Ronald Reagan, being the last Cold War president, could be a transitional figure. How would you assess him?
I think that there is a significant amount of Reagan revisionism that I think is currently underway. The old interpretation of Reagan, for Reaganites, was that he was Churchill reborn. Strong and tough, inspiring — sort of the paladin of freedom. The old interpretation for people who didn't like Reagan was that he was a lunatic who engaged in unnecessary slurs directed against the so-called evil empire, and he was risking an unnecessary nuclear war. The new interpretation of Reagan, which is probably closer to the truth, is that he was somebody who had a deep-seated and visceral hatred of nuclear weapons, and therefore was genuinely committed to trying to eliminate them and doing whatever was necessary to prevent the outbreak of nuclear war. He also, whether instinctively or as a result of decades of careful study, seemed to appreciate the extent to which the Soviet empire, by the 1980s, was indeed hanging by a thread. That it had decayed internally to the point that the stability of the Soviet system was questionable. But I'd also make a third point about the new Reagan, and that is with regard to the Islamic world or the greater Middle East: he was absolutely clueless. It was Reagan after all who sent US forces into Beirut, which led to the catastrophic Beirut bombing and quick exit. It was one of the episodes that convinced Osama bin Laden that America could be had. It was Reagan who tilted in favor of Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war, a completely cynical act, which helped to persuade Saddam Hussein that he could get away with snatching Kuwait in 1990. The central issue of the 21st century, in terms of international politics, is likely to be sorting out this enormous problem between the West and the Islamic world. I think we have to say Reagan made matters worse, not better.
One last question. Who did you vote for in the last election?
Oh, I voted for President Obama. I define myself as a conservative for all sorts of reasons, and I don't believe for a second that President Obama was a conservative. On the other hand, certainly President Bush was not a conservative, and nor was John McCain. I voted for Obama because he was the one candidate who seemed to recognize most clearly that the Iraq War had been from start to finish a disaster, and so I hoped that electing Obama might have made some space for a fundamental debate of the principles of US national-security policy. I have been disappointed in that regard, and the biggest symbol of my disappointment was President Obama's decision to order his own surge in Afghanistan rather than engaging in some kind of top-to-bottom reassessment of how we're going to act in the world. I understand that he had promised to focus on Afghanistan as a candidate. Somewhat naively, I had hoped that that was simply something he felt obliged to say on the campaign trail, but it wouldn't be a promise he felt obliged to follow up on once in office.
: News Features
, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Afghanistan, More