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Pascoe: Reagan to McCain — You’re Wrong About Libya

Despite the best efforts of the few remaining loyalists of the Bushioisie, former President George W. Bush’s “freedom agenda” — and, more specifically, its willingness to put our armed forces in harm’s way absent a clear threat to U.S. vital interests — is going the way of the dodo.

This became clear at the recent GOP presidential debate in New Hampshire, during which none of the candidates on stage spoke in universal terms about the felicity of American efforts at nation building.

Instead, the assembled candidates took turns challenging the propriety of President Barack Obama’s undeclared war in Libya and raising larger questions about Obama’s support for nation building abroad.

Sadly, some members of the GOP establishment still haven’t gotten the message.

Appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) revealed how shockingly little he knows about the man who reshaped his party — and the world — Ronald Reagan.

“I wonder what Ronald Reagan would be saying today?” asked McCain, challenging what he termed the “isolationism” of leading members of the GOP for daring to question Obama’s Libya engagement.

McCain then went on to answer his own question:

“He would be saying that’s not the Republican Party of the 20th century and now the 21st century. That is not the Republican Party that has been willing to stand up for freedom for people all over the world, whether it be in Grenada, that Ronald Reagan had a quick operation about, or whether it be in our enduring commitment to countering the Soviet Union.”

About which, horsefeathers.

Reagan didn’t send U.S. armed forces to Grenada to “stand up for freedom” for the people of Grenada; he sent U.S. armed forces to Grenada to prevent 800 American medical students on the island from being taken hostage by communist thugs and to remove the strategic threat posed by the military alliance previously formed by Grenada, the Soviet Union and Cuba.

The liberation of the 110,000 citizens of Grenada was only a welcome ancillary benefit.

Perhaps, rather than offering his own thoughts on the subject, McCain could answer his question better by reading Reagan’s own words explaining his decision to send U.S. armed forces to Grenada. On the evening of Oct. 27, 1983, just days after U.S. forces landed on the island, the president addressed the nation.

“I believe our government has a responsibility to go to the aid of its citizens if their right to life and liberty is threatened. The nightmare of our hostages in Iran must never be repeated,” Reagan said.

These words shouldn’t have been surprising to McCain — Reagan had tipped his hand years earlier. Accepting the Republican nomination in 1980, Reagan had this to say about the responsibility of the president and America’s role in the world:

“It is the responsibility of the president of the United States, in working for peace, to ensure that the safety of our people cannot successfully be threatened by a hostile foreign power. As president, fulfilling that responsibility will be my No. 1 priority.”

So we know what Reagan had to say before he became president, and we know what he said in explaining his decision to intervene in Grenada. Could it be possible that he changed his mind after eight years in office — that wisdom gleaned from experience led him to think differently?

Not so. Consider Reagan’s thoughts as expressed in his autobiography, “An American Life.”

“Our experience in Lebanon led to the adoption by the administration of a set of principles to guide America in the application of military force abroad, and I would recommend it to future Presidents,” Reagan wrote. “The policy we adopted included these principles:

“1. The United States should not commit its forces to military action overseas unless the cause is vital to our national interest.

“2. If the decision is made to commit our forces to combat abroad, it must be done with the clear intent and support needed to win. It should not be a halfway or tentative commitment, and there must be clearly defined and realistic objectives.

“3. Before we commit our troops to combat, there must be reasonable assurance that the cause we are fighting for and the actions we take will have the support of the American people and Congress.

“4. Even after all these other tests are met, our troops should be committed to combat abroad only as a last resort, when no other choice is available.”

Reagan knew it wasn’t his job to send U.S. armed forces to overthrow autocratic regimes willy-nilly just because the people who lived under the boot yearned for freedom; it was his job to safeguard the lives of American citizens and protect U.S. strategic interests.

Capturing the strategic high ground, not the moral, was his aim, and his aim was true.

I wish we could say the same for McCain and his ilk.

Bill Pascoe is executive vice president of Citizens for the Republic.

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