Long before President Bush articulated his Middle East doctrine, an earlier Republican administration argued that a different region was so corrupt, so in need of reform, and was saddled with such oppressive and backward rulers that bringing about stability and the potential for prosperity for its citizens was beyond the realm of politics or diplomacy.
Ronald Reagan smilingly asserted that only U.S.-backed violence and American-style nation building could give the benighted people of Central America a chance to join the modern world.
He followed the claim with his infamous “dirty wars,” and his administration framed the bloodshed in the loftiest and most idealistic terms. The Reagan administration launched an intensive public relations campaign to convince Americans that the tens of thousands of civilian deaths that resulted were regrettable but necessary, not only because of the United States’ mission to promote human rights and democracy around the world but also in order to defeat terrorism.
Clearly, there are differences between Reagan’s wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua two decades ago and Bush’s debacle in Iraq today.
The only significant difference is that Democrats don’t hold either house of Congress, so they can’t try to criminalize the crusade this time.
(*) Remarks at a Joint German-American Military Ceremony at Bitburg Air Base in the Federal Republic of Germany (Ronald W. Reagan, May 5, 1985)
Four decades ago we waged a great war to lift the darkness of evil from the world, to let men and women in this country and in every country live in the sunshine of liberty. Our victory was great, and the Federal Republic, Italy, and Japan are now in the community of free nations. But the struggle for freedom is not complete, for today much of the world is still cast in totalitarian darkness.
Twenty-two years ago President John F. Kennedy went to the Berlin Wall and proclaimed that he, too, was a Berliner. Well, today freedom-loving people around the world must say: I am a Berliner. I am a Jew in a world still threatened by anti-Semitism. I am an Afghan, and I am a prisoner of the Gulag. I am a refugee in a crowded boat foundering off the coast of Vietnam. I am a Laotian, a Cambodian, a Cuban, and a Miskito Indian in Nicaragua. I, too, am a potential victim of totalitarianism.
The one lesson of World War II, the one lesson of nazism, is that freedom must always be stronger than totalitarianism and that good must always be stronger than evil. The moral measure of our two nations will be found in the resolve we show to preserve liberty, to protect life, and to honor and cherish all God’s children.
That is why the free, democratic Federal Republic of Germany is such a profound and hopeful testament to the human spirit. We cannot undo the crimes and wars of yesterday nor call back the millions back to life, but we can give meaning to the past by learning its lessons and making a better future. We can let our pain drive us to greater efforts to heal humanity’s suffering.