"Today's conservatives have conjured a mythic Reagan who never compromised with America's enemies and never shrank from a fight," says Peter Beinart in Foreign Policy. But that's a cartoonish portrait of a man who was cautious about using force, and strongly inclined to give peace a chance. During his two-term presidency, Reagan launched one land war (it lasted two days) and one air war ("even briefer"), and his nuclear weapons policy was influenced by cautionary "doomsday movies" like War Games and The Day After. He even took a distinctly "dovish" turn with the Soviet Union in his second term, establishing himself as a "radical optimist who thought that every story should have a happy ending." Here, an excerpt:
"In one sense, George W. Bush did indeed carry on Reagan's legacy. Like Reagan, and unlike most traditional conservatives, he believed that the world could be rapidly and radically improved. And like Reagan, he believed that dictators, or at least anti-American dictators, would be swept away by history's tide.
The difference is that although Reagan was optimistic about ends, he was cautious about means. His confidence that America would eventually win the Cold War was tempered by his post-Vietnam lack of confidence that the United States could easily win hot wars. He believed that history was moving America's way, but doubted that the 101st Airborne could speed it up."