As we conservatives celebrate the centennial of Ronald Reagan’s birth amid the uprising in Egypt, we’d do well to reflect upon what it is that made Reagan such a unique, impressive and singular politician.
For me, three traits in particular stand out: his strategic vision, his optimism, and his unwavering belief in the universal aspiration for liberty. Unfortunately, all three of these characteristics are sorely lacking, I regret to say, in most of the conservative commentary about Egypt, Islam and the Middle East.
Reagan, you will recall, came into office in 1981 when all of the “experts” — including many conservative “experts” and media desk jockeys — were convinced that the Soviet Union could never be defeated. It was too big, too powerful and too permanent.
Reagan disagreed. “It is the Soviet Union that runs against the tide of history,” he said. It is “the march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history…”
Would that today’s conservative “leaders” possessed Reagan’s wisdom and prescience. But alas, they do not. Instead, they seem convinced that radical Islam and “Sharia” are poised to overrun and overtake America.
On Fox’s Hannity Show, for instance, Frank Gaffney said that “the Obama administration’s policies are being viewed through, and actually articulated and implemented through, influence operations that the Muslim Brotherhood itself is running in our own country.”
David Horowitz, likewise, has been providing intellectual cover fire for the fearful and paranoid Right, especially Glenn Beck, who promotes Horowitz on his show.
Beck, of course, is notable of late for his ludicrous declaration that the Egyptian revolution could well lead to an Islamic caliphate, from Morocco to India to the Philippines.
Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol counters: “Beck brings to mind no one so much as Robert Welch and the John Birch Society.” Beck, Kristol writes, is “marginalizing himself, just as his predecessors did back in the early 1960s.”
Reagan would have acknowledged that radical Islam is a threat, just as communism was a threat. But the Islamists, like the communists, are not 10-feet tall. And where most conservatives saw despair and disaster, Reagan saw hope and opportunity.
Thus, against the counsel of many prominent conservative “leaders” and media desk jockeys, he reached out to, and negotiated with, Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev.
At the same time, Reagan bled the Soviet empire in Afghanistan and wreaked havoc with the Soviet economy. He did this by arming the Mujahideen, deregulating domestic U.S. energy markets and pressing Saudi Arabia to surge its oil production.
Reagan, I believe, would have seen similar hope and opportunity in the Egyptian revolution. He would have understood that even if the Egyptian people often lack the democratic vocabulary necessary to express their inchoate political desires, theirs is a yearning for dignity and liberty.
And so, Reagan, I dare say, would have reached out to and have supported the Egyptian people — just as he reached out to and supported the people in Poland and Nicaragua, Eastern Europe and Central America. He would have seen in the Egyptian uprising a great strategic opportunity to hasten the demise of radical Islam, and to effect crucial and long overdue reforms in the Arab and Islamic worlds.
Sure, many conservative “leaders” and media desk jockeys would lambaste such a vision as “foolish” and “naïve.” That’s what many of them said in the 1980s when Reagan insisted on dealing with Gorbachev and talked about rendering nuclear weapons obsolete.
But Reagan knew better. And the world is a vastly different and much better place as a result.
Indeed, the Berlin Wall was destroyed; communism in Eastern and Central Europe collapsed; and the Soviet Union dissolved. Not bad for a man whom the conservative cognoscenti often dismissed as a hopeless, cockeyed optimist.
The conservative movement needs a lot more of Reagan’s vision right now, especially vis-à-vis Egypt and the Middle East.