- The Washington Times - Monday, June 14, 2004

As we mourn the death of former President Ronald Reagan, many recall his wonderful personal qualities of courage, faith, eloquence and humor.

We also need to remember that a president’s achievements depend on the wisdom of his major decisions and his judgment in choosing his Cabinet and key staff. This is especially true in foreign policy where Mr. Reagan’s good judgment and skilled team — including Central Intelligence Director William J. Casey, National Security Adviser William P. Clark, Attorney General Edwin Messe, and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger — defended our freedoms at an especially dangerous time in the Cold War.

(1) Countering and reversing years of Soviet expansionism was Mr. Reagan’s most important foreign policy success and opened the way to the unraveling of communism in Europe. In the five years preceding Mr. Reagan’s Inauguration, 10 new pro-Soviet communist regimes had been established on three continents. Mr. Reagan decided not only to “contain” but also to reverse this Soviet expansion. He did this first, by telling the truth about the “evil empire.” Second, by affirming the ideals of freedom and democracy and identifying and helping those abroad who shared those political values. Third, the armed forces of the U.S. were strengthened to deter direct attack. Fourth, political and military support was provided to armed resistance movements seeking to remove communist dictatorships. Fifth, Mr. Reagan acted to restrict the availability of Western economic resources and trade opportunities until the Soviet Union halted its covert aggression.

It is now often forgotten that for nearly two years after becoming the new Soviet ruler in 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev continued an intense Soviet-led effort to destroy the anti-communist resistance movements. It was only after that failed with no new pro-Soviet regimes established after 1980 that Mr. Gorbachev announced his “new thinking.” This emboldened the Solidarity movement in Poland which in turn led the way to the unraveling of communism in Eastern Europe.

(2) Defense against nuclear missile attack. Mr. Reagan argued in 1983, contrary to criticism by many within the United States and Europe, and strong opposition from the Soviet Union and China, that missile defenses would provide incentives for sharp reductions in offensive weapon systems rather then spurring an increase to overcome the defenses. He and President George W. Bush have been proven correct by the U.S. and Russia agreeing to dramatic cuts in offensive strategic forces following Mr. Bush decided to withdraw from the ABM treaty and deploy missile defenses in the fall of 2004.

(3) Realistic negotiations with the Soviet Union on weapons limits and reductions were another hallmark of Mr. Reagan’s years. From the start of his administration, Mr. Reagan withstood years of criticism from many in the media and many in Europe who wanted him to abandon missile defense and accede to unfavorable Soviet proposals. Mr. Reagan refused and persevered until Mr. Gorbachev agreed to eliminate all intermediate range nuclear missiles. This was the first time an entire class of nuclear weapons had been verifiably removed by both sides. Mr. Reagan’s defense secretary, Mr. Weinberger, and his team contributed in a major way to this success and the military buildup that made it possible.

(4) Revival of CIA covert and political action. Many of Mr. Reagan’s foreign policy successes required and benefited from revival of CIA covert and political action capabilities to help friends and weaken enemies abroad. President Reagan’s appointee as director of central intelligence, Mr. Casey, was a man of outstanding strategic insight and foresight under whose leadership came a quiet change in the balance of forces in the direction of freedom.

(5) Promoting democracy and defeating communist insurgency in the Western Hemisphere. During the Carter years, communist groups used force to take power in Grenada and Nicaragua. By 1981, a Soviet-Castro nexus was working with these new dictatorships, using political warfare and guerrilla/terrorist operations, to help about 15,000 armed insurgents take power in El Salvador and other nearby Central American countries and to destabilize Caribbean democracies.

Mr. Reagan’s balanced policy of encouraging democracy, providing economic aid to improve living conditions, diplomacy, military assistance to threatened governments, and armed resistance against aggression led to transitions to democracy and the defeat of communist guerrillas in Central America.

Further, when Mr. Reagan took office in 1981 only about 12 percent of Latin America’s 420 million people lived under democracy. But by 1986 this had risen to 90 percent.

(6) A commitment to encourage democracy abroad was made by Mr. Reagan in his dramatic June 1982 speech before the British Parliament. Mr. Reagan said: “Freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few … the objective I propose is [to] … foster the infrastructure of democracy.”

This in turn led to establishing the National Endowment for Democracy in 1984 and a major new dimension in American foreign policy.

(7) The liberation of Grenada in October 1983 was the first removal of a communist regime and restoration of democracy. The risks were larger than many thought since Grenada was a formal ally of both Fidel Castro and the Soviet Union, with a communist leadership eager for a larger role in “spreading the revolution.” Mr. Reagan’s decisiveness encouraged all friends of freedom in Latin America and the world.

In my view, Mr. Reagan’s decision may well have prevented the “Soviet Caribbean nuclear weapons deployment crisis of 1983” — potentially far more dangerous than the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. This might have resulted from Moscow’s threats of dramatic action to prevent scheduled U.S. deployment of intermediate-range nuclear armed missiles in Europe.

(8) Public diplomacy. Mr. Reagan understood the need to tell the truth about our actions and those hostile powers that carried on massive propaganda campaigns against America. He understood truth was the best ally of the United States and that the U.S. government had to invest in a variety of effective means to inform and persuade friends and enemies in the world. Much of this effort was ended at the close of the Cold War and urgently needs to be revived.

Constantine C. Menges, a senior fellow with the Hudson Institute, is a former special assistant to President Reagan for national security affairs and CIA national intelligence officer. His book, “Inside the National Security Council” (1988) views the Reagan foreign policy. His next book is “China, The Gathering Threat The Strategic Challenge of China and Russia.”

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