Leading Article: Ronald Reagan's Achievements Should Not Blind Us to the Failings of His Presidency

Article excerpt

THIS HAS been a weekend for remembering. The 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings focused our minds on the 1940s and the great drama of the Second World War. The death of the former US President Ronald Reagan forced us to contemplate the 1980s and the equally dramatic denouement of the Cold War. The benign legacy of the first is beyond doubt; the second is more ambiguous.

In the eyes of many, President Reagan is quite simply the man who defeated the mighty Soviet Union. His decision to concentrate huge resources on building up America's armed forces and updating its weapons systems threw down the gauntlet to the Soviet Union. It couldn't keep up, so the argument goes, and collapsed trying. Of course Reagan's boldness was not the only factor in the Soviet collapse - it was in decline long before - but he certainly deserves credit for recognising the moral bankruptcy of the regime and putting pressure on the Soviet leadership.

Reagan's other great achievement was in making America feel good about itself - no mean feat in a country still scarred by the trauma of the Watergate scandal and the failings of Jimmy Carter's presidency. His optimistic manner helped to restore the nation's confidence, and his folksy rhetoric belied a subtle intelligence. Anyone listening to his addresses today will realise why he became known as The Great Communicator. But we should also remember the less benign aspects of Reagan's presidency. He was right to stand up to the Soviet Union but his methods were often suspect. The strategic defence initiative, more commonly known as Star Wars, was a visionary Reagan project, but a flawed one. The President's stubborness on this scuppered a promising agreement with the Russians at the Reykiavik summit in 1986. It is depressing that the project lives on in the form of George Bush's National Missile Defence plans.

And Reagan's interference in Central America was shameful. He claimed that the invasion of Grenada in 1983 and attempts to overthrow the left- wing Nicaraguan government were part of the grand objective of preventing the spread of Communism. …