Remarks to the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
Thank you, President Ford, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Michael Novak, Irving Kristol, and Bill Butcher for those humbling words of praise. And thank you, Chris DeMuth, for the honor that you've bestowed upon me. But I think the honor you pay me is more truly due to everyone here tonight. For many of the ideas that animated our administration can trace their ancestry to the pens and typewriters and word processors of all of you.
Of course, it would be a massive understatement to say I see a lot of familiar faces in this room. In fact, for a minute I thought I had stumbled into the White House mess. [Laughter] But then I remembered you don't have to wear black tie in the mess -- well, not until January 20th, anyway. [Laughter]
as you know, I've just been to
will not be surprised to hear that I particularly stressed the importance of
human rights in U.S.-Soviet relations. I told the President that we Americans
welcomed the changes that he has initiated in the
Now, I don't need to tell all of you what this may mean. It would be useless anyway, since over the course of the next few days I'll probably be reading immensely informed and pointed articles about what it means in all sorts of publications -- [laughter] -- and they'll all be by people in this room. [Laughter]
the Soviet unilateral troop reduction, I can only say that if it's carried out
speedily and in full, history will regard it as important, significant. And we
did see history today: an American President and Vice President meeting a
President of the
all of this is testimony to a process that was begun in 1985 in
So, the meeting today was a time for reflection and for continuity. Now, let me do the same with you and consider how we've done these last 8 years and whether we've done well. And I do mean ``we.'' We have come a long way together, from the intellectual wilderness of the 1960's, through the heated intellectual battles of the 1970's, to the intellectual fruition of the 1980's.
The American Enterprise Institute stands at the center of a revolution in ideas of which I, too, have been a part. Our ideas were greeted with varying degrees of scorn and hostility by what we used to call the establishment institutions. The universities, once the only real home for American scholarships, had been particularly unresponsive. And so, it became necessary to create our own research institutions as places where scholars could congregate and important studies could be produced that did not kowtow to the conventional wisdom. And your institution's remarkably distinguished body of work is testimony to the triumph of the think tank. For today, the most important American scholarship comes out of our think tanks, and no think tank has been more influential than the American Enterprise Institute.
What we wanted was a chance to try our ideas out on the world stage. We have. And, my friends, I hope you're as proud as I; because despite the naysayers and the conventional wisdom, the words of the pundits and the false prophecies of false Cassandras who proclaimed we could not succeed, we knew we were right. And I believe that, yes, we have been vindicated.
nowhere is that more true than in the realm of foreign policy. We came to
Yes, it seems to me that we've been as one these past 8 years in an effort to establish a foreign policy that stood in firm opposition to the previous decade's misguided attempt to place this country on what they used to call in the 1970's the right side of history -- by which those who used that unpleasant Marxist phrase meant we should accept the dominion of our adversaries over large parts of the world. We said no. We said we must propound and advance our national ideals abroad and once again hold high the banner for what I will, until the breath is gone from my body, continue to call the free world.
We promulgated a foreign policy whose fundamental basis was the truths all Americans hold to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We have done this not solely because we believe it is right, but because we know it is in our national interest to do so.
foreign policy based on our bedrock principles allows us to offer a practical
solution to the suffering peoples of the world, a means of achieving prosperity
and political stability that all Americans take for granted as their
birthright. What we're telling them -- and their ofttimes
recalcitrant leaders -- is that they cannot achieve prosperity and stability
through redistribution of resources or by taking up arms against a sea of
self-inflicted troubles. We've seen how that last monstrous idea was worked
this decade. The war between
No, we've told the world the truth we've learned from the noble tradition of Western culture, and that is that the only answer to poverty, to war, to oppression is one simple word: freedom. Now, freedom is not only a moral imperative for our foreign policy; it's also -- if I may use a word for which few in this room have much use -- supremely pragmatic. [Laughter] For if there's anything the world has learned in the 1980's, it is that, as Alan Keyes has said, freedom works.
a historic lesson, because until very recently many intellectuals believed to
the contrary. They supported political philosophies that argued for tyranny,
and more particularly Communist tyranny. The claim was that these tyrannies
worked better than freedom and were more equitable. These intellectuals
believed that the people of Mao's
These noxious ideas have not, to put it mildly, withstood the scrutiny of honest scholars and the testimony of those fortunate enough to escape from those national prison camps. Refugees have told us what diligent researchers at AEI were meticulously demonstrating: that where there is little freedom, there is little food; that where there is totalitarian indoctrination instead of education, literacy programs are a form of spiritual and psychological coercion; that in these countries, infant mortality is shockingly high and is getting worse; that the poverty-stricken tyrannies of the 1980's have only grown poorer and poorer; that tyranny is a parasite that saps the strength of a nation in its sway; that like those who lived under Macbeth's tyranny, the tyrannized millions will ever cry out, ``Our country sinks beneath the yoke. It weeps. It bleeds. And each new day a gash is added to her wounds.''
fails. Freedom works. These facts, so little accepted only a decade ago, are
now indisputable. There is little need here to rehearse the evidence in great
detail. The tiny free-exchange experiments in the East bloc and the
liberalization in the People's Republic of
I know it's often said of me that I'm an optimist. Over the years I've been described as an inveterate optimist, an eternal optimist, a reflexive optimist -- [laughter] -- a born optimist, a canny optimist, a cagey optimist -- even as defiantly optimistic. [Laughter] It just goes to show there's no word that cannot be turned into a pejorative if the pundits work hard enough at it.
But, yes, I am perfectly happy to admit that I am an optimist, and I would like to explain why I believe -- in contrast to some of you here tonight -- that optimism is an appropriate attitude to bring to bear when thinking about our foreign policy.
story of this century is actually two stories. It's a terrible story of world
wars, totalitarian enslavement, concentration camps; but it's also the story of
freedom: the fulfillment of the promise of freedom inside the
one may, if one chooses, take the first story as the representative tale of the
20th century. Well, I look to the second and find glorious examples of what
freedom can bring. I think of how astonishing it is that
Freedom works, and freedom is on the march. And, yes, I am an optimist, and, yes, I believe I have every reason to be. I am an optimist because we're rapidly developing the means to neutralize the extraordinary threat of nuclear missiles through our Strategic Defense Initiative. I am an optimist because I believe we've proved with our policy of peace through strength that when we're strong, peace and freedom will prevail. This November, the electorate told us they agreed.
But while I believe that optimism is appropriate, and while I believe that freedom is on the march, I believe optimism must be tempered with prudence and its assumptions challenged every waking moment of every day. The new democracies around the world are fragile, and inattention to their fragility and their needs may result in the end of freedom there.
troubled by something else as well. The 1980's have been the glory years of the
NATO alliance. The Soviet deployment of intermediate-range missiles presented
NATO with its greatest challenge since the construction of the Berlin Wall, and
the alliance not only survived but was vindicated by the signing of the INF
agree that our NATO allies could be sharing the burden better. But we must also
solve our economic disputes more fairly. But we must always remember the very
real burden our allies bear that we never will. We must remember our allies
perform a role that geography has forced upon them. They are literally on the
front lines for the West. Our fortunate geography has kept the wars of the 20th
century well away from the American mainland, but in
I believe we can and will make progress on these matters as long as we hold true to our principles and do not give up the battle. Now, I would like to ask those of you in this room who consider yourselves foreign policy skeptics to do me one last favor: I want to ask you to remain vigilant. You are the people who play the vital role of reminding politicians and policymakers of many important and necessary truths we sometimes forget. It's true that sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees; indeed, sometimes you can't even see the trees for the grass that surrounds them. So, please, for George Bush's sake and for the sake of all we hold dear, please keep watching the forest.
I take my leave of you now by offering a final prayer that God may bless and keep all of you all of the days of your life. Thank you, and good night.
Note: The President spoke at in the International Ballroom at the Washington Hilton Hotel. In his opening remarks, he referred to Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, former U.S. Representative to the United Nations; Michael Novak, director of social and political studies at the institute; Irving Kristol, the AEI John M. Olin distinguished fellow; William Butcher, chairman and chief executive officer of Chase Manhattan Bank; and Christopher DeMuth, president of the institute.