I'm a hawk on Iraq, because I trust the United States to leave that troubled country much better off than how we found it. We almost always do, which is why the left and the anti-war crowd are so wrong about U.S. foreign policy. They have far too much distrust of America and far too much trust in our adversaries and bad ideas like socialism.
I became a "conservative" as a student at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in the early '80s. My suspicions of leftist politics and economics were already growing, so when President Reagan broke the Vietnam War curse by landing U.S. Marines on the Marxist-led island nation of Grenada in 1983, I was inclined to support the Gipper. When I saw my fellow students immediately rush to the streets to protest "U.S. imperialism" without bothering to find out if the Grenadians themselves welcomed us as liberators (they did), my pro-freedom, anti-communist thinking was crystallized. So was my utter dismay at the left, dismay which remains to this day.
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So when I see reactionary peaceniks spouting their Iraq mantra of "blood for oil," or liberals in angst over President Bush's "arrogance," my thoughts go back to the America-led war against communism and how so many on the left were so wrong about one of the most important political debates of the last century. Isn't it telling how so few "progressives" – and liberal pundits – repented for backing totalitarian regimes, or for demonizing Reagan's policy of standing up to Soviet aggression? The fact is, Reagan's "peace through strength" statesmanship ushered in the demise of Soviet communism and brought democracy to millions of Eastern Europeans, but many liberals still don't want to give him (much less conservatives) the credit he deserves.
Make no mistake: The left's capacity of self-delusion is boundless, and modern liberals' na?vet? about the real world – in which tyrants like Saddam Hussein do not relinquish power unless forced to do so – is breathtaking. Conservatives, too, have occasionally gone too far in justifying alliances with dictators who violate human rights on a regular basis.
What drew me into politics, fresh out of college, was the debate on communism and U.S. policy in Central America. Like most conservatives, I was a strong supporter of Reagan's efforts to defend democracy in El Salvador and unseat the Marxist Sandinista regime in Nicaragua, which took power after leading a popular rebellion against dictator and former U.S. ally Anastasio Somoza (one of those repressive regimes we backed for too long). You may recall that when it became clear that the Sandinistas would not fulfill their democratic promises, began repressing dissent, and allied themselves with Cuba and the Soviet bloc, Reagan funded an army of "freedom fighters" (the media called them "Contras") against the Marxist government.
Liberals and leftists and Democrat congressmen finally succeeded in cutting off U.S. funds for the Contras, but this ragtag force and Reagan's determined defense of democracy forced the Sandinista regime to call an internationally supervised election in Nicaragua, which I covered as a freelancer. I'll never forget election night in Managua on Feb. 25, 1990, when the returns were coming in and the democratic opposition led by Violeta Chamorro saw that it was headed for an upset victory over the Sandinistas. (Polls predicted the opposite, fooling even seasoned observers like ABC News' Peter Jennings, who forgot that persecuted people don't confide in strangers conducting surveys.) The next day, as sullen Western leftists from America, Germany, Sweden and other countries glumly bemoaned the Sandinistas' defeat, jubilant Nicaraguans partied in the streets, and drove around Managua in beat-up Toyota pick-up trucks, taunting the rich foreigners (whom they nicknamed "Sandalistas" because of their trendy footwear) with their spontaneous glee.
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Since that historic day, there have been two other presidential elections in Nicaragua (the most recent occurred last year) and each time, a democratic coalition defeated the Sandinista party. But those elections would not have happened if Reagan had listened to the left and "trusted" the Marxists to do the right thing. The left and its sympathizers in the media and academia were dead wrong about Central America, as they have been about so many struggles abroad in the last decade. They are blind to the reality that the United States – with all of its warts – has been, for the most part, a tremendous force for good in the world. And we will be for the suffering Iraqi people, as well. I can't predict the future, but I have to believe that come a year from now, the Iraqis will be as pro-American as the Poles, and Grenadians, and Nicaraguans – and Bulgarians, Latvians, Lithuanians and Romanians – are today.
That said, my work in the pro-family movement for the last dozen years has tempered my pro-American outlook. When I look honestly at the "culture war" issues of abortion, homosexuality and pornography – social issues that take the moral temperature of a culture, and a nation – I cannot help but feel a sense of shame at the degenerate, anti-Christian values that Americans promote overseas. We do this through official government policies: using U.S. foreign aid to promote abortion in other countries, a Clinton policy ended by President Bush; linking our aid dollars to the promotion of condoms and "safe sex" in Third World countries; and sending a homosexual, Michael Guest – joined by his male lover – to represent the American people as ambassador to Romania. (One Romanian group called President Bush's appointment of Guest an "affront to Romanian traditions.")
All this is bad enough, but the greater damage comes from the libertine and coarse popular culture that America projects abroad, mostly through violence- and sex-saturated movies, and media like MTV. Because America has risen to be the world's preeminent power in a media age, the culture that promotes sexual immorality, porn and vulgarity to America's kids also promotes them to the world's children. Let's face it: American pop culture, while promoting a lot of great music and entertainment, is also the world's most corrosive influence on traditional morality. In a strictly biblical sense, we're helping other cultures embrace and tolerate sin.
And they often resent us for it. I remember hearing a radio report about how some African countries ban the importation of certain American TV shows featuring black characters due to the vulgarity and decadent values in these programs. MTV, which promotes homosexuality, abortion and casual sex – not to mention immodesty, irreverence and a host of other vices – is beamed all over the world. Sometimes I want to apologize to foreign cultures and tell them that Hollywood and America's abortion and sexual sin lobbies don't speak for me and millions of other Americans.
America has lost her innocence, and we're helping other nations lose theirs. The libertines, unhitched from the Bible's eternal, guiding compass, are wreaking havoc here and abroad. It is no wonder that Third World missionaries now come to our shores to witness to the truth of Jesus Christ. We desperately need a spiritual and moral awakening. I understand that things are much worse in Europe, where they're now racing to legalize "gay marriage." But America is special. Our biblical heritage and religious freedom has given us a moral discourse that sets us apart from the more cynical Western Europeans, whose intellectual class is mired in postmodernism and who possess much greater apathy on social issues like abortion and homosexuality. (You might recall Americans' shock when it was reported that the widow of former French President Francois Mitterand invited his mistress, Anne Pingeot, and Pingeot's daughter by Mitterrand, to attend his funeral.)
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President Bush's Iraq speech Monday night was marvelous in its moral clarity and as a reminder of America's national idealism, which, at its best, suffuses unparalleled strategic power with old-fashioned virtue, to the benefit of millions abroad. I wish Mr. Bush would use his bully pulpit to be more of a moral leader at home, for example, by refraining to advance the homosexual agenda in any way. It is my hope and prayer that just as America shines in this moment of rescuing Iraq from a ruthless dictator, we will experience a Christian resurgence that alone can reverse the slide toward decadence, and truly make our nation – as Reagan, quoting Jesus, said – a "shining city on a hill."
Peter LaBarbera is editor of Culture & Family Report and senior policy analyst at the Culture & Family Institute of Concerned Women for America.