Americans look to Ronald Reagan for his principles of foreign policy

Americans look to Ronald Reagan for his principles of foreign policy
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Thirty years have passed since President Reagan left office, but his vision for “peace through strength” still defines the world view of Americans, who remain steadfast in their support for a strong military that both keeps the peace and advances the values of freedom and democracy abroad.

Americans are not isolationists. They want the United States to be more engaged in the world rather than less. They want to lead rather than react. They want a strong military presence overseas rather than retrenchment. They believe the United States should act to defend freedom, prevent human rights abuses, and stand against the actions of undemocratic regimes. Americans believe the United States should eliminate threats and prevent attacks before they materialize. These are certainly not the views of a country that would eschew global leadership but rather a country where the vision of “peace through strength” is alive and well.

That is the conclusion of the latest Reagan National Defense Survey. The second annual poll of Americans across the country, commissioned by the Ronald Reagan Institute, found that a bipartisan majority supports the values and principles of our 40th president. By a margin of 20 points, Americans say the United States should be more involved and take the lead role in international events. while just a third support a less involved approach. Americans also believe the advancement of democracy and freedom should be central to our foreign and defense policy. Our survey found more than 75 percent of Americans would support a United States military role in defending freedom in other countries. The same portion of Americans say the same of preventing human rights violations abroad.


These attitudes are consistent with the responses to questions asked in our survey about specific situations regarding current headlines. More than 67 percent of Americans say the United States should support the democracy movement in Hong Kong even if it angers China. While nearly half say they support withdrawing troops from Syria, a solid majority believe the United States has a responsibility to defend our Kurdish allies against Turkish aggression, 72 percent support sanctions against Turkey, and 60 percent favor military support for defending the Kurdish people. Americans also believe in a strong military base presence overseas to deter attacks. Nearly 67 percent say they prefer to maintain United States bases around the world, while only 28 percent want to reduce the military presence overseas and deploy troops in response to acts of aggression.

As Congress is considering military funding measures, it is worth noting that three in four Americans support increased defense spending. The endurance of the legacy of President Reagan is not so much a testament to the power of one man. It demonstrates the power of principles and the hard learned lessons of history. In his farewell address, he reflected on what the nation had learned during his administration. He declared, “The lesson of all this was that because we are a great nation, our challenges seem complex. It will always be this way. But as long as we remember our first principles and believe in ourselves, the future will always be ours.”

Our foreign policy challenges will always seem complex. But by adhering to first principles, freedom above all, the “peace through strength” foreign policy of President Reagan helped resolve the most complex challenge of a generation, which was the Cold War. The challenges today are complex too, with a rising China to a revanchist Russia heading the list of nation state threats, and cybersecurity ranking as the top concern for Americans, our survey found. But no matter the challenges, our leaders would be wise to keep first principles first. You do not have to take it from the Gipper. Just listen to the people of this country. They still know what is right.

Roger Zakheim is the Washington director of the Ronald Reagan Institute. Rachel Hoff serves as the policy director of the Ronald Reagan Institute.