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Did President Reagan Neglect National Security?

7:28 AM, Jul 25, 2012 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Mitt Romney is recounting a Jim Baker anecdote in which President Reagan ordered Baker, as White House chief of staff, to hold no national security meetings over a hundred day period early in his first term so that President Reagan and his team could focus on the economy. If the Journal's reporting is accurate—and I don't believe the Romney camp has challenged it—Romney should stop telling this false and foolish tale.

Here's the reporting: 

Mr. Romney made that clear [that he's most focused on the economy] at a July fundraiser in Montana as he rehashed the challenges Mr. Reagan faced when he took office. He recounted how [James] Baker, a former secretary of state, held a national security meeting about Latin America during the first 100 days of Mr. Reagan’s presidency. “And after the meeting, President Reagan called me in and said, ‘I want no more national-security meetings over the next 100 days—all of our time has to be focused on getting our economy going,’” Mr. Romney recalled Mr. Baker saying.

For one thing, as Marc Thiessen points out, the fact that Romney's recounting this anecdote doesn't reflect well on Romney's understanding of the job he's campaigning for:

"Given the challenges a Romney administration will face – from a spiraling Syria to key decisions on the way forward in Afghanistan to dealing with Iran’s nuclear program and the threats from al Qaeda in Yemen and East Africa – it is unlikely Romney will have the luxury of ignoring foreign policy for his first 100 days....But the fact that Romney thinks it would be desirable to ignore the world for his first 100 days is troubling. Yes, the American people are focused on the economy – and understandably so. But Romney isn’t running for treasury secretary – he is running for Commander in Chief. And those responsibilities begin on Day 1 of his presidency."

What's more, I can't believe the story is true. Or if Reagan did once say what Baker says he said, it was an expression of exasperation after one (presumably unsatisfactory) meeting that neither Reagan nor Baker followed through on. In fact, I'll buy Jim Baker a very good dinner next time he's in Washington if he or anyone else can find a 100-day stretch (or a ten-day stretch) of the Reagan presidency in which President Reagan was involved in no national security meetings. I encourage interested readers to research this eminently researchable topic, and e-mail us what you find at webeditor@weeklystandard.com. I was able to spend just a few minutes scrolling through the Reagan Foundation's helpful account of President Reagan's daily schedule, and I see no week, let alone three months, in which President Reagan doesn't seem to have held some sort of national security and foreign policy meetings. To say nothing of the fact that he ran for the presidency highlighting national security issues, and was a historic president in large part because of his national security accomplishments.

So, reminder to Mitt Romney: With respect to the presidency, national security isn't a bug; it's a feature.

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