Honduras in 1982, Reagan met with Guatemalan President, General Efrain Rios Montt, a born-again evangelical Christian, who had recently seized power in a coup. Reagan complained that President Montt had received a bum rap:
"I know that President Rios Montt is a man of great personal integrity and commitment."
Roughly 100,000 Mayan peasants, living in the region of the leftist insurgency would be killed between 1981 and '83 by the Guatemalan Army.
Across the Nicaraguan border in Honduras, former members of Somoza's thuggish gathered. With Casey's assistance they plotted a return to power. They called themselves the counter revolutionaries or "Contras". The war began in March of 1982. Congress then banned the use of funds to overthrow the Sandinista government, but Casey and NSC official Oliver North concocted a plot right out of the World War II OSS days. An elaborate, illegal operation aided by Israeli arms dealers, the U.S. sold missiles to its enemies in Iran at exorbitant prices and used the profits to fund the Contras, with Latin American drug dealers often serving as intermediaries and receiving easier access to American markets in return. The 15,000 Contra army, employing kidnap, torture, rape and murder, targeted health clinics, schools, agricultural cooperatives, bridges and power stations.
He went so far as to call the Contras "...the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers."
Reagan in a television address:
"I was aware the resistance was receiving assistance directly from third countries and from private efforts, and I endorsed those endeavours wholeheartedly. But let me put this in capital letters, I did not know about the diversion of funds."
Reagan and Casey lied to Congress about what the CIA was up to. According to his Deputy, Gates, Casey was guilty of contempt of Congress from the day he was sworn in. Reagan defended the covert war by saying in 1984:
"The Nicaraguan people are trapped in a to-talitarian dungeon by a dictatorship made all the more dangerous by the unwanted presence of thousands of Cuban, Soviet block, and radical Arab helpers."
He went so far as to call the Contras:
"...the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers."
These moral equivalents were responsible for most of the deaths of the 20 to 30,000 Nicaraguan civilians during the war.
Similar atrocities occurred in neighbouring El Salvador where U.S.-trained troops stabbed, decapitated, raped and machine-gunned 767 civilians in the village of El Mozote in late 1981, including 358 children under age 13. Congress ended up funnelling almost $6 billion to this tiny country, making it the largest recipient of foreign aid per capita in the world. Wealthy landlords were running the right-wing death squads that murdered 1000s of suspected leftists. The death toll from the war reached 70,000. The Salvadoran population in the U.S. expanded five times to half a million by 1990, many of these illegal entries. Yet, while Nicaraguans, supposedly fleeing communist oppression - if not the Contra war - were allowed into the U.S., many Salvadorans were turned back.
Bogged down in protracted proxy wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador, and haunted by the memory of defeat in Vietnam, which he called a "noble cause", Reagan hungered for an easy military victory to restore Americans' self confidence. In 1983, a powerful truck bomb, set off by the anti-Israeli terrorist organization Hezbollah - the Al Queda of its time - blew up a U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon, leaving 241 dead and dealing another devastating blow to U.S. pride. Two days later U.S. Marines invaded not Lebanon, but Granada, a tiny Caribbean island with 100,000 inhabitants. Reagan claimed it was a Soviet-Cuban colony being readied as a major military bastion to export terror and undermine democracy. We got there just in time! As in one of his old Westerns, he sent 7,000 American soldiers into battle. Banning the media, supposedly for their own safety, he offered government footage instead.
The entire operation was bungled from the start - 19 soldiers died and more than 100 were wounded, as a small force of Cuban construction workers resisted. Nine military helicopters were lost. The invasion, from a military point of view, was a farce, with the Army awarding almost 275 medals for valour to 7,000 troops, of whom only about 2,500 saw a limited form of combat. Regan proudly announced:
"Our days of weakness are over. Our military forces are back on their feet and standing tall."
Halfway across the world, Reagan and Casey transformed Carter's limited support for the Afghan insurgents into the CIA's largest covert operation to date, totalling over $3 billion. They channeled aid through Pakistan's General Zia, a corrupt dictator who funnelled the arms and dollars to the most extreme Afghan Islamist faction under Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a man of legendary cruelty whose forces were rumoured to patrol the bazaars of Kabul throwing vials of acid in the faces of women not wearing full burkas, and who specialized in skinning prisoners alive. The CIA provide the insurgents with between 2,000 and 2,500 US-made Stinger Missiles.
The U.S. helped both sides in the bloody Iran-Iraq war. Reagan in 1983 sent special envoy Donald Rumsfeld to Bagdad to reassure Saddam Hussein of U.S. support. Under a licence from the Commerce Committee, U.S. companies shipped several strains of anthrax, later used in Iraq's biological weapons program, and insecticides for chemical warfare.
As President, Reagan persisted in the scare talk:
"So in your discussions of the nuclear freeze proposals, I urge you to beware the temptation of pride, the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all, and label both sides equally at fault. To ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms a race a giant misunderstanding, and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong, and good and evil. Let us be aware that while they preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its inevitable domination over all peoples on the Earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world."
In late '82, although the U.S. was ahead in virtually meaningful category, he said:
"Today, in virtually every measure of military power, the Soviet Union enjoys a decided advantage."
And he amped up the defence spending which, by 1985, increased by 35% over 1980 expenditures. The U.S. arsenal now contained 11,200 strategic warheads to the Soviet's 9,900. New and upgraded weapons systems rolled off assembly lines, including the long-delayed and very costly MX Program, which moved missiles around loops that hid their precise location making them invulnerable to a Soviet first strike.
Despite massive protests throughout Europe, the U.S. deployed ground launch Cruise Missiles to England, and Pershing II Missiles to Germany in November '83. Some Soviet officials were convinced that a U.S. attack was imminent, as relations reached their lowest point in more than two decades. To finance this, he slashed Federal support for discretionary programs, effectively transferring $70 billion from domestic programs to the military. He waged war on Labor and the poor...:
"If they do not report for work within 48 hours, they have forfeited their jobs and will be terminated."
...busting the Air Traffic Controllers' Union, meanwhile giving elegant parties in the White House for his millionaire friends - a sense of the 1890s Guilded Age, the Four Hundred of American society, returned to Washington.
In June of '82, almost a million people rallied against the arms race in New York City's Central Park. Among them was a young Columbia graduate student, Barack Obama. The movement unnerved Reagan, who saw it as a serious threat to his reelection. Despite all his bluster, Reagan, too, feared the possibility of war, which he associated with the biblical armageddon. After watching the enormously popular 1983 ABC TV movie The Day After, Regan wrote in his diary that it "...left me very depressed." Whether influenced by his wife or her astrologer, we don't know, but concerned about the bad blood he may have engendered, Reagan began to rethink his approach to the Soviet Union. He later wrote in his memoirs:
"Three years had taught me something surprising about the Russians - many were genuinely afraid of America, and Americans."
Incredibly, if this diary is to be believed, it had never dawned on President Reagan that the Soviets might indeed fear a U.S. first strike.
Hoping to possibly appease the growing anti-nuclear sentiment, in March of '83 Reagan proposed the Strategic Defence Initiative - SDI - a space based defence shield around the nation itself or, as his critics called it, Star Wars. Reagan:
"It isn't about retaliation, its about prevention. It isn't about fear, its about hope. And in that struggle, if you'll pardon my stealing a film line, the force is with us."
The fantasy of Star Wars became an enormously expensive anti-ballistic missile system. Despite the fact that no such Soviet project existed, the Pentagon had begun research in the 1970s to counter a supposed Soviet breakthrough in energy beam weaponry.
In March of '85, an extraordinary development changed the course of history. A 54 year agricultural expert, like Henry Wallace years before, Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union. Like Khrushchev he had survived with his diplomacy, with luck, and a rare degree of honesty, a brutal obstacle course of inefficiency and lies. He had traveled widely in the West and, like Khrushchev, sought above all to improve the lives of his people. He saw the problem with clarity; to achieve parity with the US the Soviets were spending nearly a quarter of their Gross Domestic Product on defence. Defence production consumed a highly disproportionate amount of the Soviet budget. Their planned economy, which had stagnated since the late 1970s was run by a military-industrial-academic establishment immune from reality. To revitalize society, he knew he would have to slash military spending.
Gorbachev continued writing letters to Reagan calling for the elimination of all nuclear weapons by 2000. It didn't change Reagan's mindset.
Gorbachev set out to end the arms race and redeploy resources. He also took steps to end the war in Afghanistan, a conflict he thought from the beginning was a fatal error and a bleeding wound. As a very young man he had witnessed the horrors of war, and in a series of extraordinary letters to Reagan proposed, like Henry Wallace 40 years earlier, friendship and peaceful competition. Regan responded encouragingly. The two leaders met for the first time in Geneva in November '85, connecting on a human level if not a political one. Gorbachev continued writing letters calling for the elimination of all nuclear weapons by 2000. It didn't change Reagan's mindset; the U.S. announced plans for a new series of nuclear tests and increased support for the Mujahideen in Afghanistan.
Gorbachev said he was willing to eliminate nuclear weapons if Reagan restricted SDI testing to the laboratory for 10 years. Reagan would only answer, "I'm very sorry."
In October of '86, Reagan and Gorbachev met in Reykjavik, Iceland. The two leaders would come within a few words of changing history forever. Gorbachev offered a stunningly bold set of disarmament proposals. Even Paul Nitze, who had done so much to harm relations between the two countries, observed that the Soviet proposal was "...the best we have received in twenty-five years..." Nitze and Secretary of State George Schultz urged Reagan to accept a sweeping arms control deal. Regan turned to hardliner Richard Pearle, who feared such a deal would strengthen the Soviet economy. Pearle warned that deal would effectively kill Regan's SDI, or Star Wars, plan. Pearle and other advisors knew Reagan's vision of SDI was a pipe dream, a fantasy. Only Reagan believed it would work. When negotiations stalled, Gorbachev urged Reagan to act boldly. Reagan shocked observers; it would be fine, he said, if we eliminated all nuclear weapons. Schultz agreed, "let's do it". Gorbachev said he was willing to eliminate nuclear weapons if Reagan restricted SDI testing to the laboratory for ten years. Gorbachev and Soviet scientists knew SDI would do nothing to protect the United States from a full-scale Soviet attack, but feared U.S. moves to weaponize space, and recoiled at the thought of giving up the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the only tangible constraint upon the arms race.
Reagan explained that confining tests to the laboratory would damage him politically at home. They had reached an impasse. The meeting ended. As they were leaving the building Gorbachev tried one last time: "Mr. President, I am prepared to go back inside right now and sign the documents we already agreed upon, if you will drop your plans to militarize space." Reagan answered, reportedly "I'm very sorry." The United States and Russia had come within a hare's breath of beginning the process of eliminating nuclear weapons, thwarted by a Star Wars fantasy that had hardly entered the laboratory in 1986. Gorbachev was furious and blamed the failure on Reagan's plan to exhaust the Soviet Union economically through an arms race. The U.S. subsequently spent well over $100 million, with final costs projected to exceed $1 trillion. With the issue of multiple decoys overwhelming the system, among other issues, the creation of an effective Strategic Defence Initiative, to this day, is still highly uncertain.
Both sides hoped to revived the talks, but before that could happen a scandal that same month rocked Reagan's administration - in October of '86 a cargo plane was shot down over Nicaragua, the only survivor admitted it was a CIA operation. Congressional investigations revealed an administration up to its eyeballs in illegality, blundering, corruption and subterfuge, involving American hostages in Lebanon, arms sales to both Iraq and Iran, ill-fated attempts to cultivate non-existent moderates in Tehran, and collaboration with a whole set of unsavoury characters including Manuel Noriega in Panama. In a flagrant violation of Congress' ban on government support to overthrowing the Nicaraguan government, Americans also learned that the CIA mined Nicaraguan harbours, which provoked the conservative icon, Senator Barry Goldwater, to scold Bill Casey. "I am pissed off" he wrote, "this is an act of violating international law; it is an act of war."
Details of the murky, convoluted operation consumed much of Reagan's last two years. Pathetically, he told a news conference he was not fully informed of the Iran policy, one aspect of which was seriously flawed. It was apparent he little grasp of, and less control over, what his underlings were up to:
"A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower Board reported, what began as a strategic opening to Iran, deteriorated in its implementation into trading arms for hostages. This runs counter to my own beliefs, to administration policy, and to the original strategy we had in mind. There are reasons why it happened, but no excuses. It was a mistake."
As an apology, it wouldn't have worked for Nixon. Perhaps Ronald Reagan had too kindly an aura to have to defend himself, much less go to prison. And the Washington establishment apparently concluded that the country could not stand another impeachment or forced resignation, and thus allowed Reagan to serve out his term. He left a befuddled old man.
His subordinates were not so lucky. Among those convicted of crimes were two National Security Advisors (John Poindexter and Robert McFarlane) one of whom attempted suicide, as well as Oliver North and Assistant Secretary of State Elliot Abrams, who would re-emerge in the second Bush administration. Defence Secretary Weinberger, Abrams and several others, were convicted or indicted but later pardoned by the next president. The CIA Director cheated his fate, dying of a brain tumour the day after the hearings began. Vice President George Bush managed to avoid prosecution - he insisted he was "...out of the loop - no operational role...". But in his private diary, which he never thought he'd be forced to release, he admitted before the scandal began to break, "I'm one of the few people that know fully the details." As a result, the Independent Council's final report noted the criminal investigation of Bush was "...regrettably incomplete."
In the midst of this sordid affair, Gorbachev, wanting to salvage something, came to Washington in December '87 and signed the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a major milestone. It was the first agreement ever to destroy an entire class of nuclear weapons, one in which the Soviet Union had superiority.
In Afghanistan, the Soviet withdrawal began in May of 1988. When the Soviets sounded out the U.S. on collaborating to curb Islamic extremism the U.S., having achieved its goals, washed its hands of the problems it had helped to create. Up to 20,000 Arabs had flooded into Pakistan to join the jihad against the Soviet infidels, among them a very young Saudi construction heir, able to support an army of volunteers - Osama bin Laden. Thousands more flocked to Pakistan's madrassas where they were indoctrinated into radical Islam and recruited for jihad, often with books produced in Omaha Nebraska with U.S. Aid funding and distributed by the CIA.
The Saudis in the 1980s spent $75 billion to spread their brand of Wahhabi extremism. A million Afghans had died in the war; 5 million, one-third of the population, had fled to Pakistan and Iran. In the late '80s, Islamists linked to Pakistani Intelligence seized control of Afghanistan. One Rand Corporation analyst said that the U.S. had to throw "...the worst crazies against the Soviets...the reason we don't have moderate leaders in Afghanistan today is because we let the nuts kill them all." Among the victims of these American armed and trained fanatics were Afghan women, who were driven back into the dark ages. Warned repeatedly that the fanaticism he was unleashing would threaten U.S. interests, Bill Casey insisted the partnership between Christianity and Islam would endure, and in the spring of 1985 even backed Mujahideen cross-border raids into the Soviet Union, in hopes of inciting Soviet muslims into revolt.
Although Reagan left office in near disgrace, conservatives have anointed him as one of the nation's great presidents, crediting him with restoring America's faith in itself after the failed presidencies of Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter. But what is Reagan's real legacy? Once a Roosevelt democrat, he developed an extreme contempt for government that was legendary. Yet he spent enormous sums on the military while cutting social programs for the poor. He reduced taxes on the wealthy, doubled both the military budget and the National Debt, and in a revolutionary change, transformed the United States from the world's leading creditor nation in 1981 to the biggest debtor nation by 1985. He deregulated industries, eroded environmental standards (defiantly ripping down the solar panels Jimmy Carter had put on the White House roof), weakened the middle class, busted unions, heightened the racial divide, widen the gap between rich and poor, and abetted companies shipping manufacturing jobs abroad. He deregulated Savings & Loans institutions which lead to the first giant "too big to fail" government bailout of troubled banks and failed Savings & Loans, which by 1995 would cost the taxpayers $87 billion. Under the guise of privatization, and Reagan's extolling of market forces, Wall Street went on an enormous 'greed is good' looting binge that resulted in October 1987 in the worst Stock Market crash since the Great Depression.
In a parting gift to future conservatives, in 1987 the FCC with Reagan's help repealed the fairness doctrine, which had required broadcasters, since the 1940s, to give adequate and fair coverage of opposing views on issues of public importance. As a result, Rush Limbaugh and talk radio exploded on the scene, finding a massive audience. This, and the gradual loosening of limitations on the number of stations a company could own had, by 1996, enabled the growth of a right-wing media empire. With it came a number of interlocked, well-funded conservative think tanks that helped shape a new Washington groupthink. Playing up fears, resentment and hatred of government, by the end of the 90s, ClearChannel, Rupert Murdock's Fox News, Talk Radio Network, Salem Radio, USA Radio Network, and Radio America, as well as the proliferation of cable television networks had created a movement that would dramatically lower the standards of American political discourse and, in general, doom prospects for progressive change.
The Hoover Institute at Stanford, a respected conservative mecca, described Reagan as "...a man whose spirit seems to stride over the country, watching over us like a warm and friendly ghost". Even Democratic presidents like Clinton and Obama, whether pandering to conservative forces or suffering from historical amnesia, would bow to pressure to flaunt their religiosity, extol the virtues of a free capitalist marketplace, perpetuate the myth of the universal middle class, and trumpet the notion of American exceptionalism. They would feed the insatiable appetite of the Military-Industrial-Complex, expand the search for threatening enemies at home and abroad, and move heaven and earth to maintain the resulting empire.
Even in Nicaragua, though scolded, Reagan won the long Contra war, wrecking the economy and exhausting the local population who would soon lose faith in the Sandinista's ability to bring progress to the country. By 1990, the religious pro-Washington candidate (Violeta Chamorro), helped by U.S. funding, as well as its embargo, triumphed in a democratic election, allowed by the supposedly communist Sandinistas, who stepped aside, peacefully.
As far as Reagan's much vaunted role in winning the Cold War, the lion's share of credit goes to Mikhail Gorbachev, a true visionary and, it turns out, the real democrat. If Reagan had entered into the sincere partnership offered by Gorbachev, as Roosevelt did with Stalin in World War II, the world would have been transformed. But Ronald Reagan, at the least, let the chance to rid the world of nuclear weapons slip through his fingers, because he wouldn't let go of a space fantasy. Appreciating Gorbachev's extraordinary effort, a leading Soviet expert on the U.S. warned his American counterparts, "We will do the most horrible thing to you, we will leave you without an enemy." Unfortunately, he was wrong.
George H.W. Bush on Saddam Hussein:
"We are dealing with Hitler revisited. A totalitarianism, and a brutality that is naked and unprecedented in modern times. And that must not stand!"