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Ronald Reagan: Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at a World Affairs Council Luncheon in Los Angeles, California
Ronald Reagan
Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at a World Affairs Council Luncheon in Los Angeles, California
October 28, 1988
Public Papers of the Presidents
Ronald Reagan<br>1988-89: Book II
Ronald Reagan
1988-89: Book II

United States
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The President. Thank you all very much. And Paul Miller, thank you very much for that very kind introduction. It's wonderful to be here in California. And I'm sure you all know I'm looking forward to getting up to the ranch this afternoon— [laughter] -and especially to that day in January when I permanently move from Air Force One. In fact, we've already started to bring a few items back with us from the White House. We came out here—Nancy had me bringing several rolls of paper for lining shelves. [Laughter] And as you may have heard, the Dodgers came to the White House on Wednesday. They were awfully nice; they volunteered to bring a lamp back to Los Angeles. [Laughter]
But I am delighted to be addressing the World Affairs Council again. Much of what I have to discuss today goes to the heart of what this organization is all about: the development through public discussion of a democratic consensus behind a strong American foreign policy. In this regard, the work of the council has been notable and much needed. I'm reminded of one despairing commentator who said sadly a few years ago that if you asked 10 Americans to define "highly nuanced," 6 were liable to respond, "Wasn't he the leader of Ethiopia?" [Laughter]

And the importance of your work comes home particularly now in the final days of a political campaign, a campaign in which the American people will speak out on the issues of war and peace, democracy and totalitarianism, and make decisions that will affect the world and our foreign policy consensus for a great, long time to come. And this election comes, too, after one of the most crucial and significant years in the history of that foreign policy. Right now, we have hopes—and for the moment we must remember that they're only hopes—that our children might see 1988 as the turning point in the great twilight struggle known as the cold war.

In a number of addresses this year, most recently to the United Nations, I've pointed to the extraordinary progress made on so many fronts, that truly—"peace is breaking out all over." Even in the few weeks since I spoke to the General Assembly, we've seen this progress continue in settling regional conflicts in places like Angola, Cambodia, Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf, and elsewhere; regional conflicts once thought impossible to resolve. And so, too, the INF treaty has taken force. We've seen Russian and American missiles—once growing in number and ready to wreak destruction on a massive scale—themselves destroyed in the Russian and American heartland. Arms negotiations continue, too, or are in prospect, in a series of other areas: chemical weapons, conventional weapons, nuclear testing, and of course, the START talks on strategic offensive weapons.

And yet—as we've also frequently pointed out—what prevented progress in the past in these areas, indeed, what was at the heart of the cold war, was not some failure of communications or giant misunderstanding between East and West. Far to the contrary, it was understanding—not misunderstanding-that was the root cause. And I speak here of the clear consensus that developed in the West shortly after World War II on several vital points: the true nature of the Soviet regime, the fundamental distinction between totalitarianism and democracy, and the moral duty to resist the international threat to human rights posed by Soviet expansionism. It was these realities, not some unfortunate or avoidable misunderstanding, that caused East-West tension. And we can forget this lesson only at the greatest peril.

But fortunately, it's also here we see the most encouraging change of all. Every issue of the morning paper seems to bring with it news of questioning in the Soviet Union: questioning of state control of industry, of restrictions on human rights, and even of the ideology of world domination, of class warfare in international politics, all of which formed the greatest barriers between our two nations. This talk of democratic reform in the Soviet Union remains tentative-hardly the stuff of sure-fire prophecy.

Still, to those of us used to the monolithic nature of Soviet society in the postwar era, these changes seem remarkable—no, not conclusive, but certainly remarkable. Like myself, I'm sure most of you would have had trouble a few years ago, given the state of our relations, imagining the sight of an American President strolling through Red Square with his Soviet counterpart, or that same President there in the Lenin Hills addressing the students of Moscow State University on the wonder and splendor of human individual freedom. We see a restiveness also in Eastern Europe, where peoples who've been denied their right of self-determination for four decades are exploring the limits of a new, seemingly more tolerant environment.

In Poland, we see the resurgence of the free labor movement, Solidarity, with which the Government is now forced to negotiate after years of trying to suppress it. In Hungary, bold steps are being taken toward economic reform. Throughout the region, the pressures of change—and, yes, for freedom —are accelerating. And if there are any who doubt the immensity of the change that has come upon us in 8 years, perhaps they should seek out ethnic Americans and ask their opinion. Ask Polish- or Hungarian-Americans—ask Estonian-, Latvian-, or Lithuanian-Americans if it doesn't mean something when relatives in the old country can at last worship in a long-shutdown cathedral or negotiate working conditions in a shipyard. Yes, ethnic Americans will confirm such changes, however long overdue. They'll hold great promise, and we pray today: May that promise be fulfilled.

Change, indeed, is inevitable. No one should doubt the instability of the present situation in Eastern Europe, in which an artificial economic and political system, long imposed on these peoples against their will, is more and more exposed as bankrupt and discredited. The new degree of tolerance of experimentation is welcome. But no one should doubt, either, that Moscow's handling of the growing drive for self-determination within its European empire will be a vital test for us of how deep is the transformation of Soviet foreign policy in a new era.

So, whatever the future may hold, it's safe to say: We've come a long way, and this is a portentous time. Indeed, when I hear some of the critics of our foreign policy, the most apt comparison that comes to mind has nothing to do at all with the serious matters of foreign policy of war and peace. I'm instead brought back to a story of my Hollywood days by scriptwriter Tom Mankiewicz, who described the time his producer walked through the door of his office and asked him what he had planned for the film's archvillain, Blofield. And Mankiewicz very proudly told the producer, "Blofield is going to threaten to blow up the world." And the producer looked at him for a moment and then stormed out of the door in a rage, shouting, "It's not big enough; make it bigger!" [Laughter]

Well, let us remember that great steps have been taken in the last few years, steps to safeguard against archvillains—not to mention the blowing up of the world, of course. Let us not be satisfied, and certainly not smug, but let us be appreciative of what has happened and determined to build on that progress.

Now, in other addresses here, I've noted that maintaining that progress means realizing that our foreign policy during these past 8 years has made a significant departure: We now hold that containment is no longer enough; that ours is a forward strategy for freedom; and that this strategy means not only maintaining our defenses and vigorous diplomatic engagement but also candor about and to our adversaries, support for freedom fighters all around the globe, and encouragement of human rights and democratic reforms within the Eastern bloc. And yet while these elements do signify a departure, we must also remember that all of them are based on the bipartisan consensus developed shortly after World War II, that consensus that was the basis of American foreign policy leadership for the first decades of the postwar period.

As perhaps many of you know, at the close of World War II, Winston Churchill's government was defeated for reelection, a defeat that occurred in the midst of the Potsdam Conference. As Churchill left the conference, he grew depressed at the increasingly aggressive tendencies of the Soviet Government and viewed with great alarm the inability of his own government, under its new leadership, to mount a vigorous challenge to the Soviet refusal to keep its agreements on Germany, Poland, and the other nations of central Europe.

Yet it was the man many disparaged as a former haberdasher and F.D.R.'s ill-prepared understudy, the new American President, Harry Truman, who became an enormous source of comfort and solace to Churchill. Because it was Harry Truman who moved with vigor to meet the Soviet threat to world freedom. Indeed, at the very moment when Europe seemed most vulnerable, the Truman administration, working with a Republican Congress, produced the framework of strategic survival: the Truman doctrine, the Marshall plan, and NATO.

It's well to remember that the Truman doctrine, which saved both Turkey and Greece from the threat of Soviet domination and rallied the forces of freedom in many other nations, was based on two important premises: first, that the United States must be "willing to help free people to maintain their free institutions and their national integrity against aggressive movements that seek to impose upon them totalitarian regimes," and second, "this is no more than a frank recognition that totalitarian regimes imposed upon free peoples, by direct or indirect aggression, undermine the foundation of international peace and hence the security of the United States."

Now, as I say, I believe these premises have held fast, and they're premises not so much changed by this administration as extended. And again, I refer here not only to the concept of military help for freedom fighters but also the concept of pressing, through private but especially public diplomacy, the cause of democratic reform and human rights within the Eastern bloc and even the Soviet Union itself. And yet for all of that, this progression from containment to a forward strategy can be misunderstood if it's thought of strictly in Soviet-American terms.

In point of fact, this new zealousness for freedom has permeated our foreign policy and is seen in all multilateral relations. The call for a worldwide crusade for freedom and democracy, which I first made at Westminster in 1982, was one meant for all nations and all peoples. And in this context, we've stressed, particularly, the importance of freedom in the economic sphere: freedom as the font of human creativity and prosperity.

So, there has been a larger, even deeper change in our foreign policy—not so much a policy decision as a vigorous renewal of America's advocacy of freedom. Today we see its fruits in our daily headlines: people's yearning for democracy in the Philippines and South Korea, or in Chile, Burma, Haiti. Or when this decade began, for example, only a third of the peoples of Latin America lived under democratic regimes; today the figure is close to 90 percent. There are the economic miracles taking place in Southeast Asia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Korea, and even the People's Republic of China itself. In Africa, we've seen a special U.N. General Assembly Session develop a consensus for less state control and more free market incentives.

And I think if we look closely enough here, we'll see at work not just a foreign policy successful at expounding the cause of freedom but a foreign policy successful precisely because its very purpose and meaning was defined by that cause and sprang from the greatest of all ideas of Western thought and civilization: freedom, human dignity under God.

And if I might, I'd like to pause here and

Note: The President spoke at 12:55 p.m. in the International Ballroom at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The question-and-answer session was moderated by J. Curtis Mack II, president of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, and Robin G. Beeby, editor of the World Affairs Journal.
Citation: Ronald Reagan: "Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at a World Affairs Council Luncheon in Los Angeles, California ," October 28, 1988. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=35084.
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