Kevin O'Brien Chung, Contributor

WHEN RONALD Reagan was elected President of the United States I was stunned. How could Americans prefer this bumbling moron to the brilliantly eloquent Jimmy Carter?

Only an arrogant neo-imperialist too senile to understand that all societies develop in their own way could call the Soviet Union an 'evil empire'. The thought of such a simpleton with his hand on the nuclear button made me shudder.

Well, time has proven the views of my callow youth to be mostly nonsense.

I never could regard Ronald Reagan as a great man, for greatness to me includes articulate intelligence. In my imagination ­ for they will never happen ­ conversations with the great leave me inspired and enlightened. I couldn't even envision having an intelligent conversation with Reagan.

Revisionist historians claim he was well-read and wrote thoughtful letters and radio addresses before becoming president. But his public utterances always seemed to consist of glib sound bites amidst semi-coherent ramblings that betrayed little evidence of an outstanding mind.

Yet, if you judge by results Reagan was arguably the most effective American President since Dwight Eisenhower. His arithmetic never quite added up, but his tax cuts helped revive the American economy.

When he entered office, Latin America was a military dictator-dominated region. When he left, it had a plurality of ­ at least in name ­ democratically elected leaders. Soviet communism would eventually have collapsed under the weight of its inefficiency, but Reagan's military spending brinksmanship probably hastened its demise. When its atrocities were revealed he was proven right ­ communism was an unmitigated exercise in evil.

His 'simple' world view proved a lot more accurate than the scholarly nuanced outlook of well meaning liberals like Carter.

Individuals are inherently selfish, and if taxed too much don't work as hard. Given the opportunity people everywhere prefer to choose their own leaders. And force, whether implied or actually used, is the ultimate arbiter of disagreements among nations.


George W. Bush's confused mumblings make Reagan sound like Churchill. He cloaks himself in Orwellian doublethink such as 'weapons of mass destruction-related programme activities'.

And the huge deficits produced by his reckless spending increases and tax cuts prove he can't add. It's depressing to think that such a smug, dishonest mediocrity might become a two-time U.S. President.

In my view fiscal irresponsibility alone makes Bush unworthy of re-election. But then I also thought Reagan's deficits would bring economic disaster.

So maybe 'Dubya's' tax cuts will in time rejuvenate the U.S. economy. And perhaps his strategy of making Iraq a beachhead of Arabian democracy will eventually reduce terrorism. After September 11, America needed to make all potential terrorist-harbouring states fear its wrath, and Saddam Hussein's record made him a logical demonstration target.

The invasion was executed with astonishing incompetence, yet there is still a fair chance that in a few years Iraq will be the most democratic state in Arabia.

Whatever its inadequacies, the current Allawi administration is more representative of its people than anything Iraqis have known since 1963.

Would critics prefer a Baathist restoration? Or an Iraqi civil war? Or an al-Qaeda sheltering fundamentalist Islamic state?

Perhaps the U.S.' greatest mistake was not having enough men on the ground. An army twice as large would probably have smothered the insurgencies at birth and saved hundreds of American and thousands of Iraqi lives.

The politically correct claim brute force never solves anything. But tell that to the Carthaginians or the Incas and Aztecs. The sad truth is that in conflicts among nations, might is often right.

Take the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I understand why Jews who saw six millions of their own uprooted from their native lands and exterminated in concentration camps would want a country of their own.

But I also understand why Palestinians ejected from the land of their fathers would fight ceaselessly to regain their birthright.

Who can blame Jews for resolving that the Holocaust must never happen again? Who can blame Palestinians for refusing to accept dispossession for the sins of others?

Both sides seem utterly convinced of the righteousness of their cause and unwilling to grant their opponents even the right to exist.

Palestinians still talk of pushing Israel into the sea. Israel keeps building more settlements on Palestinian land.

Neither Ariel Sharon nor Yasser Arafat seem interested in any feasible, peaceful solution. They act as if only force can resolve their issues. And Israel is winning the battle.

The ruthless tactics of the self-righteous Sharon disgust me. The targeted assassination of any Palestinian designated a 'terrorist leader', the bulldozing of entire neighbourhoods suspected of hiding guerrillas, the building of land encroaching security barriers ­ all these grate on my liberal sensibilities.

But I grudgingly admit he has enhanced his people's security. Hamas, the leading Palestinian terrorist organisation ­ or freedom fighter, depending on who speaks ­ has been decapitated and its surviving leaders forced into hiding. Suicide bomb attacks in Israel have virtually ceased.

Israel can now dictate peace terms ­ at least until demographic realities in the West Bank and the Gaza strip catch up with it in 20 years.

By then, Sharon will be dead. For now he has proven Mao Ze Dong right once more. Political power comes out of the barrel of a gun.

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