Ronald Reagan's three most important pillars of national security policy were: "Peace through strength;" "Trust but verify; and "Beware of evil in the modern world." We followed that wisdom, and communism collapsed. The Soviet empire and tyrants everywhere crumbled, and emerging democracies and markets gave promise to the long -held desire 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. We did not demonize prosperity: pursuing happiness is 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: its corollary was that in the absence of verifiability, we did not trust our adversaries. Reagan was saying: "Do not trust if you cannot verify."
The third pillar, and the one most often forgotten, is that Reagan understood that aggressors are always with us, whether the communists of the Soviet Union, the gulags that were Vietnam and Cambodia, 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, as he made clear in his very first Presidential press conference. He noted that the Soviet empire reserved for itself the right to lie, cheat, steal, 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, Alexander 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, asked the CBS TV news anchor Walter Cronkite. Did Reagan not know this kind of rhetoric would undermine "detente"?
When CIA Director William Casey asked the intelligence bureaucracy whether the Soviet Union did indeed support terrorism, the reply he got back was: Of course, Moscow did not support terrorism, said the Agency "experts". As proof, the Agency furnished Casey with 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 by letting it collapse, not by propping it up.
The "Peace through strength pillar supported whatever encouraged investment, growth and job creation, so that America's economy could grow strong along with her military. With the decontrol of energy prices, which led to lower gasoline prices, the US and economies everywhere, benefited. America 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 Jimmy Carter and Chancellor Helmut Schmidt with the agreement to place the US missiles in Europe. While they both had called for the deployment of these 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 -- making the deal long on rhetoric and short on substance.
In addition, when Reagan asked for such funding early in his administration, significant numbers of Congressmen immediately opposed the funding even though they had previously supported 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 proponents for the freeze said the proposal was nothing but a ruse.
So, too, did the opponents of the funding for Reagan's strategic nuclear modernization program – especially resources 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 this program -- attempts not only to eliminate the funding for the Peacekeeper and INF missiles, but also the 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 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 only because our satellites could determine the levels of Soviet deployments of nuclear weapon platforms: 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, the "Strategic Defense Initiative:" there were regimes 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 or 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 these weapons especially those in the hands of rogue regimes.
Reagan made this point repeatedly in his negotiations with Gorbachev in Reykjavik: that even if the US and the USSR eliminates their nuclear arsenals, there would still be the need for missile defenses to defend against the rogue regime or dictators intent upon acquiring these weapons. Eventually the USSR agreed to remove all its deployed INF nuclear weapons from Europe and Asia, exactly as Reagan had originally asked. As the transcripts of their discussions show, Reagan's Reykjavik arguments won the day.
In early 1981, however, just as they had against 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 Edward Kennedy in a Senate floor speech just after the President's announcement.
At the same time, unknown to the country, but recently revealed in Soviet-era archives, Kennedy was negotiating with the Soviet leadership to jointly oppose Reagan's strategic modernization effort, including America's nuclear forces, missile defenses and the deployment of the all-important INF missiles in Europe -- specifically in Great Britain, Germany, Italy and Holland.
Through the intermediary former-Senator John Tunney, a school classmate and family friend, Kennedy told the Soviet leadership that their public relations skills were no match for Reagan. He proposed instead that in a joint effort, the Soviet leaders and Senator Kennedy undertake their own combined public relations campaign to counter what Kennedy referenced as the war mongering of the Reagan administration. Reagan was a threat to world peace, said the Senator, not to the Soviets.
This came at a time of potential peril for the United States. In the span of two years, as Pope John II, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and President Ronald Reagan had all came into their official positions, assassins had tried to kill all three. of these leaders.
We now know they combined in a historic effort to end the Soviet empire -- as they successfully did. At the time, however, their efforts were derided and sneered at by 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 also now revealed by documents from the Soviet archives, a sitting US Senator had brazenly been proposing to work with the Soviet Politburo to undermine the security of the United States.
Fortunately, Reagan's US strategic modernization program was approved. The combined might of the US and its allies forced the Soviets to negotiate on America's terms. From there, 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 collapsed, and hundreds of millions of people were liberated.
Unfortunately, the US then gradually proceeded to forget these Reagan's "lessons of history". He had even warned us about the problem of "civilizational forgetfulness" in his 1988 farewell address. Additionally, 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 levels that could invite adventurism.
We were told it was the "end of history," in that the military strength needed to end the Cold War, defend freedom, keep the peace and promote liberty were no longer necessary.
As a result, America appeared to be retreating from the world. Nowhere was this more evident than in the way the US treated the threat of state-sponsored terrorism.
The terrorism that visited the US over Lockerbie in December 1998 and in New York at the World Trade Center in 1993 were dismissed as nothing more than the actions of disgruntled "unaffiliated terrorists," or "radicals." President Clinton 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 has now changed his tune. Ironically, just weeks ago, he said that terrorism directed at the United States was 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.
Criticisms of his administration a decade and a half ago by domestic critics therefore had no merit; were even dangerous. Today, however, terrorist claims of grievances against the US are animated by concerns over the governance of the Palestinians and other countries in the Middle East.
Clinton could claim, if incorrectly, that most terrorism would go away once a Palestinian state were established – perhaps why his administration became so obsessed with Oslo and the "peace process." They may have seen it 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. As we know now in hindsight, however, one concession after another in the peace process by our ally Israel did not end terrorism; it only increased it as terrorist perceived that terrorism delivered gains to them they might not otherwise have gotten..
As each concession was met with further Palestinian aggression, Hamas, a terrorist regime, was established in Gaza -- against the advice of the Israelis, who had accurately predicted the outcome of a democratic election there -- and the Iranian-backed 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 any other "grievances" for that matter. Their pursuit of nuclear weapons will not be suddenly turned aside with the creation of a Palestinian state, the end of the Mubarak regime in Egypt, or any other political adjustments in the region.
The nuclear dangers we see in the world — nuclear bombs in North Korea, a nuclear weapons program in Iran, or a growing arsenal of nuclear weapons in Pakistan — are the result of regimes seeking these weapons to further their terrorist wars against our allies and us, and seeking even deeper and broader totalitarian rule over their own people and others.
One accomplice of theirs is the Moslem Brotherhood, now attempting to seize power in Egypt. The vast majority of Egyptians might want neither the radical totalitarianism of the Brotherhood nor the authoritarian corruption of the Mubarak regime.
Unfortunately, US military power, represented by the current government of Egypt because of its alliance with the US, is the enemy of many, who are fueled not only by its association to a dictatorship, but also by an antipathy to any military power.
We then hear the claim that whatever the outcome of a rapid transfer of power," anything is better" than the current Mubarak regime -- not because, say, the alternative of the Muslim Brotherhood is necessarily better, but because the current government in Egypt is a metaphor for US military and economic power, despite the fact that young Iranians are asking their parents how they could ever have traded in the Shah for the regime there now.
Can an alternative be found? Is there time for Mubarak to step aside and for the Egyptian government to establish fair, transparent and open institutions of democracy -- such as free speech and media, equality under law, property rights, religious pluralism -- before new elections, to allow for the creation of political parties dedicated to continuing these democratic principals? And if they are elected, how does one prevent their being overthrown later by totalitarian, as Lenin overthrew Trotsky and Kerensky in the Russian Revolution?
The military in Egypt might be pursuing time to build different viable political parties before an election later this year; the danger is that current government there, including the military, might be seen as nothing more than an extension of Mubarak. Even if the Egyptian President steps down, the only alternative might end up being the most ruthless organized opposition, and this may include the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies.
At the moment, the Mubarak forces are apparently using police and internal security services to loot and instigate violence on the streets. Such government action can only heighten the chances for radicals to gain strength.
Further, a new hero of the Muslim Brotherhood and much of the American drive-by media is "the Nobel Laureate," as the media keep referring to him, Mohammed El Baradei, the former Director of the International Atomic Energy Administration in Vienna. Although he is Egyptian, he is utterly disliked by many Egyptians, and has lived abroad most of his life.
Worse, while El Baradei was Director of the International Atomic Energy Association [IAEA], an organization designed to watch over the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, El Baradei was nothing more than an agent of the Iranian mullahs, denying that they were building a nuclear program that was anything but peaceful, and thereby providing them for years with cover to continue building a nuclear weapons program.
As well as opposing the US at every turn, he deliberately cooked the books on assessments of Iran's nuclear program, according to IAEA sources -- telling his IAEA nuclear watchdogs that all was well when he knew full well it was not.
Now El Baradei has a new set of denials -- that the Muslim Brotherhood has any roots in violence or enmity towards the United States or Israel. In reality, the networks of which the Muslim Brotherhood is a part represent a pan-Islamist threat to the US, its allies and to a democratic life in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood is part and parcel of the same broad totalitarian element represented by the current regimes now in Iran and Syria. Included also should be the regimes' accomplices -- those which have furnished them both with (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.
Egypt should be seen in the context of the current struggle with Iran, terrorist-sponsoring states in general and the rogue development of nuclear weapons. "Trust but do not verify" apparently had been the policy of El Baradei's predecessor, Hans Blix, at the IAEA; it was a policy that was continued by ElBaradei with Libya, Iran, Syria and North Korea.
Strength, both military and economic, is indispensable to liberty, freedom and peace. Trust, based on the promise of a group such as the Muslim Brotherhood to renounce violence, has about zero chance of being verifiable. And third, there are still aggressors in the world, as visible in the gulags of North Korea, the prisons of Tehran, or the mass graves of Syria.
Potential terrorist threats directed at America and her allies 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" – a Constitutional imperative that remains irreplaceable.