Reagan's Lessons for the Crisis in Egypt

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the 38th annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). 

Over 10,000 conservatives attended last year’s CPAC, worried about the left-wing overreach of the Obama administration and determined to do what it takes to defeat the Left at the polls in November.

This historic attendance at CPAC in 2010 was followed by a historic election, in which we saw the largest one party pickup in the House of Representatives since 1948.  It was an enormous victory for the power of conservative principles.

Of course, after such a historic victory, there is the question, “Now what?”

Remarkably, attendance for this year’s CPAC will be even larger than last year’s record attendance.  Almost 12,000 people have registered.  It is clear that the momentum against President Obama and the left is building as people realize the 2012 elections will be a decisive moment for the country. 

Many conservatives, however, also recognize that the next two years should not only be spent preparing to win at the polls.  We must also develop broad support for a governing agenda that can be implemented by a new conservative President and conservative Congress. 

In other words, CPAC this year will be important not just in outlining why we must reject the left wing governance of the Obama administration and Reid Senate, but also in articulating what a center right coalition would replace it with.

With this challenge of replacement in mind, I will focus my speech tomorrow at CPAC on one such area that badly needs replacement if we are to keep America safe and create robust economic growth with millions of new jobs: American energy policy. 

I will be driving four main themes during my speech:

1.    It is in our national security interest to produce more American energy.  We must reduce the world’s dependence on oil from dangerous and unstable countries, especially in the Middle East. 

2.    In contrast to this urgent national security need, the Obama administration’s policy has been almost the exact opposite of what is required.  In effect, they have been waging war against the American energy industry.

3.    A comprehensive energy strategy that maximized all forms of American energy development would not only make the US and our allies dramatically safer, it would make us much better off economically.

4.    Part of this strategy would be to replace the Environmental Protection Agency with an Environmental Solutions Agency that achieves better environmental outcomes through an emphasis on the transformative power of new technology and a collaborative approach with industry and state and local governments (as opposed to the bureaucratic, regulatory model of the current EPA that does more to kill jobs and halt American energy development than it does to protect the environment). 

You can watch my speech live at 12:30 ET by signing up at the CPAC website.

Ronald Reagan: 100 Years Old, But Still a Timeless Message

This year’s CPAC conference is well-timed on the heels of Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday. 

Callista and I were fortunate enough to participate in Reagan Centennial events in Illinois and at the Reagan Library last weekend, including a visit to Ronald Reagan’s birthplace in Tampico, IL.  You can see pictures of our visit at my Facebook page.

It was Ronald Reagan who delivered one of the most memorable CPAC speeches in 1975, calling for the Republican Party to raise a “banner of no pale pastels, but bold colors”. 

This advice is as true today as it has been at any time before. Boldness would be an especially effective contrast to the timidity and confusion that has characterized the Obama administration’s response to the protests in Egypt.

There is, however, another speech delivered by Ronald Reagan at CPAC that may resonate even more today.   

Titled, America’s Purpose in the World, the speech argues that American leadership requires us to understand and express forcefully what makes America great and similarly to understand and speak clearly about how starkly our enemies stand in opposition to those values:

“The themes of a sound foreign policy should be no mystery, nor the result of endless agonizing reappraisals. They are rooted in our past — in our very beginning as a nation…Our principles were revolutionary…Our example inspired others, imperfectly at times, but it inspired them nevertheless…To this day, America is still the abiding alternative to tyranny. That is our purpose in the world — nothing more and nothing less.”

“To carry out that purpose, our fundamental aim in foreign policy must be to ensure our own survival and to protect those others who share our values. Under no circumstances should we have any illusions about the intentions of those who are enemies of freedom.”

“…If we are to continue to be that example — if we are to preserve our own freedom — we must understand those who would dominate us and deal with them with determination.”

The Lessons of Ronald Reagan for Egypt, #1: Know Our Values and Protect Those Who Share Our Values

It is hard to read Reagan’s message from his 1978 CPAC speech and not think immediately about today. 

Reagan was referring to the failure of the United States under Jimmy Carter to stand up for human rights against Soviet totalitarianism.  But the same principles apply today to our struggle with radical Islamism and, in particular, to the unfolding crisis in Egypt. 

First, it must be the policy of the United States to defend consistently and resolutely the standards for the universal rights of man outlined in the Declaration of Independence and codified into law in the Constitution.

This principle has much deeper and more complicated ramifications than a shallow support for democratic elections.  Instead, we should be on the side of genuine freedom for the people of the world.

The fact that the two U.S. backed democratic governments in Afghanistan and Iraq are refusing to protect the religious liberty of Christians and other minority religions (or worse, are complicit in their persecution) is evidence of a total lack of clarity regarding the purpose of US foreign policy.  (See here and here for examples.)

With regards to the situation in Egypt, the principles Reagan outlined in this speech tell us that, of course, we should be on the side of the Egyptian people and we should be prepared to help them move toward a democracy. 

These principles also tell us, though, that the people of Egypt will be no better off if the Mubarak dictatorship is replaced by a Radical Islamist dictatorship that implements an even worse form of oppression. A replay of what happened in Gaza in 2006 when Hamas was able to strong-arm a victory in their elections would be a disaster. 

This means that the United States must be willing to stand by the military and other stable institutions within Egypt as they oversee a transition period that allows for genuinely free and fair elections, with new political parties and leaders in an environment that protects freedoms of speech, the press and free assembly. 

Moving toward elections too soon will create an enormous opening for the radical Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, which despite its official ban in Egypt is still the largest and most organized opposition group to the government. Under no circumstances should the United States be willing to support a government in Egypt that lifts this ban against the Muslim Brotherhood.

Ronald Reagan would also have understood that despite troublesome aspects of his rule, Hosni Mubarak has been a U.S. ally who has kept the peace with Israel.  Compared to Obama, Reagan would have been much more discreet about pressuring Mubarak to leave office, recognizing that publicly abandoning him would send the wrong signal to other world leaders about how the U.S. treats its allies.

The Lessons of Ronald Reagan for Egypt, #2: Understand Our Enemies and Speak the Truth About Them

There has been a lot of left-wing “sophisticated” analysis arguing that the United States should treat the Muslim Brotherhood as a legitimate democratic voice in the Middle East. 

This is nonsense. 

The Brotherhood’s insignia is two crossed swords under the Koran.  Its founding slogan is “Allah is our objective, the Prophet is our leader, the Koran is our law, Jihad is our way, and dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.”  Its Palestinian branch is Hamas, which is designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.

It is evidence of the elite’s profound confusion that they cannot bring themselves to say the obvious: the Muslim Brotherhood is our enemy, and the enemy of free people everywhere.  They are the self professed enemy of Western notions of freedom and liberty. Their goal is an Islamic state.  By any rational standard they are the personification of the West’s struggle against radical Islamism.

Yet, Barack Obama actually invited the Muslim Brotherhood to his speech in Cairo in 2009 and Muslim Brotherhood affiliated organizations in the United States are routinely looked to by our government and the mainstream press as voices of moderation.  

Ronald Reagan would have recognized the elite’s total unwillingness to speak honestly about the nature of our enemies; he spent much of his career combating their similar inability to speak the truth about the totalitarian goals and aims of the Soviet Union.

Reagan would have been prepared to have an honest conversation about the ideological connection that unites our enemies and motivates them.  He would have been prepared to say quite bluntly that we are in a long war against radical Islamism, a belief system adhered to by a minority of Muslims but nonetheless a powerful and organized ideology within Islamic thought that is totally incompatible with the modern world. 

Reagan would also have consistently found ways to reach out to all Muslims who genuinely recognize the same universal rights of man laid out at our nation’s founding and who stand up for our Constitutional principles and the importance of religious freedom for all.

Furthermore, Reagan would have vigorously rebuked those who jump on any honest discussion about radical Islamism as an attack against all Muslims. After all, they’re the ones conflating radical Islamists with all Muslims, not those trying to speak honestly about our enemies. In fact, knowing Reagan’s humor, he probably would have found a way to make a joke about their confusion. 

The Lessons of Ronald Reagan for Egypt, #3: Focus on the Goal, Our Rendezvous with Destiny

Many on the Left may find it odd that I cite Ronald Reagan as guidance on how to handle our challenges with radical Islamism in the Middle East. 

After all, they will say, Reagan helped arm the Afghans.  He backed Saddam Hussein against the Iranian government, etc. 

Reagan had, however, one foreign policy goal: defeat the Soviet Union.  Every decision he made was measured against the yardstick of whether it fit within his strategy to defeat the Soviets.

The result was that eleven years after he was elected President, the Soviet Union disappeared.

Today, our foreign policy goal is equally simple, but no less daunting than defeating the Soviet Union: isolate, discredit, and defeat those who promote the radical Islamist ideology that motivates those who seek to destroy Western civilization.

We must be similarly focused on this goal if we have any chance to succeed.  Every aspect of our foreign policy must be in service of a strategy to achieve victory. 

This is our generation’s rendezvous with destiny.  And ultimately, Ronald Reagan’s most instructive message for meeting our challenge would probably be, “I did my generation’s job.  Now it’s your turn.” 

Your friend,


P.S. Callista and I enjoyed meeting everyone who came to our book signing at the Reagan Library Monday.  We are glad to see so many people are enjoying our new photo book, Ronald Reagan: Rendezvous with Destiny, and our documentary of the same name. 

At, we are offering both the book and DVD for a $10 discount.  Click here.

Newt’s Quick Links:

•    In his piece on Renewing American Leadership, John Fea explains how the founding fathers were not deists, but true Christians. You can read the piece here;

•    At ReAL Action, listen to Frank Gaffney, Ray Locker, and Rowan Scarborough discuss the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.  Click here;

•    The Center for Health Transformation is hiring.  If you have experience in health policy, visit our website to learn more.