For GOP Candidates, Reagan Emulation Stops With His National Security Policy

For GOP Candidates, Reagan Emulation Stops With His National Security Policy
Republican presidential candidates during the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate, North Charleston, S.C., Jan. 14, 2016, (AP photo by Chuck Burton).

As the Republican candidates in the presidential race work to define themselves and stand out from the crowded competition for the party nomination, many claim to be the heir of GOP icon Ronald Reagan. This makes sense given Reagan’s enduring popularity. This is particularly true for national security policy, where Reagan is considered a great success who revived American influence and paved the way for the end of the Cold War. But while claiming Reagan’s mantle, none of the candidates seem interested in actually emulating his strategy.

One of the keys to Reagan’s success was lavishing resources on the U.S. military but, with the exception of the ill-advised peacekeeping mission to Lebanon, using force carefully. Reagan and his advisers recognized that every security challenge was not amenable to a military solution, and that the U.S. armed forces should not be used promiscuously. Since 9/11, though, Washington has thrown the military at all sort of threats with little regard for whether they can be eradicated through armed force. Most of the ideas for dealing with the self-described Islamic State touted by today’s presidential candidates repeat this unfortunate pattern in a most un-Reaganesque way.

Even while strengthening the military, however, Reagan recognized the importance of arms control, knowing that military strength and arms control were two sides of the same coin. By deploying ground-launched cruise missiles and Pershing II ballistic missiles to Europe over stiff opposition, for instance, he pressured the Soviet Union to sign the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Reagan’s arms control initiatives took America’s allies into account, but ultimately agreements were based on whether they made the United States more secure. Today’s presidential candidates seem to have little use for arms control, except as ammunition in partisan attacks against their political rivals.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.