freedom politics

"Tear down this wall!" and freedom in the middle east

I heard a clip of this speech the other day on the radio and I realized that I had never heard the entire thing. I made the effort and I’m glad I did. It’s quite the history lesson. It’s also good to hear the man himself instead of relying on fuzzy memories and modern critics. Listen to it here:

The first 30 seconds or so is a blurb about who is hosting the file, the speech begins after that. This wasn’t that long ago, a little over 20 years, but my how things have changed! Some of the more interesting bits IMO:

1) “The Soviet Union is pointing nuclear weapons at all of the capitals of Europe…” Wow, doesn’t that take you back? We were worried about nuclear war, and for good reason. Reagan has the reputation of being a war monger, but listen and you’ll hear a man that felt that he was doing what had to be done. he certainly didn’t seem to relish the arms race…

2) SDI. Yes, I can hear all of you groan from here. The “Star Wars” project was an infamous government waste of money. It was a waste insofar as it didn’t actually produce any sort of defense anything and cost an amazing amount of money. Believe it or not, there are more than a few historians that credit the SDI with the beginning of the end of the arms race. How? As early as 1968, Reagan had written that the best way to make the Soviet Union collapse was to make them spend a lot of money. His reading of Hayek made him realize that the Soviet system was inherently inefficient (despite all sorts of people, including a fair number of economists thinking otherwise). The American system could absorb many more losses and still function fairly well. History has born out both Hayek’s and Regan’s visions. SDI didn’t have to work, in fact I’m sure that Regan knew it wouldn’t work. All he had to do was convince the Soviets that there was a way to make it work given enough money. The Soviets couldn’t start that kind of research and keep up the ongoing arms race. It was the first crack in their armor, SDI is what made it clear that the US could afford much more than the Soviets, and they started to change…

3) Freedom. I know that use of “freedom” in a political speech is out of favor these days due to dub-ya’s mistakes in the name of it. But really, what Reagan said and what W has promised isn’t all that different, so why is Reagn’s speech moving and W sounds like a buffoon? I think that it was primarily what was causing the lack of freedom. Socialism was an organized, powerful, directed movement against liberty. The USSR was an easy target, and they were genuinely repressing people that wanted things to be different. Today is much different. Except for a few sad holdouts (N. Korea, Cuba), socialism is dead. There are still governments that repress their citizens of course, but none of them are large enough to pose a world-wide threat. They are also not large enough, or powerful enough to consistently fire up Americans… The freedom that W talked about was freedom at the point of a gun. Yes, Saddam was a monster, but that entire area seems to be disposed to autocratic rulers. My time in Yemen made it clear to me that they were not convinced a democracy like the US’s was in their best interests. Most of them would rather have a king…

In other words, the lack of freedom in the middle east was not so much dependent on governments (although there are more than a few repressive ones over there) as it was ingrained in their culture. If you ask them, they will of course claim to desire freedom, but that word has very different connotations to them than to people in the US usually. So the thing that limits freedom is not a monolithic, militarily powerful entity in that part of the world. It is instead diffuse, ingrained, and largely beneath the surface. How do you fight that? Trick question, you can’t “fight” that, you have to cultivate freedom.

So in short, I think that a lot of what caused W problems was the fact that there wasn’t a single thing that he could fight and “win” against. Today’s problems with freedom are quite a bit more complex than in years past. This last administration has been an absolute disaster in that regard. I really hope that Obama can get a feel for the real obstacles to freedom and act accordingly.

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