[Marxism] Walden Bello on Reagan

Peter McLaren mclaren at gseis.ucla.edu
Sat Jun 12 09:04:46 MDT 2004

By Walden Bello*

One thing you can say about Ronald Reagan: he knew when to cut
and run.  When a suicide bomber took the lives of 241 US marines
in Lebanon in 1983, he withdrew the US intervention force without
batting an eyelash, keen to avoid what he and his advisers feared
was a morass that could compromise the US strategically.  His
stubborn ideological successor at the White House could take a
few lessons from him on when to retreat.

The Lebanon withdrawal, however, is the one positive element that
this writer sees in the Reagan record.

His strategic policy was scary: to get Washington to achieve
decisive nuclear superiority over the Soviet Union and prepare it for
the possibility of a "limited nuclear war" with the Soviets.  D?tente
was abandoned and the number of potential targets in the Soviet
Union was raised from 25,000 to an astounding 50,000 sites by his
nuclear war planners.

It was actually in the Third World, however, that Reagan waged
war, and he did it with the gusto of a playground bully where and
when he could get away with it.  Early on, he invaded minuscule
Grenada and ousted its left- leaning government, with his diplomats
manufacturing a "request" for intervention from the little known
Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).  Also brazen in
its violation of international law was his mining of Nicaragua's
harbors and his financing and arming of mercenaries-the "contras"-
to try to bring down the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.  Then
there was the 1986 bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi-an effort to
murder Muam mar Khaddafy via the use of "surgical" airpower that,
instead, ended up killing, the Libyan strongman's daughter and
scores of innocent Libyan civilians.

Upon news of Reagan's election, the right wing in El Salvador
celebrated with firecrackers.  They were not to be disappointed.
Neither was Ferdinand Marcos, to whom Reagan's emissary
George H.W. Bush offered the followin g toast in Manila in a 1981
visit:  "We love you, sir...We love your adherence to democratic
rights and processes."  It took tremendous pressure on the part of
State Department pragmatists like then Undersecretary Michael
Armacost to get Reagan to abandon Marcos during the People's
Power Uprising in 1986.  But while giving in to political realities,
Reagan made sure to ensconce his good friend Ferdinand
comfortably in exile in Hawaii.

Reagan and his ideological partner Margaret Thatcher initiated the
neoliberal free-market revolution that ended the post-war
compromise between management and labor in the North and
swept away development-oriented policie s in the global South.

It is said that Reagan did not believe in income redistribution.  He
did, so long as it was in favor of the rich.  In the North, anti-union
policies, indiscriminate layoffs, tight budgets, and social security
cuts gutted the income of the working masses.  The statistics are
telling:  Between 1979 and 1989 in the US, the hourly wages of 80
per cent of the work force declined, with the wage of the typical (or
median) worker falling by nearl y 5 per cent in real terms.  By the
end of the Republican era in 1992, the bottom 60 per cent of the
population had the lowest share, and the top 20 per cent the
highest share, of total income ever recorded.  And indeed, among
the top 20 per cent, wealth gains were concentrated among the top
one per cent, which captured 53 per cent of the total income
growth among all families.

Reagan's Treasury Department took advantage of third world
countries' massive indebtedness to US commercial banks to push
them to adopt radical programs of trade liberalization, deregulation,
and privatization that were administered by the International
Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank under the rubric of
"structural adjustment."  For most of the developing world, the
1980's came to be known as the "Lost Decade."

In Latin America, owing to structural adjustment, the number of
people living in poverty rose from 130 million in 1980 to 180 million
by the beginning of the 1990s.  In most countries, the burden of
adjustment policies fe ll disproportionately on low-income and
middle-income groups while the top five per cent of the population
in most countries retained or increased its income share.  By the
beginning of the nineties, the top 20 per cent o f the continent's
population was earning 20 times that earned by the poorest 20 per

In Africa, structural adjustment was one of the key factors that led
to an astonishing drop in per capita income by over two per cent
per year in the 1980s, so that at the end of the decade, per capita
income had plunged to its level at the time of independence in the
1960s and some 200 of the region's 690 million people were
classified as poor by the World Bank.  Surveying the devastated
landscape created by free-market programs, the Wor ld Bank's
chief economist for Africa admitted:  "We did not think that the
human costs of these programs could be so great, and the
economic gains so slow in coming."

Even key US allies in the Cold War felt the Reagan sting.
Demanding more liberal terms for the entry of US goods and
investments into the "Newly Industrializing Countries" (NICs) of
East Asia, a Reagan subordinate warned : "Although the NICs may
be regarded as tigers because they are strong, ferocious traders,
the analogy has a darker side.  Tigers live in the jungle and by the
law of the jungle.  They are a shrinking population."  Trade warfare
was waged against South Korea, so that in the space of four years,
the US' massive trade deficit with that country was turned into a
trade surplus.  Washington also forced Tokyo to drastically raise
the value of t he yen relative to the dollar, to reduce imports from
Japan and increase exports there; this was one of the factors that
eventually led to that country's long recession in the 1990s.

If I were asked what epitaph I would write for Ronald Reagan, it
would be "Here lies a man who was good for the upper 20 per cent
of his fellow Americans and his rich and powerful buddies
elsewhere, but bad for the rest o f us."

Oh yes, Reagan gave this left-wing exile political asylum in the US
in 1985, but that, I have been assured, was the result of a
bureaucratic foul-up.  But, thank you anyway, Mr. Reagan, and do
rest in peace.  

* Walden Bello is executive director of the Bangkok-based Focus
on the Global South and professor of sociology and public
administration at the University of the Philippines.

Number 100, June 2004

Direct link to this issue: http://www.focusweb.org/pdf/fot100.pdf.

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