Former Vice President Walter Mondale, who lost 49 states to
President Ronald Reagan as the 1984 Democratic nominee for president, now concedes that Reagan learned the lessons of the Carter administration's Iran hostage crisis, and conducted a more restrained and more sensible foreign policy than President George W. Bush.
"The irony is that the original hero of the neocon movement, Ronald Reagan, understood these lessons," Mondale writes in his memoir, "The Good Fight: A Life in Liberal Politics," published on Tuesday. "Reagan, though he talked a bold game, never succumbed to military recklessness on a large scale," the now-82-year-old Mondale added in the concluding paragraphs of the chapter, "Hostage Crisis." "In the big confrontations - Beirut, for example - he pulled out the instant our troops got in trouble."
Many on the left, including President Barack Obama, have come to acknowledge Reagan's foreign policy achievements, but such high praise from Mondale is remarkable considering how harshly critical he was of Reagan during the 1984 campaign. In the second presidential debate, for instance, held in Kansas City on Oct. 21st and devoted to defense and foreign policy issues, Mondale went so far as to accuse Reagan of causing the October 1983 Beirut Marine barracks bombing.
"In Lebanon, this President exercised American power, all right," Mondale charged, "but the management of it was such that our Marines were killed, we had to leave in humiliation, the Soviet Union became stronger, terrorists became emboldened."
According to Mondale, Reagan "told the terrorists he was going to retaliate" for that bombing, which killed 241 U.S. servicemen. "He didn't. They called their bluff. And the bottom line is that the United States left in humiliation, and our enemies are stronger."
Reagan countered that "we withdrew because we were no longer able to carry out the mission for which we had been sent in. But we went in in the interest of peace and to keep Israel and Syria from getting into the sixth war between them. And I have no apologies for our going on a peace mission."
Mondale's memoir presents the 444-day 1979-to-1981 Iranian hostage crisis as an example of admirable restraint and "in a way, the highest form of bravery" on the part of President Jimmy Carter, under whom he served for four years. But he says that the American public's perception of failure and weakness in his administration's handling of it "helped spawn what became known as the neocon movement in American politics. The neocons saw in this episode a nation that was tied down by the Lilliputians."
The ex-Vice President, U.S. senator from Minnesota and Clinton administration ambassador to Japan doesn't spare the rod in assessing the interventionist neoconservative philosophy of aggressively exercising American power.
"They wanted a nation free from second thoughts, liberated from any obligation to get along with others," he writes. "That idea is appealing to some Americans, understandably, and it is dangerous. I think this impulse helps explain why the second President Bush was able to rush into a war in Iraq."
But according to Mondale, Ronald Reagan never succumbed to such impulses. "His advisers, old diplomatic veterans such as [Reagan Secretary of State] George Schultz, didn't want to play the neocon game."
For Reagan's part, he considered Mondale dishonest and "desperate" -- even blaming the untruthfulness of his accusations as the reason Reagan admittedly lost the first presidential debate, which took place earlier that month and was devoted to domestic issues.
"I guess I crammed so hard on facts & figures in view of the absolutely dishonest things he's been saying in the campaign, I guess I flattened out," Reagan said in an Oct. 6th/7th diary entry, as recounted in Douglas Brinkley's 2007 book, "The Reagan Diaries."
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