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How Reagan Would Have Handled Syria

How Reagan Would Have Handled Syria
Former Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot (AP)

By Wednesday, 04 September 2013 04:32 PM Current | Bio | Archive

The word is that the regime of Bashar Assad has used chemical weapons against its own people in a deadly Aug. 21 attack. The U.S. says 1,429 people, including at least 426 children, were killed.

It is a heinous crime. Some are calling for America to invade Syria and put down this regime. So I pose this question.

What would Ronald Reagan do?

The answer?

Absolutely nothing. At least for now. For eight years Ronald Reagan tolerated a tyrant far more malevolent than Bashar Assad of Syria.

If we prove that Assad did indeed use chemical weapons then the whole world should condemn this act and such condemnation will likely, eventually, lead to action. Syria's wealthy Arab neighbors, such as Saudi Arabia, who arm themselves with our latest jets and weapons may have a moral obligation to respond. But don't hold your breath. Americans like to do these things. And the rest of the world is smart enough to let us shed our blood to keep things in order.

The fact is that the atrocities of the Assad regime cannot compare to the reign of Cambodian leader, Pol Pot, who may have killed as many as 3 million of his own people during the Carter-Reagan years and he was never brought to justice, nor was it seen as America's responsibility to do so.

The Pol Pot regime practiced true genocide against helpless civilians. Marked for execution were Cambodian doctors, nurses, teachers, journalists, college graduates and people who could read, including children. Even people who wore eye glasses were marked for execution. It was rationalized that if they wore eye glasses they could probably read. Pol Pot wanted his regime to start over again without any taint of the past.

I personally appealed to both presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan for help. Carter, who had made human rights a major part of his foreign policy agenda, told me that Pol Pot had driven all of the forklifts into the sea. There was no means of unloading aid at the ports. Hundreds of thousands of Cambodians were starving to death.

At a dinner with the Reagans in their home in Pacific Palisades I described images from a recent trip I had taken to the Cambodia border and Ronald Reagan appeared heartbroken.

Meanwhile, in Cambodia, the bleached bones of the dead piled up. It was called "the killing fields."

Pol Pot led the Kymer Rouge from 1963 to 1998. They took over in Cambodia in 1979. I met some of the survivors who fled the country and entertained the Cambodian prince, son of Norodom Sihanouk, in my home during this ongoing massacre.

Pol Pot was eventually placed under house arrest by his own people. He died in 1998. At no time throughout the Carter-Reagan years was there any substantial political movement calling for military action against Pol Pot nor were any public figures calling for the capture and trial of the worse tyrant since Hitler.


Because our founding fathers never envisioned that we would rule the world. Nor does the U.S. Constitution make provision for that futile and arrogant exercise.

Because there were and still are many evil regimes doing evil things to its people and America could not rid itself of evil within its own borders, let alone throughout the whole world. What kind of justice would now take out Syria but leave North Korea standing?

Because the U.S. president did not have the authority to go to war without the nation's duly elected representatives debating and then making such a declaration. Even Franklin D. Roosevelt, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, needed the U. S. Congress to make a declaration of war.

Because corporations did not yet have the powerful lobbies in place to make sure their companies got the contracts and profited from such wars and in return gave part of the money back to the politicians who supported it.

Because the corporations who owned the national media were not yet subsidiaries of other corporations who profited from such wars and were financed by banks that gave them preferential interest rates on loans, nor were they yet fully compromised by corporate advertisers who were beneficiaries of the same system. In other words, some measure of journalism, real journalism, still existed in the Carter-Reagan years.

So why is it likely that America will now take action against Syria? Cruise missile attack perhaps? Drones? What has changed? Why should America be installing governments all over the Middle East with unintended blowback such as governments that kill their own Christian citizens?

Since 9-11 some parts of the American form of constitutional government have been weakened or abandoned altogether. This in the name of security. Some departments and agencies of the federal government operate without laws, with only a self imposed sense of ethics limited by their interpretation of popular will which is in turn influenced by a compliant, uncritical media.

The presidency is now a virtual dictatorship limited only by 50 unelected men and women who run the television industry. This is not the creation of Barack Obama, the process has been ongoing for years and took a great leap forward with George W. Bush and 9/11. It is the price we paid for security. It is a process dictated by events as well as the unquenchable thirst for power.

The president's personal reputation is on the line since he warned Syria not to use chemical weapons. He said that this represented a line they could not cross. Now, given his personality, and the need to uphold his personal honor, he will likely use the newly won dictatorial powers of the American presidency to take action.

We have come a long way from the ideal of Thomas Jefferson who dealt with the Barbary Pirates, the Islamic terrorists of his day. Thomas Jefferson once said, "The more you use your power, the less you have." America may wake up soon to find itself very weak indeed. Strong with weaponry but abandoned by a world that has grown tired of our arrogant rule.

Doug Wead is a presidential historian who served as a senior adviser to the Ron Paul presidential campaign. He is a New York Times best-selling author, philanthropist, and adviser to two presidents, including President George H.W. Bush. Read more reports from Doug Wead — Click Here Now.

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The word is that the regime of Bashar Assad has used chemical weapons against its own people in a deadly Aug. 21 attack. The U.S. says 1,429 people, including at least 426 children, were killed.
Wednesday, 04 September 2013 04:32 PM
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