Because the Gipper is not here to say, “There you go again!” to Mr. Gingrich, and because the choice of a new president is so critical to the nation today, it falls on us who served with Reagan and are still around to tell America the truth about Mr. Gingrich and his repeated attempts to thwart Reagan’s cornerstone achievement: the defeat of global tyranny in the form of the Soviet Union and the final rejection of communism as a failed experiment.
Although Mr. Gingrich was an unknown congressman after being elected in 1978, he was one of the very few Republicans who voted for the creation of the Department of Education under Jimmy Carter, a position Reagan abhorred and a central campaign whipping boy in the 1980 campaign. That telltale vote should have prepared us for Mr. Gingrich’s regular ridicules of the president, but we were too occupied with reversing Mr. Carter’s disastrous economic policies at the time to pay attention to a gadfly at the fringes. Nowadays, Reagan is universally appreciated as a hero of vision and determination, but at that time, the battles we fought were challenging, and popular opinion (at least as defined by Washington) often was against us.
The cocktail-party set thought capitalism was the past and socialism the future; they thought Reagan was provoking the Soviet Union when he should have been negotiating with them. The elect in Washington were against every tactic Reagan used to bring down the “evil empire,” and they were many: missiles in Europe aimed at the Soviet Union; research and propaganda for “Star Wars” defense; robust intelligence efforts in Central America, Central Europe and the Soviet Union; communication wars fought by new efforts at the U.S. Agency for International Development, Voice of America and Radio Marti; giant increases in the withered defense and intelligence budgets.
Colleagues such as William J. Casey, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick and Caspar Weinberger were heroes on the front lines of this effort, and they would have lambasted Mr. Gingrich at his first self-serving attempt to attach himself to Reagan’s name. But they are no longer with us. They were our friends, and those of us who served with them cannot stand by and watch Mr. Gingrich claim that he was in any way a part of this noble effort that saved freedom on the face of this earth.
Mr. Gingrich called the Reagan administration’s efforts against the Soviet Union a failure. He went so far as to say that the president had “weak policies which are inadequate and will ultimately fail.” At other times he said the administration had “no strategies to defeat the empire … the burden of this failure must be placed first on President Reagan.” He called Reagan’s efforts to defeat communism in the Third World “pathetically incompetent.” Unbelievably, for the record, he said, “Measured against the scale and momentum of the Soviet empire’s challenge, the Reagan administration has failed, is failing, and without a dramatic change in strategy will continue to fail. … President Reagan is clearly failing.”
These were irresponsible statements designed to capture media attention and favor from a press corps that loved to hate Reagan and relished finding a GOP critic. But they were much more dangerous. These were statements delivered for the record on the floor of the U.S. Congress. They were used by liberals bent on defeating the very tactics necessary to defeat the Soviet Union. It was a near-treasonous case of self-serving rhetoric by Mr. Gingrich.
When Reagan finally brought Mikhail Gorbachev to the table to shape the surrender, I was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, where the first meeting would take place. Here was Mr. Gingrich’s characterization of those meetings: “the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with [British Prime Minister Neville] Chamberlain at Munich in 1938.”
Historians often try to rewrite history. Presidents make history. Ronald Reagan saved our nation from economic and military decline and in the process, saved the world from the worst totalitarian regime that has ever existed. To do it, he had to ignore Newt Gingrich. Thank God he did.
Ambassador Gerald P. Carmen worked in the Reagan administration and was chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party. He has endorsed Mitt Romney for president.