President Reagan decided what he believed in, stuck to it through thick and thin, and finally, through its success, persuaded others. But I still recall those dark early days of this decade when both our countries were grappling with the twin disasters of inflation and recession and when some people, even in our own parties, wanted to abandon our policies before they had had a proper chance to take effect. They were times for cool courage and a steady nerve. That is what they got from the president. I remember his telling me, at a meeting at the British Embassy in 1981, that for all the difficulties we then faced, we would be “home safe and soon enough.”
The economic recovery was, however, but part of a wider recovery of America’s confidence and role in the world. For the malaise of the 1970s went beyond economics. The experience of Vietnam had bred an understandable but dangerous lack of national self-confidence on the U.S. side of the Atlantic. Or so it seemed to outsiders. There was a marked reluctance in American public opinion to advance American power abroad even in defense of clear American and Western interests. And politicians struggled against this national mood at their electoral peril.
President Reagan took office at a time when the Soviet Union was invading Afghanistan, placing missiles in Eastern Europe aimed at West European capitals, and assisting Communist groups in the Third World to install themselves in power against the popular will, and when America’s response was hobbled by the so-called “Vietnam syndrome.” And not just America’s response. The entire West, locked in a battle of wills with the Soviets, seemed to be losing confidence.
President Reagan’s first step was to change the military imbalance which underlay this loss of confidence. He built up American power in a series of defense budgets. There have been criticisms of this build-up as too expensive. Well, a sure defense is expensive, but not nearly so expensive as weakness could turn out to be.
By this military build-up, President Reagan strengthened not only American defenses, but also the will of America’s allies. It led directly to NATO’s installation of cruise and Pershing missiles in Western Europe. This took place in the teeth of Moscow’s biggest “peace offensive” since the Berlin crises of the early Sixties. That offensive included a Soviet walkout from the Geneva talks on nuclear disarmament and mass demonstrations and lobbies by “peace groups” in Western Europe. Yet these tactics failed, the missiles were installed, and the Soviets returned to the bargaining table to negotiate about withdrawing their own missiles.
President Reagan has also demonstrated that he is not afraid to put to good use the military strength he had built up. And it is noteworthy — though not often noted — that many of the decisions he has taken in the face of strong criticism have been justified by events. It was President Reagan who, amid cries that his policy lacked any rationale, stationed U.S. ships alongside European navies in the Persian Gulf to protect international shipping. Not only did this policy secure its stated purpose, it also protected the Gulf states against aggression and thus hastened the end of the conflict by foreclosing any option of widening the war.
The president enjoyed a similar success in the continuing battle against terrorism. He took action against one of the states most active in giving aid and comfort to terrorist organizations: Colonel Qaddafi’s Libya. We in Britain had experienced Qaddafi’s murderous methods at first hand when a member of the Libyan Embassy shot down a young policewoman in cold blood in a London square. We had no doubts about the reality of Libyan involvement. I therefore had no hesitation in supporting the American air strike, which has resulted in a marked reduction of Libyan-sponsored terrorism.