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Reagan's Last Speech on Foreign Policy at University of Virginia

By Leilani Corpus
Published January 1, 1989

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA (FR) – President Ronald Reagan delivered his last speech on foreign policy to approximately 1,000 students and faculty in December at the University of Virginia’s rotunda. The university was selected as the proper site for the speech, President Reagan said, because its founder Thomas Jefferson had a presidency which paralleled his own in many ways.

“We have seen the growth of a Jeffersonian-like populism that rejects the burden placed on the people by excessive regulation and taxation … that judgeships should be used to further privately held beliefs not yet approved by the people, and, finally, … the notion that foreign policy must reflect only the rarefied concerns of Washington rather than the common sense of a people who can frequently see far more plainly dangers to their freedom and to our national well-being.”

On Soviet relations, Reagan explained that considerable progress has been made since the Cold War of the Carter years, and that General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev was different from Nikita Kruschev and Leonid Brezhnev. However, Reagan warned “… it could not have happened if the West had not maintained, indeed strengthened, its will, and its commitment to world freedom. So there was nothing inevitable about all of this.

“And this is the heart of my point: What happens in the next few years – whether all this progress is continued or ended – this is in large part up to us. It is why now more than ever we must not falter.” Soviet relations were marked by “sterility and confrontation,” he said, but now are “characterized by realistic, candid dialogue.” However, “all of it is also still in doubt. And the only way to make it last and grow and become permanent is to remember: we are not there yet.”

In negotiating treaties, he advised, “Trust but verify. It means keeping our military strong. It means remembering no treaty is better than a bad treaty. It means remembering the accords of Moscow and Washington summits followed many years of standing firm on our principles and our interests and those of our allies.”

Reagan criticized congressional attempts to control foreign policy development. “We see it in the attempt to manage complex issues of foreign policy by the blunt instrument of legislation – such as unduly restrictive intelligence oversight, limits on arms transfers, and earmarking of 95 percent of our foreign assistance – denying a president the ability to respond flexibly to rapidly changing conditions.”

The adversarial relationship between the White House and Congress in implementing foreign policy, such as in Central America, has “faltered (foreign policy) and our common purposes have not been achieved. Congress’ on-again, off-again indecisiveness on resisting Sandinista tyranny and aggression has left Central America a region of continuing danger.”

Reagan stated that his most significant accomplishments were the strengthening of the military and the economy. “When I took office, half of our military planes could not fly for lack of parts and about half of our ships were in port for lack of crew. My desire was to re-establish our military strength and a patriotism in which a soldier would be proud to wear his uniform. We now have more high-school graduates in the military than ever before, and this is a volunteer service.”

Although college students registered the lowest turnout in the 1984 election, President Reagan noted that the 18 to 24-year-old age bracket were the “most definite supporters of the things we’ve been doing the last eight years.” A student asked for his advice since he was “the only president we know or care to remember.”

Reagan responded, “Go to the polls and make your voice heard. It is your world. You have to take the reins of government.” He added that if he could lobby the audience, he would push for a line-item veto and balanced budget. However, he stated that he plans to spend his time after the inauguration on the fundraising dinner circuit, mobilizing support for such issues.

- by Robert Cushing and Leilani Corpus

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