In the flurry of praise form both sides on the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's birth, no one has reminded us that not everything went well. There were some huge blunders during the Reagan administration.
The illegal immigrant amnesty was one of them. It was supposed to be a package deal - we stop new illegal immigrants from coming in and we allow the ones already here to become citizens. Conceived as a one-shot deal, it has become the model for new amnesty proposals covering two or three times as many people as the original. In the meantime, increased border security never happened.
The Iran-Contra Affair was the biggest blemish on Reagan's administration although it had the least long-term affect. it was also extremely complicated. Around the time of Reagan's election, communists took control of Nicaragua. Reagan wanted to help the anti-communists (Contras) but many in Congress were afraid that it would turn into a new Viet Nam. Congress passed a law over Reagan's veto forbidding the US to aid the Contras. In addition, the communists had some sympathizers in the US. At the same time, Iran was in a terrible war with Iraq and six US businessmen had been taken hostage in Lebanon by Iran-funded Hezbollah. What happened was that we sold arms to Israel which sold them to Iran for a profit. The profit was sent to the Contras. This clearly flouted the law that Congress had passed. This was further complicated because there was considerable question about Congress's authority to dictate how the President conducts foreign affairs.
Oliver North who worked in the White House at the time took the blame for the operation and insisted that Reagan had no idea what had happened. Reagan told some outright lies about the scope of the arms sale. Later North admitted that Reagan had been part of the operation all along and went so far as to lecture Congress about his duty to protect the President.
The two mistakes that we are still paying for today both involve Islamic terrorism. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan during the Carter administration. Carter did very little in response to this. The Reagan administration armed the rebels with advanced weaponry and eventually the Soviets withdrew. Instead of staying and helping the Afghans to rebuild, the US also withdrew. This created a power vacuum that led to the creation of the Taliban. There are rumors that Osama bin Laudin was trained by the CIA while he was in Afghanistan but this is solely based on both having been in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
During the 1980s, the PLO took over part of Lebanon and began shelling Israel. Israel retaliated. The UN intervened and a peacekeeping force largely made up of Americans was sent to Lebanon to keep the two sides separated. In one of the first large suicide-bombings, a truck of explosives ran some roadblocks and blew up a building housing hundreds of Marines. 241 Marines were killed and the peacekeeping force was quietly withdrawn. This was one of the events that convinced Osama bin Lauden that it would be easy to drive the US out of the Mid-East (Viet Nam and Clinton's withdrawal from Somalia were the other two events.)
These last two contributed to the rise of Islamic terrorism. About the best thing that you can say for Reagan is that this was still over the horizon while communism was a current danger during his administration.