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Committee on Financial Services

United States House of Representatives

Archive Press Releases

Jeane J. Kirkpatrick
Senior Fellow, American Enterprise Institute
Leavey Professor of Government, Georgetown University

March 15, 2000

United States of America
106th Congress
Committee on Banking and Financial Services
Subcommittee on Domestic and International Monetary Policy

H.R. 3591


I welcome the opportunity to testify in these timely and important hearings on the bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Ronald and Nancy Reagan. The contributions of President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan to the United States have been many and important.

I am especially pleased that the Congress is considering an honor in which Mrs. Reagan participates fully. In my view her contributions have been very large and deserving of recognition.

For eight years, as first lady of our land, Nancy Reagan stood side-by-side with President Reagan, encouraging, supporting and helping him in his great endeavors on behalf of our country. Her dedication and grace in this role were outstanding and uncompensated.

Never self-important or presumptuous, always supportive of the President and his duties, she contributed mightily to the well-being of the United states during those eight long White House years, and ever since in the guardianship of the Reagan legacy.

Ronald Reagan=s was a Aconviction politician@ whose views about how the United States should respond to the Soviet Union=s expansionist and often aggressive moves differed significantly from his predecessors in both parties. His view and policies differed most sharply from those of his predecessor, Jimmy Carter, but also with policies of detente designed by his predecessors.

Reagan deeply disapproved the defeatist attitudes and policies of the Carter administration, especially its passive acceptance of American decline. He described his views of this period in his autobiography,

ADuring the late seventies, I felt our country had begun to abdicate [its] historical role as the spiritual leader of the Free World and its foremost defender of democracy . . . Just as it had accepted the notion that America was past its prime economically and said our people would have to settle for a future with less, the precious administration had accepted the notion that American had become powerless to shape world events. It seemed to accept as inevitable the advance of Soviet expansionism, especially in the poor and underdeveloped countries of the world. . . Whatever the reasons, I believed it was senseless, ill-founded, and dangerous for America to withdraw from its role as superpower and leader of the Free World.@1

Long before his inauguration as President, Reagan had concluded that Soviet leaders intended to continue their aggressive policies. He had expressed his acute concerns about Soviet intentions at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 and repeatedly thereafter. He had rejected the policy of detente for its failure to challenge Soviet aggression straightforwardly, and effectively. His views of America=s destiny and of how the world worked made it impossible for him to accept the idea of a preordained socialist victory.

Ronald Reagan grew to manhood in a small Midwestern town, Dixon, Illinois. Out of a hard life he forged a philosophy of confidence and optimism. Long before he reached the White House, Ronald Reagan had concluded that free individuals were the source of creativity and progress in society and the economy, that government regulation inhibited creativity while free markets and free societies stimulated imagination, invention, effort. He believed freedom, individualism, work, responsibility and reward stimulated effort while taxes and the growth of government discouraged imagination, work, and growth.

These beliefs were the foundation of his firm conviction that Soviet socialism would ultimately fail because it relied on bureaucracy, regulation and force rather than freedom and private property. The United States would serve as Aa shining city on a hill@ because its institutions liberated individual potential.

But, Ronald Reagan also believed that freedom had to be explained and defended and that America must be strong enough to preserve freedom against all challengers. By the time he was elected president, Reagan understood that the Soviet economy was in decline and threatened with collapse, and that the standard of living in the Soviet bloc was deteriorating. This understanding was the basis of his conviction that Athe Russians could never win the arms race; we could outspend them forever. We could also maintain technological superiority.@ 2

But Ronald Reagan had also watched with dismay the accelerating expansion of the Soviet Union. He watched as independent governments were subverted, civil wars were instigated as Soviet supplied Communist insurgents armed and supported by the Soviet Union won power in South Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Mozambique and Angola in 1975, in Ethiopia in 1977, Grenada and Nicaragua in 1979, Soviet armies invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Ronald Reagan watched the growth of Soviet military strength, confidence, and competence. By the summer of 1980 he had become increasingly concerned about growing Communist strength in the Western hemisphere and especially in Central America and the Carribean. He wrote in his diary,

AA few days after the inauguration, our intelligence agents obtained firm and incontrovertible evidence that the Marxist government of Nicaragua was transferring hundreds of tons of Soviet arms from Cuba to rebel groups in El Salvador. Although El Salvador was the immediate target, the evidence showed that the Soviets and Fidel Castro were targeting all of Central America for a Communist takeover. El Salvador and Nicaragua were only a down payment. Honduras, Guatemala, and Costa Rica were next, and then would come Mexico.

The plans had been in the archives of Communism for a long time. I had been told that Lenin once said, >first, we will take Eastern Europe, then we will organize the hordes of Asia . . . then we will move on to Latin America; once we have Latin America, we won=t have to take the United States, the last bastion of capitalism, because it will fall into our outstretched hands like overripe fruit.=@3

Reagan also knew that signs of resistance to advancing Soviet power were present. He arrived in the White House determined to resist further Soviet expansion. He had already decided that:

AAs the foundation of my foreign policy, I decided we had to send as powerful a message as we could to the Russians that we weren=t going to stand by anymore while they armed and financed terrorists and subverted democratic governments. Our policy was to be one based on strength and realism. I wanted peace through strength, not peace through a piece of paper.@4

During his first year in the presidency, Reagan went to work to modernize and build American military strength, to restore some parity in Europe by ending the vulnerability of NATO capitals to Soviet SS-20's, by deploying Pershing and cruise missiles to defend those Allied capitals. He was determined to end Soviet expansion and to make clear that the Brezhnev Doctrine would not be accepted a s a grounds justifying Soviet military aggression B in Afghanistan, or anywhere. He believed that ending the Soviet advance required changing U.S. policy.

A And I knew it had to begin with an increase of arms. A few weeks before this speech, I had given the final approval to blue-prints for a multibillion-dollar modernization of our strategic forces. In order to assure that we would regain and sustain a military superiority over the Soviet Union, which for a decade had been moving forward with the largest and costliest military buildup in the history of man, we had decided to build one hundred B-1B bombers to replace our deteriorating fleet of B-52 bombers (the B-1's development had been cancelled by the Carter administration); to build one hundred new intercontinental-range missiles, the MX Peacekeeper; to deploy new Trident nuclear submarines and develop a new missile to be launched from then; to develop the Stealth bomber, which was to be capable of penetrating Soviet defense radars; and to construct a wide array of new surface ships, fighter aircraft, and space satellites for communications and other military purposes. Over the next few years, many of my critics would claim it was contradictory and even hypocritical to embark on a quest fro nuclear peace by building more nuclear weapons. But it was obvious that if we were ever going to get anywhere with the Russians in persuading them to reduce armaments, we had to bargain with them from strength not weakness.@5

Ronald Reagan did not win the Cold War alone. I believe he created the final context, forced the basic questions, adopted the policies, and kept the pressure on a process which might neither have begun nor continued begun without him. Convinced that peace could be built only on the basis of strength, he launched a massive military buildup in the United States and the West, he ended Western Europe=s vulnerability with the employment of Pershing and Cruise missiles to defend NATO=s undefended capital cities. He challenged the loyalties and affiliations of peoples in the Soviet Empire, in the USSR, by refusing to treat the Brezhnev Doctrine as international law, or the Soviet interpretation of human rights as legitimate, by insisting that the Soviet Union=s behavior be judged by ordinary standards, by cutting off the flow of credit and advanced technology to the Soviet Union and associated states, by making clear (especially with the SDI proposal) that the United States would use its technological advantage in the arms race. He did it by frankly comparing the Asocialist@ and the free market roads to development and by emphasizing the political and moral superiority of democracy.

The Reagan team used all legal tools short of war to compete with the still advancing, expanding Soviet monolith B ideological, technological, economic, political, informational, and military tools and it took them all to do the job.

The Reagan Administration=s policy began from the President=s own deep, moral and political disapproval of the Soviet use of power and a determined effort to stop the Soviet advance where ever it was advancing: in El Salvador, Nicaragua and the Caribbean, in Afghanistan, in West and East and North Africa, in the Middle East, and Asia, in Europe, and South America. It assisted local peoples contesting Soviet advances and the consolidation of Soviet dominance recently acquired. He explained the benefits of freedom.

President Reagan and his Administration did not have Aa@ plan as has been suggested. He had many plans and much determination. Within the Soviet empire, however, he countered the Brezhnev Doctrine with the Reagan Doctrine and gave hope to actual and intended victims of subversion and aggression around the world.

At every stage in this effort help and solidarity came from known and unknown dissidents inside the Soviet Union and from states controlled by the Soviet Union. And opposition came from Western liberals, many of whom had made very different predictions about the Soviet future and have shown remarkably little interest in their errors.

1. Ronald Reagan, AAn American Life: the Autobiography.@ Simon and Schuster. New York, NY. 1990. p. 226.

2. Ibid. p. 267.

3. Op cit. pgs. 238-239.

4. Op cit. p. 267.

5. Op cit. p. 294.



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