During his first press conference after taking office in January 1981, US President Ronald Reagan called détente a "one-way street that the Soviet Union has used to pursue its own aims." Echoing this remark while addressing reporters later the same day, Secretary of State Alexander Haig said that the Soviets were the source of much support for international terrorism, especially in Latin and Central America.
The following day, both Reagan and Haig were criticized for their remarks, with members of the media describing the president's words as "reminiscent of the chilliest days of the Cold War," and appalled that the administration's top diplomat was accusing the Russians of backing terrorist activities.
Nearly four decades later, in spite of the successful defeat of the Soviet empire, the White House is still frowned upon when it adopts a tough stance towards America's enemies. Today's outrage is directed at President Donald Trump's warnings about -- and to -- North Korea and Iran. The Washington Post called his recent "fire and fury" threats to Pyongyang a "rhetorical grenade," for example, echoing top Democrats' attacks on his remarks for being "reckless" and "irresponsible."
Critics of Trump's attitude towards Tehran go equally far, describing his opposition to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) -- the nuclear deal with Iran -- as "rushing headlong into war."
Trump's detractors, however, are just as wrong as those who berated Reagan in 1981. Experience has shown that soft rhetoric and so-called "smart diplomacy" have served only to enable North Korea and Iran to produce more nuclear weapons and better ballistic missiles.
Although the JCPOA stipulates that Iran is not permitted to produce more than a certain quantity of enriched uranium or to enrich uranium beyond a certain level, not only has the International Atomic Energy Agency (IEAE) been prevented from monitoring Iranian compliance, but it is not pushing the issue for fear that "Washington would use an Iranian refusal as an excuse to abandon the JCPOA."
Furthermore, among its many other flaws, the JCPOA does not address Iran's ballistic-missile capabilities or financing of global terrorism.
Nevertheless, it is the administration's rhetoric that is under attack. Isn't it high time for the media and foreign-policy establishment to wake up to the reality that seeing regimes as they are, rather than as we wish them to be, is the only way to confront our enemies effectively, and with the least number of casualties?
Peter Huessy is president of GeoStrategic Analysis, a defense consulting firm he founded in 1981.