Earlier this week the President of Georgia, the Caucasian Republic which was under the Russian Empire and then under Soviet dictatorship, unveiled a monument to Ronald Reagan in the capital of his nation, Tbilisi. In his speech, Mikhail Saakashvili – an avowed enemy of Putin and the neo-KGB regime in Moscow – praised Ronald Reagan for destroying the Soviet Empire.
As an Eastern European myself, I share the same feelings about Reagan. In my memory, the 1980s, the final decade of Communism, is associated with one name, Ronald Reagan. The man who made the Communist leaders tremble. He was as old as them, the gerontocracy of the vast Soviet Empire, but he had the stamina and the enthusiasm of a young man. He rode horses, drove his Jeep, exercised, and talked clearly and confidently as if age never touched him. They couldn’t understand the man; and they feared him because he won’t submit to their tactics of bullying.
But even scarier than his personality was his tactics of fighting Communism. Contrary to the accepted interpretation today, Reagan did not fight the empire of evil with superior military might. True, America was far ahead technologically and economically, and she could afford to develop and build the SDI, the “Star Wars” system so much advertized in the 1980s. But both the American and the Soviet leaders knew that it would take long time – the first tests of the system were scheduled 15 years ahead, for 1998. Unlike his liberal predecessors, and unlike our modern warmongering neo-conservatives, Reagan wasn’t eager to deploy military might anywhere around the globe, even if it was for the purpose of fighting Communism. American troops under Reagan administration stayed largely home or in bases in friendly nations. He regretted sending the Marines to die in Lebanon and never repeated the same mistake. So cautious was he at using military power against the strongest and most dangerous enemy America has ever had that the former liberal turned neo-conservative Norman Podhoretz reacted in anger against Reagan’s “insufficiently strong stance against the Soviet Union.” Liberals criticized Reagan for the same reason, just as several years later George H.W. Bush would be criticized by Al Gore himself for not bombing and capturing Baghdad and finding the WMDs that intelligence said were there.
But Reagan was a true conservative. He knew that ideas are more dangerous than bullets, and that America can conquer not with military might and power but with its superior example of liberty and justice for all. And he set out to restore America to her former glory of the freest and the most just nation on this planet. He didn’t finish the job, I concede, but what he started was enough to scare the daylights out of the Communist leaders. They knew that the power of the example of what America has been will make the oppressed peoples in Eastern Europe crave the same liberty and justice for all. And Communism had nothing to compare.
We in Eastern Europe never believed that the United States were going to try to resolve the Cold War by military means. No one really expected a nuclear attack. We knew Reagan didn’t have to do it. The example he set before us with simple words and ideas – even the little that filtered through the wall of the Communist propaganda – was enough for us to have the courage to revolt. By the time his second term was over, Eastern Europe was ripe for a revolution. And it did revolt.
Mr. Saakashvili is right to honor Ronald Reagan as the president who destroyed the empire of evil. Not by might, and not by power, but by the power of the ideas that America was based upon.
We need such a President today.