It’s been a busy and momentous fortnight. As we celebrated Christmas and prepare for 2012, the world said a warm goodbye to Vaclav Havel, and a bitter good riddance to Kim Jong Il. Also, political observers noted the passing of legendary essayist Christopher Hitchens, and glimpsed a cinematic preview of the upcoming Margaret Thatcher movie.
For Havel’s contributions, the Czech people enjoy a democratic republic, free of the Soviet menace. For Hitchens’ contributions, atheism was momentarily in vogue and the Iraq war found an eloquent defender. For Mr. Jong Il’s contributions, millions are dead, millions more are starving, and nuclear technology was exported to Syria and Iran. For Maggie Thatcher’s contributions, the British resurrected their economy and helped bring down the Evil Empire.
Of these, three were world leaders, two were champions of liberty. The latter provide useful instruction for those in power today. In different ways, Margaret Thatcher and Vaclav Havel bore witness to the consequence of supporting freedom at home and abroad, and demonstrated that convictions produce beneficent consequences. In America, this is sometimes true.
Reagan brought morning to America, death to the Soviet Union, and hope to the persecuted everywhere. “Tear down this wall!” became the freedom cry of a generation. The Clinton presidency, in contrast, was said to be a vacation from history. Rather than set the course of world events or stand for grand ideas, President Clinton reacted to them and reacted too late: to Bosnia, to Islamic terrorism, to Rwanda, to the Lewinsky affair. “I did not have sex with that woman” became the mocking tag line of an inconsequential presidency.
9/11 woke America up, and history was upon us. The War on Terror changed the terms of the terrorism debate – America entered the contest and took the fight to the enemy on the enemy’s territory, but on America’s terms. Led by President Bush, our soldiers and diplomats, America enabled the birth of freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan at great and tragic cost. Across the globe, the message was sent: America cares about freedom outside its shores, and will support those who labor for it.