Ronald Reagan: Peace Through Strength
by PETER HUESSY
February 5, 2011
Ronald Reagan’s three most important pillars of national security policy were (1) peace through strength; (2) trust but verify; and (3) beware of evil in the modern world. We followed that wisdom. And communism collapsed. The Soviet empire crumbled. Tyrants everywhere fell onto the ash heap of history. And emerging democracies and markets gave promise to the long held desire of human kind for peace and prosperity.
The first pillar, "strength", Reagan described was both military and economic—the two worked hand in hand. We did not apologize for our military power. It created the peace. And we did not demonize prosperity. Pursuing happiness is right there in our Constitution.
The second pillar, "agreements or deals", whether with friend or foe were, only as good as our ability to ensure their implementation. While verification was most associated with the arms control agreements Reagan negotiated with the former Soviet Union, it applied to much more. The corollary was that in the absence of verifiability, we did not trust our adversaries. Reagan was also saying: "Don't trust if you can't verify".
The third pillar, and the one often forgotten, is that Reagan understood that evil stalks the modern world. And this was true, whether it was the communism of the Soviet Union, the gulag that was Vietnam and Cambodia, or the murderous regimes in Iran, North Korea, Grenada or Cuba, or as important, their terrorist allies and accomplices.
Reagan had no illusions about Moscow’s intentions. He said as much at his very first Presidential press conference, noting that Soviet empire reserved for itself the right to lie, cheat and steal, to murder and terrorize, to achieve its goals. The audible “gasp” among the drive-by press corps at the time is well known. When his Secretary of State, Al Haig, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in May 1981 that terrorism was chiefly a Soviet “export”, the reaction in Washington was one of stunned disbelief. How Reagan could be saying such things, worried the CBS TV news anchor Walter Cronkite! Did Reagan not know this kind of rhetoric would undermine "detente"?
When CIA Director Casey asked the intelligence bureaucracy whether the Soviet Union did indeed support terrorism, the reply he got back was a real eye opener. Of course, Moscow did not support terrorism, said the agency "experts". As proof Casey was furnished a file of Pravda and Tass editorials claiming exactly that!
At the time, the chief argument against Reagan’s view of the Soviet Union was that classifying Moscow as a terrorist sponsoring state--whether true or not-- would “upset détente” and “undermine peaceful coexistence”. Reagan’s view was precisely the opposite—peace in the Soviet empire could be purchased only with its collapse, not with propping it up!
When I went to work for the administration in October 1981, my primary job was to help secure the modernization, acquisition and deployment of the whole range of our nuclear strategic forces, as well as the deployment in Europe of our INF, or Intermediate Nuclear Forces, made up of ground launched cruise and Pershing missiles.
This was the “peace through strength" pillar of Reagan’s security policy. When coupled with a strong US dollar, tax rate reductions and economic policies that pushed investment, growth and job creation, America's economy grew strong along with her military. With the decontrol of energy prices, which actually led to lower gasoline prices, the US and economies everywhere benefited. America indeed came to be seen as more and more formidable.
Arrayed against the President was the nuclear freeze movement. In Europe, the massive demonstrations against the deployment of the INF missiles later were acknowledged to have been funded by huge influxes of Soviet cash, often pegged at $300 million or more.
Some analysts credit former President Carter and Chancellor Schmidt with the agreement to place the US missiles in Europe. While yes they both had called for the deployment of such missiles, even while proposing that at some time negotiations could begin on an eventual agreement to limit or eliminate such deployments in Europe, Carter never asked for funding for the acquisition of the missiles. In short, the deal then was long on rhetoric and very short on substance.
In addition, when Reagan asked for such funding early in his administration, significant numbers of Congressmen immediately opposed such funding even though they had previously supported former President Carter's initiative with Germany. Allied with the nuclear freeze movement, (a platform being pursued by Moscow as well), these members of Congress led the charge to delete INF missile funding from the defense budget. Even though Reagan had proposed the alternative option of all such missiles being removed from Europe and Asia, (where the Russians had already deployed over a thousand INF nuclear weapons), the freeze proponents said the proposal was nothing but a ruse.
So, too, did the freeze people oppose the funding for Reagan's strategic nuclear modernization program, especially money for the Peacekeeper missile, originally known as the MX. Over a period of nearly five years, there were literally over four dozen House and Senate votes on the program. Repeatedly, we had to fight attempts to eliminate the funding not only for the Peacekeeper and INF missiles, but also for our B2 bombers, and Trident submarines that made up our strategic Triad.
In the spring of 1983, many of these issues reached a climax. The Scowcroft Commission report thoroughly endorsed the Reagan modernization program, (“strength"), while also artfully combining it with the President’s call for START reductions in nuclear weapons to half their current level, (“peace”). The latter half of the equation—major reductions in nuclear weapons—could be implemented because our satellites could determine the levels of Soviet deployments of such nuclear weapon platforms. This was the “verify” part of the “trust” equation.
At the same time, the President surprised many with his March 1981 announcement of a parallel US effort to build missile defenses, or the Strategic Defense Initiative. This was related to the third pillar of Reagan’s defense and security ledger--there were indeed evil regimes in the world. And they were building missiles for the purpose of blackmail, coercion and terror.
In the President's view, even if U.S. and Russian nuclear offensive weapons were reduced, even eliminated, the US needed the insurance policy of missile defense. It would be an added plank to the existing platform of deterrence, and would protect the American people from such weapons especially those in the hands of rogue regimes.
This is a point he would make repeatedly in his negotiations with Gorbachev in Reykjavik, that even should the US and the USSR eliminate their nuclear arsenals, there was still the need for missile defenses to defend against the rogue regime or evil dictator intent upon acquiring such weapons. Eventually the USSR conceded to removing all its deployed INF nuclear weapons from Europe and Asia, exactly as Reagan had originally called for. As the transcripts of their discussions now show, Reagan's Reykjavik arguments won the day.
But in early 1981, just as they had with the administration’s proposals on strategic modernization and START arms control, the drive-by media and their allies in academia, Hollywood and on Capitol Hill, immediately derided the missile defense proposals. An editorial in The Hartford, Connecticut Courant sneered at such a “Star Wars” proposal, as they called it. This description was immediately adopted by then Senator Kennedy in a Senate floor speech just after the President’s announcement.
At the same time, unknown to the country, but now revealed in Soviet-era archives, Kennedy was negotiating with the Soviet leadership to jointly oppose Reagan’s strategic modernization effort, including nuclear forces, missile defense and the deployment of the all-important INF missiles in Europe, specifically in Great Britain, Germany, Italy and Holland.
Through the intermediary of former Senator John Tunney, a school classmate and family friend, Kennedy told the Soviet leadership that alone their public relations skills were no match for Reagan. But he proposed that in a joint effort, the Soviet leaders and the Senator could undertake their own combined public relations campaign to counter what Kennedy referenced the war mongering of the Reagan administration. Reagan was a threat to world peace said the Senator, not the Soviets.
This was at a time of potentially grave peril for the United States. In the span of two years, Pope John II, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and President Ronald Reagan all came into office. Nevertheless, assassins had tried to kill all three of these great leaders with bullets and bombs.
We now know they combined in an historic effort to end the evil of the Soviet empire, which they did successfully. At the time, however, their efforts were derided and sneered at by the supposed smart people, especially those chosen by the drive-by media as explainers of great events. (As Peter Jennings said when asked whether the US won the 1991 Gulf War, “Only if we say so is it true"!). Moreover, as I noted, as has now been revealed by documents from the Soviet archives, a sitting US Senator was brazenly proposing to work with the Soviet Politburo to undermine the security of the United States.
Fortunately, Reagan's proposed US strategic modernization program was approved. The combined might of the US and its allies forced the Soviets to negotiate on our terms. Their military hold over Eastern Europe could then be challenged, first by Solidarity in Poland and then by Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia. The Soviet Union then collapsed and hundreds of millions of people were liberated as the communist evil empire ended.
Unfortunately, the US then gradually proceeded to forget these very important Reagan pillars, or "lessons of history". The late President had specifically warned us about this problem of "civilizational forgetfulness" in his 1988 farewell address. In "While America Sleeps", Donald and Frederick Kagan warned that the US was deluding itself into believing military weakness would not have terrible consequences for the future.
A peace dividend was declared too rapidly, and American forces were dropped to dangerous levels.
We were told it was the end of history, in that the military strength needed to end the Cold War and defend freedom, keep the peace and promote liberty was increasingly viewed as no longer necessary.
As a result, our foreign and security policy was adrift. America appeared to be retreating from the world. Nowhere was this more evident than in the way we treated the threat of state sponsored terrorism.
Remember, the terrorism that visited the US over Lockerbie in December 1998, in New York at the World Trade Center in 1993, in Oklahoma in 1995 was dismissed as nothing more than the actions of disgruntled "unaffiliated terrorists" or "radicals". President Clinton, at the time, went so far as to blame the bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City not on the two arrested defendants but what he imagined had motivated them--the sharp criticisms of the US Government heard on talk radio and in the halls of the US Congress. (Sound familiar?)
While Clinton claimed then that such anti-government criticism was out of bounds, he now has changed his tune. Ironically, just weeks ago, he said specifically that terrorism directed at the United States was indeed largely due to our lack of having created a Palestinian state, implicitly agreeing that the "grievances" animating terrorism against the US in fact had merit!!
Thus, criticisms of his administration a decade and a half ago by domestic critics had no merit, in fact were even dangerous. However, today, terrorist claims of grievances against the US are in fact animated by legitimate concerns over the Palestinians.
Thus it is that the former President can claim that most terrorism goes away once a Palestinian state is established. Perhaps we now can understand why his administration became so obsessed with Oslo and the “peace process”. They saw it, in part, as the chief means to end terrorism, a narrative shared by too many in academia, the US Foreign Service, our media and members of Congress. Nevertheless, as we know now in hindsight, one concession after another in the peace process by our ally Israel did not end terrorism, it increased it!
Each concession was met in response with back-to-back Palestinian Intifadas. And eventually, Hamas, a terrorist regime, was established in Gaza and Hezbollah became a terrorist partner with the government in Lebanon. Some peace process!
Terrorist regimes are not animated by any concern with the Palestinians or other "grievances". Their pursuit of nuclear weapons will not be suddenly turned aside with the creation of a Palestinian state, or for that matter, the end of the Mubarak regime in Egypt. The nuclear dangers we see in the world—nuclear bombs in North Korea, a nuclear weapons program in Iran, and a growing arsenal of nuclear weapons in Pakistan—are the result of regimes seeking such weapons to further their terrorist wars against our allies and us and to seek totalitarian rule over their own people and others.
One of their accomplices is the Moslem Brotherhood, which now seeks to seize power in Egypt. Too many are simply ignoring this danger. The vast majority of Egyptians want neither the radical totalitarianism of the Brotherhood nor the authoritarian corruption of the Mubarak regime.
But, unfortunately, US military power, represented symbolically by the current government of Egypt because of its association and alliance with us, is the enemy of many on the radical left. They are fueled almost exclusively by an antipathy to such military power. And by association, as we noted above, to the Mubarak government.
Thus we hear the claim that whatever the outcome of a rapid transfer of power, "anything is better" than the current Mubarak regime. This is not because the potential alternative of the Muslim Brotherhood is necessarily better, but because the current government in Egypt is a metaphor for US military and economic power, which the left despises.
So as Jamie Glazov of FrontPage has warned, the Marxist left may again join forces with the Islamic totalitarians. Can an alternative be found? Is there time for Mubarak to step aside and for the Egyptian government to establish fair, transparent and open principals for new elections and allow for the creation of political parties dedicated to democratic principals?
Doing so over time would allow the people of Egypt to turn their attention and energy to build the political parties necessary to contest for elections later this year. This is what many senior elements in the Egyptian leadership, especially the military are pursuing. But the danger is that all elements of the current government, even the military, become to be seen as nothing more than an extension of Mubarak. This may happen if the street violence continues. Thus, even if the Egyptian President steps down, the only alternative may indeed end up being the most ruthless and organized opposition, and that may indeed include the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies.
Unfortunately, two problems could lead to such an eventuality. First, the Mubarak forces apparently are using police and internal security folks to loot and instigate violence on the streets. Such government action can only heighten the chances for radicals to gain strength.
This occurs even as the military--wanting Mubarak to step aside and favorable to expanded political discourse-- has given the green light for ordinary Egyptians to take steps to provide for their own security.
And second, a new hero of the far left and much of the American drive-by media is El Baradei, the former Director of the International Atomic Energy Administration in Vienna. He is Egyptian but utterly disliked by most Egyptians, having lived abroad most of his life.
The IAEA is an organization designed to watch over the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. However, ElBaradei while Director was nothing more than an agent of the Iranian mullahs. He did their dirty work in Vienna, refusing to believe Iran was doing anything other than pursuing peaceful nuclear energy.
He opposed the US at every turn. According to IAEA sources, he deliberately cooked the books on assessments of Iran’s nuclear program, telling his IAEA nuclear watchdogs to remain facedown, sound asleep in their bowls of Viennese Alpo.
Unfortunately, ElBaradei is apparently allied with the Muslim Brotherhood. He has denied the latter has any roots in violence or enmity towards the United States or Israel. In reality, the poisonous networks of which the Muslim Brotherhood is a part represent a dire threat to the US and its allies and to Egypt. They cannot be allowed in any way to seize power in Egypt.
Why? Precisely because they are part and parcel of the same broad totalitarian element represented by the twin evil regimes in Iran and Syria. Included also should be the regime accomplices, those which have furnished them (1) rockets and nuclear weapons technology—such as North Korea, Russia, Pakistan and China, and (2) financial and energy assistance, such as Venezuela and China and their trading partners in Europe.
Thus, it is we must see Egypt within the context of the current struggle with Iran, terrorist sponsoring states in general and the rogue development of nuclear weapons. Saddam Hussein was within months of a nuclear weapon in 1991 according to the UN top-notch inspectors Mr. Ekeus and Mr. Butler. They illustrated the dangers of “trust but do not verify” which apparently had been the policy of El Baradei’s predecessor Hans Blix at the IAEA, a policy that was continued by ElBaradei with respect to Libya, Iran, Syria and North Korea.
Thus it is that when judging our policy in Egypt we must be mindful of Reagan’s three pillars. First, strength, both military and economic, is indispensable to liberty, freedom and peace. An Egypt allied with the US is critical to that condition. Second, to accept the promises of a terrorist group such as the Muslim Brotherhood--"trust"-- to renounce violence has about as much chance to be verifiable as finding virtue in an Amsterdam cathouse. And third, as for evil, former President Bush was right, as was Reagan before him. There is indeed such power as evil in the world, an "axis of evil" if you will, whether represented by the gulag in North Korea, the prisons in Tehran, or the mass graves in Syria.
Saddam Hussein murdered upwards of three million of his own people and the Taliban executed tens of thousands. Both supported terror attacks against the United States and its allies.
Thus, in supporting a transformation in Egypt, which we are doing, we must therefore be mindful of Reagan’s three pillars. A strong Egypt allied with the US is necessary for the Middle East to flourish. This includes a military alliance with the US, despite the protestations of the radical left.
Any government that comes to power in Egypt should also be transparent as to its aims. This is contrary to the assertion that a “roll of the dice” that might bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power is somehow preferable to an Egyptian government still directed by Mubarak.
And finally, we as a country must understand that the potential terrorist evil directed at America and her friends could become infinitely more terrible if the most populous nation in the Arab world falls to the totalitarian elements within the region. We may not be able to direct events in Cairo, but US leadership remains indispensable to “provide for the common defense”. Reagan’s three pillars are a guide to that Constitutional imperative. (This was originally written for Big Peace on the 100th anniversary of President Reagan’s birthday).
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Peter Huessy is on the Board of the Maryland Taxpayers Association and is President of Geostrategic Analysis of Potomac, Maryland, a national security firm.