Reviews | To counter Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, turn to Ronald Reagan

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RANCHO DEL CIELO, California – Arriving at the Reagan Ranch in California’s Santa Ynez Mountains is like stepping back in time to the 1980s. The 40th President’s Western White House is privately owned by the Young America Foundation, which invites high school and college students to visit and learn about the Reagan legacy. There are no exhibits or velvet ropes. Everything remains as it was when the Reagans lived here, from Nancy’s handwritten instructions for operating the TV remote to the pot of freeze-dried ‘Brim’ coffee in the kitchen.

Going back to the 1980s is a relief at a time when our nation seems to be reliving the 1970s. Inflation is at a 40-year high, the economy is shrinking, gas prices are skyrocketing, a US ally has been knocked down by Islamist radicals and an expansionist Russia invaded one of its neighbours. This is practically the second coming of the Carter administration. So it’s comforting to be in a place, however briefly, where he still is”Morning in America.”

My visit coincided with that of the late president’s son, Michael Reagan, a longtime conservative radio host and author. He brought his grandchildren – President Reagan’s great-grandchildren – on their first visit to the ranch to bury their cat, Sticky, in the family cemetery. I ask Michael what his father would have done with Ukraine. “It would never have happened if he had been president,” says Michael. He is right. Not far from here, at the Reagan Presidential Library, a quote from Reagan is inscribed on a sign: “We know very well that war does not come when the forces of freedom are strong, but when they are weak. It is then that tyrants are tempted.

The weak Biden administration tempted Russian tyrant Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine. So now is a good time to reflect on some important lessons from Reagan on how to confront and reverse Putin’s unprovoked aggression.

Reagan assumed the presidency following our withdrawal from Vietnam. Then, as now, the Americans had no desire to send American troops to fight in distant lands. He had to find a way to roll back Soviet expansionism without committing American ground forces to every global flashpoint. Thus, he forged the Reagan Doctrine, which recognized that there were brave men around the world ready to fight their own wars of liberation. With American weapons, training and intelligence, as well as financial, diplomatic and humanitarian support, they could liberate their nations from Russian domination. By providing such assistance, Reagan helped freedom fighters from Central America to South Asia free their country from the grip of an expansionist Russia. He also worked with Pope John Paul II to channel millions of dollars to the Solidarity movement in Poland, laying the foundations for the liberation of that country from Soviet domination.

Today in Ukraine, a new generation of freedom fighters is defending their country against Russian expansionism. For months, President Biden has slowed arms deliveries to kyiv, terrified that stronger US backing would be “provocative” and could bring on “World War III.” As Putin’s forces committed unspeakable atrocities against Ukrainian civilians, President Volodymyr Zelensky pleaded for weapons, ask: “What does NATO do? Is it led by Russia?“It was only after two months and thousands of needless deaths that Biden agreed to provide Ukraine with the heavy weapons needed to roll back Russian forces.

Today, Congress is moving forward with a nearly $40 billion military and humanitarian aid package for Ukraine that would make Reagan proud. The package passed the House 368 to 57, and the Senate voted 81 to 11 to continue to the final pass. The good news is that the bill has broad bipartisan support. The bad news is that Reagan’s Republican colleagues made up all the “no’s”. Shamefully, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation, one of Reagan’s favorite think tanks, lobbied against the aid program, to announce that he “takes money away from the priorities of the American people and recklessly sends our taxpayers’ money to a foreign nation”. This is the same argument the left made against funding the Reagan Doctrine in the 1980s.

In his farewell address at the 1992 GOP convention, Reagan called on fellow Republicans to reject “new isolationists” who “insist that our triumph [in the Cold War] are yesterday’s news, part of a past that holds no lessons for the future. We must never return, he said, to a world “where our leaders told us that standing up to aggressors was dangerous.”

For many who remember the Reagan years, those words still ring true. We have Cold War muscle memory. A Washington Post-ABC News poll finds the majority of people 40 and older support increased military aid to Ukraine. But only 38% of young Republicans, who grew up in the post-Cold War era, support increased military aid, and 52% oppose it. Which means the Young America’s Foundation has its work cut out to remind a new generation that in the Reagan era words, “a violation of human rights anywhere is the business of free people everywhere.” Bring them here to the Reagan Ranch.

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