Reagan: Strategy of the Indirect Approach
President Reagan and the Strategy of the Indirect Approach
Trying to explain Ronald Reagan’s love of free-market capitalism and his abhorrence of communism will, no doubt, provide employment for pundits and psycho-babblers for time immemorial. Economics is called the dismal science. Inexplicably, it was Reagan’s major in college. Later, he became a disciple of free-market economists such as: Joseph Schumpeter, Friedrich von Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Milton Friedman, Arthur Laffer and Congressman Jack Kemp.
Reagan’s abhorrence of communism is much easier to explain. As a board member for the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), he found himself in a power struggle with labor organizer, Herb Sorrel, a card-carrying member of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA). Sorrel believed in Lenin’s dictum: “Of all the arts, the cinema is the most important.” Sorrel had been ordered by the CPUSA to capture Hollywood’s labor unions for the purpose of turning the movie industry into an even greater propaganda organ of the Soviet Union.
Sorrel engineered a strike. Reagan led the fight against the strike, and broke it. Sorrel had acid thrown in one actor’s face, and sent word Reagan was next. Reagan armed himself with a revolver, and hired guards to protect his wife and children.
Unfortunately, he got no support from his wife actress Jane Wyman. While Reagan was fighting the communists, she began an affair with the pacifist actor, Lew Ayres, and then sued Reagan for divorce. Having your life threatened by communists and then losing your wife to a pro-communist, conscientious objector, tends to harden one’s attitude.
All this may explain Reagan’s response when his future National Security Advisor, Dr. Richard V. Allen, asked Reagan to outline his approach to the Soviet Union. Reagan said, “We win. They lose.” Fortunately, as President, Reagan understood the USSR’s advantage in nuclear weapons and missiles. So, he opted for “the indirect approach.”
Ronald Reagan was an avid reader of books on foreign affairs, strategy and tactics. Presumably, he read: Strategy: The Indirect Approach by Sir Basil Liddell-Hart. But, if not a reader of Sir Basil, Reagan was certainly a practitioner of the indirect approach.
For some recent examples of the indirect approach, look no further than Gulf War I and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Both Generals Norman Schwarzkopf and Tommy Franks gave Saddam Hussein the idea that they were going follow a certain major axis of attack and then did almost exactly the opposite. In both wars, Generals Schwarzkopf and Franks adhered to Liddell-Hart’s dictum: “The desired effect [is] to render enemy forces ineffective without a decisive battle.”
So what was President Reagan’s indirect approach to: “We win. They lose”? First, to increase our defense budget from four percent of our gross national product to seven percent in an arms race during which the Soviets would have to dedicate one third of their economy just to keep up. Second, begin the Strategic Defense Initiative designed to render the Soviet nuclear arsenal of no use. Third, conspire with the Saudis to drop the price of oil from $40 to $9 dollars per barrel, thereby, luring most of the USSR’s oil customers away from the notoriously inefficient Soviet oil industry and robbing the Soviets of the income needed to stay in the arms race. Forth, wage a personal diplomacy campaign designed to convince Soviet Premier, Mikhail Gorbachev, of our peaceful intentions. Poor Gorbachev, who had inherited 70 years of Soviet economic failure, had no choice but to watch the Soviet system end “with a whimper instead of a bang.”
Thus, the elites in academe and in our left-leaning media who thought President Reagan was an “amiable dunce,” were caught with Quiche Lorraine all over their faces when President Ronald Reagan brought the Soviet Union to its knees and made the world a safer place, not just for us, but for all of humankind. The late Sir Basil Liddell-Hart would have been proud.
William Hamilton, a syndicated columnist, a featured commentator for USA Today and the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy and The Panama Conspiracy – two thrillers about terrorism directed against the United States – is a former professor of history at Nebraska Wesleyan University.
©2004. William Hamilton.