Steve Forbes at the inauguration of the Casey Institute

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The ANA Hotel, Washington, D.C.

13 March 1996





Bill Casey, I think as Ed made very clear, did epitomize the best that is in America. And I know that it is the fashion these days, in certain circles, to criticize some of the things he did when he headed up the Agency. I’d just remind those who lob these criticisms to remember that we were engaged in a war. It was a Cold War, but nonetheless, it was a real enemy.

And when you face a war, when you face the pressures of war, you can’t always do things in a way that may satisfy arm-chair academicians, looking many years hence. Because part of the problem of looking back, however fascinating it is, is the idea that somehow the results were inevitable, that it was going to happen anyway, regardless of what individual players did.

Well, when you’re in the midst of battle, that is simply and totally untrue. But Bill Casey, in the midst of battle, when it looked like, at the beginning of the Reagan administration, that the Russians, the Soviets, as we called them in those days, did have the upper hand, they were the moving power, they had invaded Afghanistan, they had built up their military, they were running in Latin America. We weren’t even concerned about Nicaragua anymore; it was El Salvador we were hoping to save. The rest looked like it was lost.

So put yourself back at that period of time, and what Bill Casey helped to do was truly extraordinary. He did help cut off the supply of money and technology to the Soviet Union. That was vitally important. He did everything humanly possible to keep Solidarity going during a very critical time.

And he also made sure, in a very general sense, to bolster our friends and undermine our enemies. Sounds easy to say, but try it, and try it in Washington. He did it. He made it work. And to get something done in this town, not only to have a sense of vision, a sense of determination, but to be able to know how to operate in this town to get something done, inside a bureaucracy, where you know that you don’t have too many friends, even perhaps where you expect to find them, not to mention on some of those committees and quarters on Capitol Hill, is truly remarkable.

He’s earned a high place in history, and it is fun to be here today to give him honor, where honor is richly deserved and due.

The Challenge

The legacy that Ronald Reagan and Bill Casey left us is very easy to summarize, but as we look around us today, sadly, it is very easy to ignore. And that is to have a strong America here, at home, and a purposeful and confident America overseas.

When you look at that legacy, and look at the dismal contrast of America today, and the real question that faces us today is: "Will future generations of Americans look back on us, and our times, and say, ‘This was an age of missed opportunities’?" Will that be the epitaph of this generation and of this era? We stand in danger of that epitaph.

The fundamentals are there, here, at home, for a very strong America. The economic fundamentals have never been better….[But] we’re not growing the way we should, even though the potential is there for the greatest economic boom in our history.

Look at what else Bill Clinton has done. Let’s look at the topic today. Foreign policy. To talk about a Clinton foreign policy is almost to talk about an oxymoron. It’s not just incoherent and comical anymore. It is now getting downright dangerous.

It was kind of amusing, three years ago, in the aftermath of the Cold War, to think of a serious President, or any President of the United States spending at least a half hour a day with his pollster, going over the previous night’s polls, and visiting with his National Security Adviser 15 minutes every two weeks. That kind of was humorous, but it’s no longer humorous, that kind of incoherence in foreign policy….It is once again a dangerous world.

[Take, for example,] casual commitments made in Bosnia. Now our people are on the line there. We stand the danger — we stand the danger of making, in spirit, the kind of mistakes that we in the West made after World War I. After World War I, even though communism triumphed in the Soviet Union, what became the Soviet Union, democracy had triumphed, too, in much of Europe and much of the world.

But because we turned our backs on the world, and because of mistakes that the other great powers made, in the ’20s and ’30s, over 20 democracies collapsed in Europe and around the world, not because of aggression, not because of invading armies, but simply because the environment was inhospitable, both at home and overseas….

This is the danger that we face today. The world still appears very secure. We are still, as they say, the only superpower. But if we make the mistakes and continue the kind of dithering and incoherence of this administration, we will create the kind of forces that turned the promise of the post-World War I era into the purgatories of the 1930’s and into the world war of the 1940’s. It can happen again.

Human nature has not changed, the nature of power has not changed, and America had better not forget it. Just look around the world at some of the missed opportunities, starting with the biggest one, in Russia.

Economically, we foisted on them something called "shock therapy" which combined austerity, high taxes, so-called privatization which became a corruption binge, and ended up destroying people’s savings, and as we know from the Weimar Republic, as we know from czarist Russia, as we know from Nationalist China, that when you have hyperinflation, you set in motion the possibility of bad political forces arising.

That’s what’s happened in Russia today. The forces of freedom, the forces of reform, the forces of democracy are on the run, hopelessly on the defensive, it seems. Just look at elections. Communists winning elections again, doing well in elections. That tells you how far we’ve fallen.

Did we ever sit down with the Russians and show them how we stabilized our dollar 200 years ago, when it was worthless, or how other countries, like Argentina, stabilized their currency? No. It wasn’t worth it; just threw some aid over there; threw them the IMF, which is really malpractice, economic malpractice. Everywhere they go, there’s disaster in their wake.

And look at what’s happening. Not only bad election results, but now, ultranationalism is starting to get back in the saddle again. Look at this potential union with Belarus. Look what’s happening on the pressure on Ukraine. It’s starting to happen again, and we bear a major form of that responsibility.

Let’s go now to what’s in the headlines today: China and Taiwan. That was an easily avoidable crisis. All that had to have been done, when a few months ago it became apparent that pressure might be applied, was go behind the scenes, and say in unmistakably clear terms, "Force is not going to be tolerated against Taiwan."

But instead, we sent over our technology, did everything we could to appease the Chinese, and we had a Secretary of Defense who not only has turned a blind eye on this transfer of sophisticated military technology, when he was asked, a couple of weeks ago, what would happen if China started to lob missiles at Taiwan, went to war over Taiwan, he said: "Our response will depend on the circumstances."

Now, if that isn’t an invitation for trouble-making, I don’t know what is. What should have been done is what Teddy Roosevelt would have done: Go behind the scenes, make unmistakably clear the consequences [and] send the Seventh Fleet to the Straits of Taiwan….So with China and Taiwan, that disaster could have been avoided with a little bit of firm diplomacy.

* * *

…If we continue to dither about China and Taiwan, is it going to be too many years before Japan feels the pressure to rearm? Do we really want a re-armed, nuclear-armed Japan? The Japanese don’t want it. Their Asian neighbors don’t want it. And by our presence in Asia, we can help prevent it.

But this kind of ambiguity that we demonstrated with Taiwan and China is what got us in such deep, bloody trouble in Korea 45 years ago, what led to the disaster with Iraq in Kuwait six years ago. Why in the world are we repeating it again?

* * *

Look at another country, Cuba. We all know about the airplanes [shot down] there. We also should know a little more about two nuclear reactors that are under construction in Cuba, Chernobyl-like design, on seismically sensitive ground….They’re starting to construct them again. They had to stop a few years ago when the Soviet Union collapsed. Now they’re starting to build them again.

Do we really want two nuclear reactors of Chernobyl-like design, built in shoddy fashion, which all the defectors and observers say is happening, on seismically unstable ground, right off our shore? Why don’t we stop it before it’s completed? Do you hear anything from the administration on that? Not much. Not unless you bring it up. Doesn’t show up in the polls.

Then look at another part of the world, India and Pakistan. They’re two countries that could drift — skid — into nuclear war. Anything being done coherently in that part of the world? We haven’t heard about it.

Look closer at home. Look at Mexico, once a promising country, starting to develop, developing a middle class. What did we do? We foisted upon them, urged them, the deadly toxic poison of devaluation, which led Mexico into a depression, which has had social consequences in this country, people trying to cross the border. Mexico is in a depression. Mexico has a middle class that is now truly frustrated and dangerous. They had growing expectations; now they’re ruined. That could have been avoided.

Look at Libya, now in the midst of developing chemical weapons, deadly chemical weapons. Anything being done about that? No, not with this administration.

Look what’s happening to defense….We’re starting to cheat on spare parts, starting to underpay our people in uniform again, cutting back, cutting back. It’s not a thing of throwing money at it, but we do have real obligations in the world and we’d better be prepared to meet those obligations. We’re not in a position to do it today. That is truly asking for bloody trouble.

…Reference is made to the need for a missile defense system. We do need a missile defense system. China is soon going to be able to lob missiles, not just at Taiwan, but at the United States. So, too, are other rogue nations around the world.

Why wait for it to happen? All we have to do is upgrade, for starters. It’s cheap. The Aegis program with the Navy, make it Upper Tier, can do it in three or four years. That’s mobile. It would have been very helpful today with the Taiwan crisis. But is anything being done about it?

I must say here, one of my opponents, Senator Dole, has taken the lead in trying to move that forward, but again, the blockages come from the White House. They just don’t think it’s a matter of high importance anymore. They don’t think it’s really a matter of importance. They assure us that these rogue regimes will be years away from being able to do us real harm.

That kind of reminds me. Didn’t they say something about Iraq’s nuclear program a number of years ago — that it was many, many years away? Then we discovered how much progress they’d made. Why trust to estimates that can only be guesses, at best? Why not have that defense system, and have it soon? It’s our own safety.

* * *

And what about starting to negotiate a free trade agreement with Japan? It may take 10 years to do it; took six years to do one with Canada. But why not try it now? They’re in the throes of change. Let’s try to make those forces of change positive ones in Japan. Stranger things have happened.

A free trade agreement with Japan is no stranger, no more seemingly Pollyannish, than the idea that 50 years ago, a war between Germany and France would be inconceivable. Yet in Western Europe it is inconceivable today, thanks to democracy sinking real roots, thanks to the positive forces of change we helped put in motion. They had been at each other’s throats for a thousand years. Yet now war’s inconceivable. So why not look to the stars, why not dream about what we can do, and then try to make it a reality?

Diplomats like to say they’re realists. If we had trusted the realists all the time, we’d still be living in caves. So occasionally, we have to come out of our caves and throw the long pass, try to do something that may seem unrealistic today, but in a positive sense make the conditions possible to make what is unrealistic today positively realistic tomorrow.


In short, my friends, what is going to be our epitaph? I’m an optimist. I do think when the American people understand the issues, they will do things more right than wrong, just as they did when Ronald Reagan and Bill Casey went before them in 1980. I think we can do it again.

And I’m convinced that when historians look back on this period, they’re going to conclude once more, that the American people have proven wrong the critics and the skeptics, and the doubters and the naysayers, and that America, once again, [will] resume her place as the leader and inspiration of the world.

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