Great post Sean. It really is interesting that all of a sudden the media has lost all interest in the dramatic events in the Middle East so that they can concentrate on domestic trivialities. Things are going well over there . . . ah crap . . . well, whats that nutcase Michael Jackson up to?
However, Reagan was anything but an adherent of realism. While it is true he did nothing to challenge the status quo of the Middle East in his day, he was without question an idealist when it came to tackling Communism. When he went to Berlin and issued his famous challenge to the Russians to tear down this wall, he was poking the eye of every realist in the West.
He did it in other ways as well. The arms race, his support of the Afghan resistance and his efforts to keep oil prices down (in order to prevent the Russians from earning much money on their chief export) were all actions predicated on his belief that the Soviet economy had been worn out by years of communism, and that with a few punches to the nutsack the bear would collapse and clutch its groin in agony. All of this was well outside of the realist foreign policy that had been forged by Nixon and Kissinger. And Reagan, like Bush, was regarded as a war monger and a simpleton because of his belief that the world could change, and that he could be the one to change it.
What makes Bush and Reagan kindred spirits is their mutual recognition that reality is not static. Empires rise and fall, gods are abandoned and new powers rise up. They both realized that the United States is potentially a powerful agent of change, that this country can use its power to shape a better reality for the world. What Reagan did to the Commies, Bush is doing to the Islamo-fascists. They are each idealists, though in different spheres.
Sean Adds: Good stuff, Noah. I should clarify my statements, though. In no way could you equate Carter or Clinton's blunders in "Realism" with what I believe were realist policies from the Reagan team. Carter (a disgrace to the presidency overall IMHO) sat on an air-hose while the Khomeini regime knocked the Shah out of power, creating the modern Caliphate in Iran. The aftershock of this epic misjudgment was felt dearly by America on 9/11. He had insiders actually telling him that the Mullahs would be a force for human rights and equality in the region-- an idea that evaporated when we watched the embassy and hostages get taken.
Clintonian realism was most effectively exposed with his idea of legitimizing Yassir Arrafat, effectively granting a vehicle for immense graft and torture to a tyrant. These were mistakes of a supposedly realistic view-- that the reason for the mess in the Middle East is that we never properly included them.
Reagan, in my view, had more pressing issues at hand when he was in the hot seat. The threat from Communism at that point in history can not be overstated. Imagine if the Soviets had stuck around for just a few years more. The current pace of technological advancement (Moore's law, or whatever you choose to call it) didn't really come to fruition until the early 90's. But with the massive revolution in information and military technology upon us, isn't it comforting that we don't have the largest organized slaughtering machine ever devised pointing thousands of nukes at us?
Reagan is a man whose legacy is greater than what you see. He didn't guide us through the apocalypse, he made certain that it never happened. To achieve that, he (and others before him) made some nasty bedfellows in Latin America. In Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua etc., resistance to Marxism was presided over by some pretty rough characters. It seems to me that Reagans' idealism was tempered by ugly realities in those situations. His hand was forced by the bloodiest regime in history.