Ah…those teary eyed worshipers of Ronald Reagan, spouting his greatness.
Worse president ever?? I can hear the screams now, especially those who actually desire to put him on Mt. Rushmore right next to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.
So how could I even remotely think that he is the worse president ever?
Because his actions and words almost killed us all. Thermonuclear war and the destruction of the world.
To explain, lets go back in history….
KGB director Yuri Andropov, then chairman of KGB, was one of the “ole school” cold war warriors and he was convinced that Reagan and the United States were preparing for a “first-strike” nuclear launch.
To determine if this was true, as chairman of the KGB he instructed all his KGB spies to be on the lookout for telltale clues when this strike was to occur. Known as Project RYAN, these KGB agents took on a tremendous surveillance program to gather information from the United States and NATO.
The United States were installing Pershing II missiles in Europe that were designed to be launched from road-mobile vehicles, making the launch sites very hard to find. The flight time from West Germany to European Russia was only four to six minutes (approximate flying time from six to eight minutes from West Germany to Moscow), giving the Soviets little or no warning.
Not even giving time for the Soviet leaders to see a counter attack, much less time to respond to it.
Then on March of 1983, Ronald Reagan publicly announced development of the SDI program. In addition, he ordered the increase of PSYOP operations against the Soviets. These operations consisted of bombers flying as close to Soviet Airspace to test their response times and naval ships stealthily going into Soviet waters near the Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom known as the GIUK gap, and the Barents, Norwegian, Black, and Baltic seas.
Soviet leadership felt that the use of SDI technology was to render America invulnerable to Soviet attack, thereby allowing the US to launch missiles against the USSR with no fear of retaliation from the first strike scenario.
This concern about a surprise attack prompted sudden expansion and final step of the RYAN program. Reagan had dramatically stepped up his rhetoric, calling the Soviet Union the evil empire. Also Reagan, not knowing that the microphone was on, jokingly at one press conference declared the Soviet Union was illegal and they begin bombing in 5 minutes. Ha Ha…what a kidder.
In September of 1983, the Soviets shot down Korean Airliner KAL 007 near Moneron Island and the United States really laid on the international pressure, condemning the Soviets with unusually harsh wording on the diplomatic world. Relations with the Soviets were at an all time hot level.
Another incident in September caused by a flaw in a new Soviet radar system caused a false alarm that required lieutenant colonel Stanislav Petrov to second guess about a glitch showing missiles launched from the United States. There has been a couple of posts here on MMA about this incident later known as “The man who saved the World”.
So that is the situation, the Soviets think that a first strike plan is in it’s final stages. Diplomatic relations are at a all time low because of Reagan rhetoric about the Evil Empire. Reagan also refuses to stop the Pershing II missile program in Europe and Star Wars SDI program.
The KGB were ABSOLUTELY convinced that a first strike was going to happen in the next few months. All that was left were a certain sequence of events to occur that Project Ryan had determined would be the final indicators needed.
When those indicators occurred, the KGB would recommend the Soviets do a “Use them or lose them” first strike before the United States destroyed their country.
These indicators started to occur when NATO began one of the largest military exercises and simulations in history.
Known as Archer Able, this was an exercise to use all US and Nato forces to simulate as close as possible a war that went from DefCon 5 to DefCon 1.
In other words, simulate a nuclear war with the Soviets just when they were expecting a real one.
During the exercise, procedures and communications methods were used that had previously never been monitored by the Soviets.
One of the major indications defined by Project Ryan was a huge increase in coded messages defined as “nuclear consultation” between the United States and Great Britain. Soviet analysts started picking up a huge increase in such coded messages between the United States and the UK starting in October, 1983.
But in reality, the burst of communication regarded the US invasion of Grenada on October 25, 1983, which caused a great deal of diplomatic traffic as the sovereign of the island was Queen Elizabeth II.
Upon learning that US nuclear activity mirrored its hypothesized first strike activity, the Moscow Centre sent its residencies a flash telegram on November 8 incorrectly reporting an alert on American bases and frantically asking for further information regarding an American first strike. The alert precisely coincided with the seven- to ten-day period estimated between NATO’s preliminary decision and an actual strike.
While these phases were simulated, alarmist KGB agents mistakenly reported them as actual. According to Soviet intelligence, NATO doctrine stated, “Operational readiness No 1 is declared when there are obvious indications of preparation to begin military operations. It is considered that war is inevitable and may start at any moment.
The Soviets went into condition Orange, a level of preparedness for nuclear attack that was expected to occur within the next 36 hours. Believing its only chance of surviving a NATO strike was to preempt it, the Soviets started to ready its nuclear arsenal, preparing for launch.
Meanwhile the CIA started reporting activity in the Soviet Union, especially in the Baltic Military District, in Czechoslovakia, and it determined that nuclear capable aircraft in Poland and East Germany were placed “on high alert status with readying of nuclear strike forces”.
The perfect storm of events and words that created the possibility of mankinds destruction.
But on November 11th, the Archer Able military exercises completed. All operations went back to normal and the Soviets returned to normal military operations.
The United States and NATO were completely unaware of what really caused the event until later, when a KGB double agent, Oleg Gordievsky, informed British Intelligence on what occurred.
Informed of this information, Reagan responded with “genuine anxiety” in disbelief that a regular NATO exercise could have led to an armed attack. To the ailing Politburo—led from the deathbed of the terminally ill Andropov, a man with no firsthand knowledge of the United States, and the creator of Operation RYAN—it seemed “that the United States was preparing to launch … a sudden nuclear attack on the Soviet Union”.
In his memoirs, Reagan, without specifically mentioning Able Archer 83—he states earlier that he cannot mention classified information—wrote of a 1983 realization:
Three years had taught me something surprising about the Russians: Many people at the top of the Soviet hierarchy were genuinely afraid of America and Americans. Perhaps this shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did … During my first years in Washington, I think many of us in the administration took it for granted that the Russians, like ourselves, considered it unthinkable that the United States would launch a first strike against them. But the more experience I had with Soviet leaders and other heads of state who knew them, the more I began to realize that many Soviet officials feared us not only as adversaries but as potential aggressors who might hurl nuclear weapons at them in a first strike.
Here was our “leader”, a man in charge of the most destructive force in the world, creating one of the most heated political situations against a paranoid adversary with the same destructive potential.
Reagan’s grandstanding and his famous “Great Communicator” sound bites that made him so popular, served him well during his political career. A skill that got him elected president.
But words have meaning and create actions on the international stage that he never fully understood as the president. Reagan created a political situation with a couple of years of “baiting the bear” and narrowly escaped by just days, perhaps by hours even… unparalleled nuclear disaster that only luck prevented.
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a learning curve and hindsight when it comes to nuclear war.
So that is why I think that President Reagan was the worst president ever.