IRI Celebrates 25th Anniversary of President Reagan’s Westminster Speech

IRI on June 20, 2007, celebrated the 25th anniversary of President’s Ronald Reagan’s historic speech to the British Parliament where he called on Americans to “foster the infrastructure of democracy – the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities – which allows a people to choose their own way, their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means.”  A role, that former U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese pointed out in his keynote speech, that IRI is fulfilling.

The celebration began with a panel discussion featuring Richard V. Allen, President Reagan’s chief foreign policy advisor and his first National Security Affairs Advisor; IRI Board Member, Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr., Co-Chairman the Democracy Program study, whose principle recommendations helped craft the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) initiative; Mark Palmer, credited with conceiving some of the core ideas behind President Reagan’s Westminster speech; and Michael Samuels, who helped shape the ideas that went into the Democracy Program study.  IRI Board Member Richard S. Williamson served as moderator.

The panel was followed by a dinner featuring a keynote address by The Honorable Edwin Meese, III, former Counselor to the President and U.S. Attorney General.

Rich Williamson opened the panel by reminding people that President Reagan’s beliefs had been long held.  Quoting a 1980 Reagan speech, Williamson said, “Peace must be such that freedom can flourish and justice prevail…Our foreign policy should be to show by example the greatness of our system and the strength of American ideals.”

Speaking on the enormous impact President Reagan had on history, Richard Allen recalled a trip Reagan took to the Berlin Wall in November 1978. “He said ‘we have to find a way to knock this thing down.’”  Nearly nine years later, to the cheers of thousands of Berliners, President Reagan challenged Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev to “Tear down this wall.”  Two years later the wall fell signaling the end of the Soviet empire.

Mark Palmer called attention to how radical President Reagan’s ideas were at the time and how the President felt radical change was needed.  “In many part of the world, even in the West, people then assumed socialism was the future…The purpose of this [Westminster] speech was to change that assumption.  To proclaim and demonstrate that democracy and free enterprise were the future.  And to thereby change the course of history.”

Following the panel, Vice Chairman of IRI’s Board of Directors Peter Madigan opened the dinner by reading a letter from IRI Chairman Senator John McCain.  In his letter Senator McCain recognized the leadership of President Reagan stating that, “President Reagan put America firmly on the side of freedom.”

Senator McCain went on to remind us that, “The promotion of freedom is the most authentic expression of our national character.  To accept the abridgement of those rights for other societies should be no less false to the American heart than to accept their abridgement in our own society.”

During his speech, Meese reflected on President Reagan’s belief in America’s values and democracy. “He had an absolute belief…in the superiority of democracy and that is what he laid out in the [Westminster] speech.”

Meese went on to discuss President Ronald Reagan’s vision in dealing with communism.  “He developed was has become known as the Reagan Doctrine…He first engaged the Soviet Union on a moral plane, to get away from this idea…that there was a moral equivalency between totalitarianism and freedom and democracy.”

Meese left the audience with some poignant facts.  “Democracy cannot be imposed and it can’t be seen as being imposed.” “Democracy is not easy, it takes time and it takes patience.”  “Democracy has different forms.”  “Democracy is worth doing.”

President Reagan’s historic June 8, 1982, speech led the U.S. Congress to establish the NED in 1983, followed by the creation of IRI, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the Center for International Private Enterprise, and the American Center for International Labor Solidarity.

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