Command Posts, a group milblog in which a friend, Callie Oettinger, plays an important part, is featuring posts by Michael Reagan, commenting on his father’s 100th birthday.
I figured that if anyone from another blog deserved some space here at this roundtable, it would be Mr. Reagan. Here is a post of his that I particularly liked as it encapsulated his father’s determination as to the “ends” in the strategic trinity of “ends, ways and means”. Reagan was a rarity because as president he was the last to run an administration able to competently synchronize all three elements of strategy:
….I took my father aside in a corner of the suite and asked him, “What are you thinking about, Dad?”
“Michael,” he said wistfully, “the thing I’ll miss most by losing this nomination is that I won’t get to say ‘Nyet’ to Mr. Brezhnev. I was really looking forward to arms negotiations with the Soviets. For years, the Soviets have been telling us what we have to give up to get along with the Soviet Union. I was going to let the General Secretary of the Soviet Union choose the place, the room, and the shape of the table, because that’s how they do those things. And I was going to listen to him tell me what we would have to give up to get along with them. Then I was going to get up from the table and whisper in his ear, ‘Nyet.’ It’s been a long time since the Soviets have heard ‘Nyet’ from an American president.”
Well, 1976 wasn’t Ronald Reagan’s year—but his time was coming.
A few months later, in January 1977, defense analyst Richard V. Allen visited my father at his office in Los Angeles. During their conversation, Dad said, “My idea of American policy toward the Soviet Union is simple, and some would say simplistic. It is this: We win and they lose. What do you think of that?”
One of the key behind-the-scenes players in Dad’s administration was Herb Meyer, special assistant to CIA Director Bill Casey. “Ronald Reagan was the first Western leader whose objective was to win,” Meyer once said. “Now I suggest to you that there is a gigantic difference between playing not to lose and playing to win. It’s different emotionally, it’s different psychologically, and, of course, it’s different practically.” Ronald Reagan’s actions toward the Soviets, Meyer said, “flowed from a decision to play to win.”
This is an aspect about Ronald Reagan that is not very well understood.
I do not mean his attitude toward communism or the USSR. These things are common knowledge and were, then and even now, part of his political appeal. I mean that as a statesman Reagan was a gifted strategist. I have no idea if Reagan ever underlined sayings of Sun Tzu or pages of On War, or as president if he found his military briefings stimulating or tiresome, but if he did not study strategy, President Reagan had an intuitive grasp of its nature. He also understood, far better than the manic micromanagers, the role of a President of the United States in shepherding a strategy from formulation to execution to results.
Reagan knew that in moving policy to reality meant that choices had to be made and that part of his responsibility as Chief Executive was knowing when to get the hell out of the away, even if it meant accepting risks and costs in order to get results. The perfect, cost-free, moment of statesmanship, where all the stars align and the wind is at your back, seldom if ever, comes. Opportunities multiply when they are seized.
The war in Afghanistan might be going better today if our risk-averse rulers considered taking a page out of Reagan’s book.