On Wednesday, March 12, I am delivering a lecture at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington based on a simple proposition: “What if Reagan had not run for President and the Soviet Union still existed?”
As you know, I write active history in which we change key decisions to see how they would have affected actual history. (Pearl Harbor and the soon-to-be-released Days of Infamy are novels I coauthored with William Forstchen about the Second World War that use this approach.)
And because this month marks the 25th anniversary of some of the most consequential speeches that led to the end of the former Soviet Union, I thought it would be interesting to apply this technique to the Cold War.
The Only Leader Who Understood the Change Needed Was Ronald Reagan
In 1980, the United States was losing the Cold War. Under President Jimmy Carter, the American economy had become a disaster — featuring 13% inflation, 22% interest rates, gasoline lines and shortages, and the beginning of the worst recession since the Great Depression.
Our national security situation was verging on the catastrophic. The anti-military left had cut the Defense budget. The Soviet Union was subsidizing massive appeasement marches in Western Europe (secret documents released after the fall of East Germany confirm that Soviet front-groups were behind the demonstrations). Soviet forces were on the offense in Afghanistan, Angola, Mozambique, Grenada, Nicaragua and El Salvador.
The most public humiliation was the illegal seizure of the American Embassy in Iran in 1979. Iranian militants held American diplomats as hostages in total violation of international law for 444 days. In the face of this assault on America and American citizens, Carter’s policy was one of weakness and appeasement. The result was a national sense of humiliation and impotence.
The only political leader who understood how big the change needed to be was Ronald Reagan.
Reagan’s Vision of the Cold War? ‘We Win, They Lose’
Before Reagan took office, the national establishment favored a policy of “reasonableness” — that is, they accepted the existence of the Soviet Union as a given and believed it had to be accommodated.
In contrast to the “realpolitik” of the national establishment, Ronald Reagan outlined a simple, clear alternative. When asked by a reporter of his vision of the Cold War, Reagan said simply, “We win, they lose.”
On March 8, 1983, Reagan offered his most forceful moral claim for this new strategy of victory in the Cold War. In a speech calling the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” he defined the illegitimacy of the Soviet dictatorship. It was a speech that Natan Sharansky, then a prisoner in the Soviet Gulag, said galvanized the hopes of the prisoners and raised their morale while demoralizing the Soviet guards and undermining the authority of the Soviet system.
Two weeks later, on March 23, President Reagan outlined in a second speech the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) that was designed to begin a science-and-technology race that the Soviets could not win.
The Washington Elites Were Shocked by Reagan’s Speeches
America’s elites were shocked by these two speeches. They ridiculed and attacked them. The State Department professionals and the foreign policy elites opposed Reagan. They were all horrified that an American President could be so bold and provocative.
They would be almost as unhappy four years later when President Reagan went to Berlin and demanded, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”
The Elites Were Wrong and Reagan Was Right
Less than nine years after Ronald Reagan’s “Evil Empire” and “SDI” speeches, the Soviet Union disappeared.
The scale of this strategic victory and the role of President Reagan in defeating the Soviet Union are ignored by most of academic America and much of the news media.
The 25th anniversary of these two speeches is a good time to set the record straight.
They were wrong, and Reagan was right.
What if Ronald and Nancy Reagan Had Decided They Were too Old to Serve America?
Today, many of the same people (and their students) who were wrong about the world in 1983 are still wrong about the world.
Some people today say Sen. John McCain is too old to be President. But what if, in 1979, Ronald and Nancy Reagan had decided they were too old to serve America? What if they had decided to stay at the ranch and enjoy life?
I believe there would still be a Soviet Union and we would still be threatened by the Cold War. This is a good week to think about these possibilities and to learn these lessons.
On Sunday night, I talked to Fox News’s Sean Hannity about the unacknowledged role these two Reagan speeches played in making America safer.
In addition, we’ve created a special page at Newt.org devoted to the two Reagan speeches. There you will find transcripts and audio of the speeches, as well as a selection of the critical elite reviews that the speeches generated at the time.
Obama’s Chance to be a Real Uniter: Put Americans Ahead of Trial Lawyers on the Protect America Act
Speaking of leadership, the political battle going on in Washington over the House Democratic leadership’s refusal to renew legislation authorizing surveillance of terrorists overseas is being portrayed by some as a partisan one, but nothing could be further from the truth.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) and the liberal House leadership won’t renew the Protect America Act because it would deal a financial blow to the trial lawyers — one of their greatest sources of campaign cash. You see, the bill contains a provision to protect telecommunications companies from being sued for cooperating with the United States government by helping to provide intelligence and communications by terrorists and potential terrorists overseas. For helping keep America safe, the trial lawyers and their Democratic allies believe the telecom companies deserve lawsuits.
But most of us — Democratic and Republican — think they deserve something different: Our thanks and our protection.
By a 3.5-to-One Margin, Americans Believe Companies That Help Track Down Terrorists Overseas Should Be Protected From Lawsuits
Six of the eight Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee support the Protect America Act — as do 20 of the 51 Democrats in the full Senate.
Last week, 21 state attorneys general wrote House Speaker Pelosi urging her to allow Congress to pass the bill. Seven of the 21 were Democrats.
As I reported recently, polling done by American Solutions found that by a three-to-one margin (71-23), Americans believe that Congress should have passed the Protect America Act before leaving for vacation.
Our polling also found that by an even wider margin (74-21), Americans believe that companies that assist the U.S. government in tracking down terrorists should be protected from lawsuits related to that assistance.
And now comes word that no less than Sen. Barack Obama’s (D.-Ill.) intelligence adviser also believes that Congress should do the right thing and protect the telecommunications companies that help the government.
Yes He Can: Sen. Obama Can Lead the Fight to Restore Our Terrorist Surveillance Capabilities Overseas
Last month, when the Senate was considering the Protect America Act, Sen. Obama voted to deny protection for telecommunications companies under the bill.
But just last week, Sen. Obama’s adviser, former CIA official John Brennan, told the National Journal that he disagrees with his boss’s vote.
“I do believe strongly that [telecoms] should be granted that immunity,” said Brennan. “They were told to [cooperate] by the appropriate authorities that were operating in a legal context.”
Sen. Obama might cross a powerful special interest by doing so, but he would do his nation a great service by working to convince Speaker Pelosi and the House leadership to pass the Protect America Act.
After all, as Ronald Reagan showed, uniting America isn’t just a function of words — it’s a function of deeds, deeds that sometimes carry a cost. And as Ronald Reagan also proved, the essence of leadership is the willingness to accept these costs — even if they include accepting the contempt of the Washington elite.
Twenty-five years ago this week, the extraordinary leadership of one man made America safer. Who will be the next American leader with the courage and conviction to change history?
P.S. — Since the adoption by the Californian Republican Party of much of The Platform of the American People into their own platform, the American Solutions team is excited about how quickly the message is spreading. Daily we hear of more and more people who aim to follow the California GOP’s lead. Thousands of people have already signed the American Solutions Online Petition supporting this common sense platform. If you have not signed it, click here.
P.P.S. — Rediscovering God in America premieres in Atlanta this week. You may remember a few months ago when Callista and I released our first joint film project together. It’s called Rediscovering God in America. It’s a tour of the tremendous influence of God and faith in the shaping of America as told through a walking tour of our most cherished national monuments and documents in Washington, D.C.
I’m excited to report that on Friday, March 14, Rediscovering God in America will have its Atlanta premier at the Atlanta History Center from 7:00-9:00 p.m. (see here for details).
Space is limited, so act soon. To reserve seats, call Michelle Healey at (202) 547-5420 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And to learn more about Rediscovering God in America, watch the trailer and buy the DVD, visit citizensunited.org.
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