Reagan’S Moral Clarity Helped Bring Down Totalitarianism


On Nov. 9, 1989, the world watched as the Berlin Wall fell. The 20th anniversary of that historic moment provides an opportunity to reflect on the Cold War and what that period of history can teach us.

President Ronald Reagan is often said to have won the Cold War “without firing a shot.”

Unfortunately, the current administration seems to have forgotten the overarching lesson of President Reagan’s legacy.

His predecessor had urged Americans to abandon their “inordinate fear of Communism.” But President Reagan was determined to infuse U.S. foreign policy with moral clarity, which had been lost during the 1970s.

The Reagan administration championed the cause of democracy activists in Russia and Eastern Europe, and it did not shy away from exposing the Soviet Union’s complete denial of personal freedom.

In 1982, when the United States was mired in its worst recession since World War II, President Reagan defied the pessimism of the day and predicted that “the march of freedom and democracy will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people.”

Roughly a year later, he called the Soviet Union what it so obviously was: an “evil empire.” The “evil empire” speech drew criticism from many of Reagan’s domestic political opponents, and it greatly angered the Kremlin. But it also galvanized Soviet dissidents, who were encouraged that a U.S. president had been bold enough to denounce the moral bankruptcy of communism.

One particular Soviet dissident, Natan Sharansky, found Reagan’s speech deeply inspiring. Sharansky read about it in the pages of Pravda, the Soviet propaganda newspaper, while he was imprisoned in a gulag on the Siberian border.

Years later, Sharansky described his reaction to the speech, as well as the reaction of his fellow prisoners: “Tapping on walls,” he wrote, “word of Reagan’s ‘provocation’ quickly spread throughout the prison. We dissidents were ecstatic. Finally, the leader of the free world had spoken the truth — a truth that burned inside the heart of each and every one of us.”

This past June, when pro-democracy rallies broke out in Iran following a fraudulent election, I hoped that the current administration would follow President Reagan’s example of American leadership and offer strong support for the Iranians who took to the streets and risked their lives to oppose a tyrannical regime. But the president’s statement expressing “deep concerns about the election” lacked the moral fortitude the world has come to expect from America, the world’s standard bearer of freedom and democracy.

Iranians have renewed their protests against the regime, this time to mark the 30th anniversary of the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. The White House again failed to use the opportunity to make the moral case for freedom over totalitarian oppression.

In a message to the White House, demonstrators could be heard chanting: “Either you’re with them, or with us.”

I believe the president should stand with democracy and use this opportunity to underline the moral failings of Iran’s dictatorship.

Anthony Dolan, chief speechwriter for President Reagan, wrote in the Nov. 9 edition of the Wall Street Journal, “Reagan spoke formally and repeatedly of deploying against criminal regimes the one weapon they fear more than military or economic sanction: the publicly-spoken truth about their moral absurdity, their ontological weakness ... their own oppressed people.”

Moral clarity helped Ronald Reagan bring down Soviet totalitarianism during the 1980s, and it can help us bring freedom to Iran today.

Sen. Jon Kyl is the Senate Republican Whip and serves on the Senate Finance and Judiciary committees. Visit his Web site at or his YouTube channel at


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