Thursday, June 10, 2004

Ronald Wilson Reagan won the Cold War through tenacity, grit, determination, wisdom, courage and a profound understanding of the evil we confronted in the conflict with Soviet totalitarianism. Understandably, many of his severest critics have said kind words following his passing from us, pretending as if they stood by his side during America’s great conflicts. But it is important that these revisionist historians not be allowed to cloud the historical record.

When it really counted, they were on the wrong side of history. For example, critical to our battle with the former Soviet Union was the Peacekeeper, the centerpiece of America’s strategic nuclear modernization strategy. It also included Trident submarines, B-1 and B-2 bombers, and the INF missiles deployed in Europe.

I was honored to join the Reagan administration in the early fall of 1981. I was given one main job. Get Congress to secure funding for the deployment of the new MX missile.

In late 1982, former President Reagan named the new missile Peacekeeper. In early 1983, the administration, supported by a number of senators and congressmen, sought to put together a bipartisan plan to credibly deploy the Peacekeeper. The Scowcroft Commission, established to come up with such a plan, brought together an impressive group of America’s national-security experts, including former Secretaries of State Alexander Haig and Henry Kissinger, R. James Woolsey, former Air Force Secretary Thomas Reed, former Defense Secretaries Donald Rumsfeld, James Schlesinger, Harold Brown and Melvin Laird, and former CIA directors Richard Helms and John McCone. The left and its congressional allies angrily sneered at the group, wedded as they were to the Soviet proposals for a nuclear freeze.

The commission report in April 1983 recommended putting Peacekeeper in silos, and while arms control brought down strategic nuclear warheads, also deploying a mobile single-warhead missile that could survive a Soviet strike. Sen. Malcolm Wallop, Wyoming Republican, said the commission had solved the problem of how to make an elephant — Peacekeeper — run like a rabbit and make a rabbit — Midgetman — as strong as an elephant. We simply recommended we buy both an elephant and a rabbit.

With Mr. Reagan’s extraordinary leadership, the House and Senate agreed to begin production of the Peacekeeper missile, and research and development for the smaller missile, dubbed Midgetman. The huge amount of energy put into the attempts to defeat Mr. Reagan’s nuclear modernization program — aimed almost solely at these two missiles — resulted in the rest of the strategic nuclear weapons modernization program going through Congress largely unscathed.

The next year, just prior to the 1984 elections, with the Soviets pushing for a nuclear freeze, opponents of then-President Reagan tried again. Facing an election, they feared voting for the Peacekeeper and thus successfully fenced its funding. They hoped the election of Walter Mondale would eliminate any future deployments of the new land-based missile. Key sponsors of the legislation to do this were House members Patricia Schroeder, Edward Markey, Henry Waxman and Ron Dellums, and Sens. Joseph Biden, Christopher Dodd and Edward Kennedy. Just after winning a Senate seat from Massachusetts, John Kerry made his maiden speech in the Senate on how we should kill the funding for the Peacekeeper, joining this anti-Reagan crowd.

In March and April of 1985, the Reagan administration won 16 separate votes, one following the other, to release the funding for the Peacekeeper. Every yes vote was critical. Some votes we won by a margin of one; some by more. We could count on only a few Senate Democrats to help us. But some did. Democratic Sens. Sam Nunn, Al Gore and James Exon supported Mr. Reagan on the Peacekeeper. In the House, Reps. Norm Dicks, Dan Daniel, Sonny Montgomery, Sam Stratton, John Murtha and Les Aspin, among nearly 50 Reagan Democrats, stood strong in the face of the pressure from the nuclear-freeze enthusiasts. Democratic Sens. Dodd, Kerry, Biden, Kennedy and virtually the entire caucus voted no.

Unfortunately, the number of Democrats supporting a strong defense dwindled even further as the Cold War came to an end in 1990. In the Senate, even at the height of the conflict with the Soviets, Mr. Reagan always had to rely on a solid phalanx of Republican Senate soldiers to maintain America’s strength.

In that spring 1985 fight, I remember speaking with Sen. Charles Mathias, a liberal-to-moderate Republican senator from my home state of Maryland. That state was dominated by far-left liberals and freeze supporters. It would have been easy for Mr. Mathias to vote their way. He could have risked the termination of Mr. Reagan’s centerpiece on strategic nuclear weapons deployments. He asked me why we needed the Peacekeeper deployed at the time. I said: “The Soviets have modernized without pause for the past decade. Our opponents always urge restraint on us, but only in the false hope that the Soviets will follow suit, which they never do. The Peacekeeper is critical to hold at risk Soviet targets, so they do not remain in a sanctuary and embolden Moscow to take risks.”

Soon after, Mr. Mathias walked onto the Senate floor and delivered a short speech in favor of Mr. Reagan and the deployment of Peacekeeper. It was a profile in courage — unlike the actions of all those who, in our hour of need, abandoned our country, even as they now pretend otherwise.

Peter Huessy is president of GeoStrategic Analysis.

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