“We bought it, we paid for it, it’s ours, and we’re going to keep it.”
— Ronald Reagan on the campaign trail, 1976
When Ronald Reagan single-handedly crashed the bipartisan party calling for surrender of the Panama Canal to an unstable Third World country, both the media and the foreign-policy establishment denounced the future 40th president as irresponsible. Although his farsighted defense of American interests fell just short of preventing the U.S. Senate from ratifying the two related canal treaties in 1978, his bold embrace of American nationalism struck a responsive chord with voters and helped propel the former California governor to the White House two years later.
A generation later, Reagan’s opposition to the canal “giveaway” stands in striking contrast to the GOP’s muted response to the Obama administration’s Ides of March announcement of intentions to surrender another U.S. engineering feat — the Internet — to another shady crowd, the “international community.”
Indeed, it has fallen mostly to backbenchers such as Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina and Representative Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee — not to congressional leadership or GOP first-stringers looking toward 2016 presidential runs — to push back against the administration’s still-developing plans. That’s because the party is not really committed to defending the U.S. Department of Commerce’s public-utility-like regulation of ICANN, the Los Angeles–based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which was chartered in 1998 to issue website address and maintain the master directory.
As reflected in the unanimous 2012 House resolution on Internet governance, congressional Republicans — while opposing oversight of the Internet’s backend by the United Nations or by a single foreign government — have joined with their Democratic counterparts in supporting a transition to some global post-American, “multi-stakeholder” system.
Were he alive today, Reagan would remind his fellow Republicans that the Commerce–ICANN partnership has functioned exceedingly well in building out the Internet to serve billions around the globe. Moreover, given the singular role of the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in creating the Net in the first place — enabling the United States to bestow another remarkable blessing on the world — he would never support handing over our modest oversight of cyberspace to anyone, even a global nongovernmental organization. No matter the motive — whether it’s a notion of fairness, a desire to gain goodwill, or a perverted sense of Western guilt — that’s not the way a superpower thinks, especially one that wants to remain Number 1.
In contrast, no one is surprised that President Obama wants to relinquish our leadership in an extraordinary critical venue that showcases U.S. technological superiority to the entire world. Unlike Reagan, Obama is no nation-builder. The Democratic chief executive proudly considers himself foremost a citizen of the world, a multiculturalist who sees nothing exceptional about America, her culture, or her people.
Indeed, his secretary of state, John Kerry — who found nothing good to say about his brave fellow soldiers in Vietnam — last fall repudiated as politically incorrect the Monroe Doctrine, which for nearly two centuries had positioned the United States as the benevolent protector of the Western Hemisphere. This is the same Cabinet official who recently declared global warming, another fashionable cause of international elites, to be as dangerous a threat as terrorism.
Nor should we be surprised that ICANN’s new president, Fadi Chehadé, has been doing the European Union’s bidding to move the monopoly to Geneva and out from under the Commerce Department’s common-sense oversight. Reflecting the globalist ambitions of corporate America, the nonprofit service organization no longer keeps our national interests front and center. As reported by the Wall Street Journal’s L. Gordon Crovitz, Chehadé joined with Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff last fall to call for next month’s conference in Brazil on global Internet governance.
But we should expect more of Republicans. They should be calling for a long extension of the Commerce–ICANN relationship — and demand that ICANN remain in the United States and under our thumb. Such courage in the face of international pressure would be a game-changer. Preserving the Internet as an American network — yet one that remains open to the entire world — would help the GOP gain needed traction with Silicon Valley, whose deep pockets have heavily supported Democrats for several election cycles but whose lifeblood is this quintessentially American infrastructure innovation.
More important, keeping the Net in our hands would signal that we have the will, determination, and resolve to defend ourselves against the rampant anti-Americanism of the global Left and the international glitterati, who want to cut us down to size. An America saddled with an anemic economy, bleeding millions of middle-income jobs thanks to globalization and financialization policies — and recently embarrassed in Syria and Ukraine — desperately needs a fresh demonstration of the same independence and self-reliance that enabled her to fill a continent and become the world’s preeminent nation, culture, and economy in less than 150 years.
As Reagan sensed in 1976, an appeal to American nationalism and solidarity would resonate with the voters, including millions who have never voted Republican and who believe that both parties have sold out to the globalists. At the same time, such an appeal would help fulfill Reagan’s strategy, largely abandoned since, of no more retreat from American territory, resources, or power.
— Robert W. Patterson served in the administrations of President George W. Bush and Governor Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania.