President Obama, like President Reagan, is a pragmatist who entered office amidst a financial crisis and the specter of war. Reagan's first year as president was only about seven years removed from March 29, 1973, the official end of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. The deaths of 58,282 American soldiers hovered over his foreign policy decisions and Reagan's boldest military move was invading the Caribbean island of Grenada. While Iraq and Afghanistan are two of the longest wars in U.S. history (Afghanistan is the longest war), with insurgents, Al-Qaeda, and roadside bombs harassing U.S. troops daily, the invasion of Grenada was a different story. Grenada was the smallest independent country in the Western Hemisphere and Reagan's invasion took less than four months to win. Furthermore, nationwide unemployment was 10.8% in 1982 and interest rates reached 20% in 1981. Aside from the various economic and political similarities faced by both leaders, there's one thing Dick Cheney and other critics fail to remember when evaluating the current president: Obama's uncanny ability to emulate Ronald Regan.
Conservatives bemoan the failure of leadership pertaining to Benghazi, but fail to mention Reagan's reaction to the 1983 bombing of Marine barracks in Beirut. Indeed, Bengahzi was a tragedy that killed four Americans, but Regan presided over a terrorist attack that murdered 241 Americans. According to Tim McCoskey, a Beirut bombing survivor, the carnage resulting from a suicide bomber driving a truck full of explosives was devastating:
I couldn't believe my eyes. The barracks building was gone. The four-story building where hundreds of Marines with the Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, lived was gone... The building was like nothing I'd ever seen. Everything was mangled. Dust was flying everywhere so it was difficult to breathe. People walked around who had just gotten out of the building. They were full of concrete dust. Some were bloody.
It was soon discovered that the attack was the result of Hezbollah militants acting under orders from Iran. Reagan's reaction to the loss of 241 Americans and a virtual declaration of war from Iran was to withdraw U.S. presence in Beirut and stay out of the bloody war in Lebanon. Like Obama with Syria, Reagan wanted no part of a civil war in the Middle East.
As for claims that the Obama's administration is even more secretive than the Nixon White House, at least he didn't sell weapons to Iran and use the money to fund a rebel group. The Iran-Contra Affair is one of the most frightening scandals in U.S. history, primarily because Congress was never notified of the illegal arms deal. As summarized by PBS.org, this chapter in Reagan's presidency was the antithesis of the Great Communicator's lasting image among conservatives:
In 1985, while Iran and Iraq were at war, Iran made a secret request to buy weapons from the United States... While probing the question of the arms-for-hostages deal, Attorney General Edwin Meese discovered that only $12 million of the $30 million the Iranians reportedly paid had reached government coffers. Then-unknown Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North of the National Security Council explained the discrepancy: he had been diverting funds from the arms sales to the Contras, with the full knowledge of National Security Adviser Admiral John Poindexter and with the unspoken blessing, he assumed, of President Reagan.
Furthermore, Reagan vehemently denied the arms sales ever took place, but then withdrew his statement a week later. One could only imagine how Fox News would react if Obama sold weapons to Iran, diverted the funds to a rebel group, and then lied about these activities on national television. He might be secretive like other presidents, but Obama's secrecy pales in comparison to the Iran-Contra Affair.
Finally, Obama's reaction to the Ukraine crisis mirrors Reagan's Cold War policies towards the USSR. Like the current president, Reagan never fired a shot at the USSR and preferred five direct talks with Gorbachev over threats of war. As stated by the Heritage Foundation, Reagan's personal touch meant a great deal:
Ronald Reagan was a strong believer in personal diplomacy - the idea of having a face-to-face discussion with those he was seeking to persuade. That's why, after becoming president, he often talked privately about the desire to engage the leader of the Soviet Union in a one-on-one conversation, to diminish any fear of the United States' intentions and to seek common ground for reducing tensions and promoting peace.
Although the Heritage Foundation would never compliment Obama on his desire to "seek common ground" with Putin or any other American adversary, Reagan's "personal diplomacy" is considered a sign of strength. Echoing Reagan's personal touch during the Ukraine crisis, Obama recently met Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk at the White House and spoke with Vladimir Putin about the Ukraine crisis. These attempts at a "personal touch" were condemned as weak and ineffectual by many pundits.
While conservatives like Dick Cheney and others celebrate Reagan's strength and leadership, imagine their reaction had Obama presided over Reagan-era scandals. Obama has had nothing close to the Iran-Contra Affair or Beirut barracks bombing attack during his tenure as Commander-in-Chief. Needless to say, Obama had nothing close to the 2,977 murdered by terrorists on 9/11-under Bush's watch. A closer analysis of Obama and Reagan will reveal some interesting similarities and certain startling facts to conservatives. More American lives were lost from terrorism under Reagan (not to mention Bush), the Gipper's White House was far less transparent, and both presidents engaged in personal diplomacy with Russia's leaders.