Reagan, Bush II, and the Value of Freedom


With the weeklong remembrance of the life and times of our 40th President sadly completed, one's thoughts converge on any number of ironies, but one in particular - that being the eerily similar revulsion by elites here and abroad toward Ronald Wilson Reagan then and George W. Bush now. The hatred of the malcontents is inevitable, arising as it does from their unflagging hypocrisy and myopia: they cannot see past their hatred of a confident and prosperous America, the ever-dynamic hyper power to which they assign all evils in the world. And no better symbol of American power, confidence, and exceptionalism existed than the great leader who was buried in Simi Valley, California not long ago.

While many on both sides of the political spectrum have lauded Reagan's sunny congeniality, this was not his primary virtue: moral clarity was. Reagan recognized evil when he saw it and felt no compulsion to dress his sentiments in proper diplomatic idiom. The "evil empire," as he properly termed it, had enslaved a goodly portion of the world. It had enclosed Eastern Europe in its iron curtain, crushing dissent with an oppressive regime every bit the equal of Nazi Germany, and perhaps worse. It had expansionist ambitions, extending its shadowy tentacles yet further into Central America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. This brutal system had snuffed the life out of whole nations. It had murdered millions of its own. It squelched the natural talents and creative urges of its inhabitants, and abolished fully from civil society the oxygen of freedom and liberty. The Soviet Communist Empire was indeed the idiot stepchild of the world, languishing in its swamp of corruption, neglect, and backwardness, possessed of its sole trump card of nuclear arms. Why, Ronald Reagan reasoned, should we coexist with this? He preferred instead to relegate it to the "ash heap of history." He sent missiles to Europe, weapons to insurgents, and began an unprecedented military build up in our own land. More importantly, he unleashed his arsenal of ideas. Ronald Reagan had a simple antidote for the noxious apparatus of the Soviet system: freedom. And for this, his opponents reviled him. They denounced him as a reckless cowboy, warmonger, and a hapless dunce untutored in the nuances of international diplomacy (and how the similarities abound between his era and today). Backed by his British counterpart, the indispensable Margaret Thatcher, however, a year after Reagan demanded that Mr. Gorbachev "tear down this wall," the walls of the Soviet Empire, indeed, came tumbling down, the Cold War thusly ended.

This generation's threat to civilization has a different name: it is Islamic Jihadism. In some ways, it is a greater or at least less predictable threat to our way of life, for if nothing else the Soviet Union was, at least, rational. Mutually assured destruction curbed its appetite for expansion. They had assets, population and land, and American missiles were pointed at them. But today's enemy exists within the shadows, and wears no particular uniform. They also have no regard for human life. Armed with weapons of mass destruction, they could bring the nation to its knees, taking advantage of the very freedoms they so despise and seek to eliminate. George W. Bush has confronted them, as Reagan would have. He has attacked boldly, first in Afghanistan and then Iraq. But not just to destroy and kill, but, like Reagan, to spread the blessings of liberty. The Middle East is today's bastion of totalitarianism, the breeding ground of terrorism and hatred, where the absence of freedom crushes the hopes and dreams of its people. Bush, like Reagan, understands that all people, regardless of religion, yearn for freedom. His intention to create two model democratic states in the middle of the terrorist heartland is enlightened and courageous. It can transform the entire region, scattering the remaining motley gang of Arab potentates, and bringing the walls of oppression down as they did two decades before. For his efforts, though, Bush II has been met with remarkably parallel denigration as Reagan. He, too, is a cowboy dunce, unschooled and reckless, a unilateralist warmonger hell-bent on confrontation. And he, like Reagan, could care less.

The campaign to change the Middle East is the moral equivalent of Reagan's

crusade to undo Soviet totalitarianism. As a gallant leader liberated millions in Eastern Europe, so too can Bush help to free millions from the throes of Arab absolutism. If Bush can complete his important mission, the world too will someday take note of the spheres of freedom thriving in the Middle East as we now see them arising in Eastern Europe. And the world will recognize that the new "cowboy" in the White House, the heir to Reagan, like Reagan, left the world a better, safer place.


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