The longer one lives the more historical parallels pop to mind. As Ronald Reagan confronted the Communist Soviet leviathan, Donald Trump confronts a rising Communist Chinese colossus. The two geopolitical threats are culturally and strategically different yet share significant similarities. Some will surprise readers.
Fundamentally, Reagan and Trump have had the privilege of leading the most politically and economically free, militarily strong, and constitutionally grounded people ever to grace the face of the Earth. The United States of America is unprecedented.
If one doubts that proposition, compare political and economic freedoms enjoyed by Americans, uncontroverted data which define America’s military record, training and inventory, and the origins, implementation and convictions behind our constitutional processes and Bill of Rights.
By contrast, Soviet Russia and now Red China – former Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist and latter Marxist-Leninist-Maoist – suppress human, political and economic rights in favor of an all-powerful, unapologetically oppressive state.
Whether one calls the holding pens gulags or reeducation camps, Communist states herd millions into isolated locations for punishment, brainwashing and social separation. At root, they punish individuality. Ubiquitous surveillance, secret police and intrusion by a centralized state defines life for the rest.
On the military side, Soviet Russia strived to match US conventional and nuclear forces, using governmental and industrial espionage, stealing, copying, producing and deploying with a command and control economy – until it collapsed. Communism could not keep pace with capitalism, as killing the human spirit cannot compete with freeing it.
Communist China is on a military modernization tear. They are building carriers, subs, missiles and space weapons. They care nothing for freedom of navigation in international waterways, such as the South China Sea. They care nothing for treaties, precedent or resolutions barring militarization of those waterways – or space. They could care less about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Economically, they are masters of triangulating Western thought to their own benefit, setting free nations against each other, taking advantage of democracy’s diffuse interests – to pounce with oneness of purpose. That is what communist states are good at.
They force disgorgement of intellectual property as the price for market access – which is nevertheless minimal. China sells four times as much to Americans, as we sell them.
They illegally manipulate currency, as only communists can. They buy into foreign economies, encouraging the assertion of sovereign rights to game the World Trade Organization. As one senior US official observed, they work an “international network of coercion through predatory economics.”
So, where are the historical parallels in Reagan and Trump responses – to a lumbering, largely unchecked communist state? There are many, but a few should suffice.
In Reagan’s day, the Soviet Union aimed to intimidate Western Europe – and the United States – by deploying short-range ballistic missiles. Into Eastern Europe, beginning in 1979, they poured 279 SS-20 mobile missile launchers, equipped with 837 nuclear warheads. They shook Europe.
With an eye to the future, Reagan said “this will not stand.” Understanding Soviet intimidation, he set in motion deployment of 108 Pershing II missiles and 464 ground-launched cruise missiles – by the end of 1986.
Soviet Communists were clever. They organized young, easily beguiled, anti-war protestors across Western Europe, using disinformation to enliven – and game – Western media. Protests abounded.
Reagan did not back down. With moral clarity, he knew America’s defense of a free Europe, free trade, and individual freedoms oppressed by Communist Russia was critical. America stood for human rights, defense of individual liberties. No military or trade threats, let alone media pressure, could change his mind.
Reagan made clear that he would not withdraw the US missiles targeting Soviet territory until the Soviets eliminated existing and future SS-20 deployments – launchers and missiles. Period.
The Soviet Union blinked, just as they had for Kennedy in 1962. By 1988, Reagan had secured an agreement with the Soviets to withdraw and destroy all intermediate-range launchers and missiles from Eastern Europe. That accord became the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). Under the treaty, every missile was destroyed by 1991.
So where is the parallel? What is China doing? The answer is China is, as the Soviets were, intimidating free people, internally, regionally and globally. They have built and militarized artificial islands in international waterways, deployed and tested space weapons, use “predatory” economic practices, and now seek to dominate those who aspire to freedom in Hong Kong.
President Trump, like President Reagan, has stood firm. Signing the bill defending Hong Kong’s rights against communist intimidation, he has made clear America will not be a party to another Tiananmen Square-type massacre. In this, the world should be with Trump.
If China cannot find a way to rethink oppression in Hong Kong, strong American sanctions will kick in. Trade is important – and China needs a deal more than we do – but America’s moral compass does not bend to Communist China’s whim … any more than Reagan bent to Soviet expansionism.
So, in what may prove a turning point in US-China relations, President Trump has taken a stand. The stand for freedom is rooted in our history – as well as our political, economic and military strength. It is rooted in our Bill of Rights, defense of Europe over two world wars, and Reagan’s unwavering defense of individual liberty in the 1980s.
Trade is good and international relations require compromise. But America’s principles – living up to them – is who we are. Trump knows he is on firm ground. Americans should be proud. We are united in standing with the free people of Hong Kong. There will be tests ahead, but we have always stood in opposition to overt communist oppression. We were in Reagan’s day – and are now. May it always be so.