President Reagan, the fortieth President of the United States, was under-appreciated and underrated in terms of his leadership of the United States for most of the 1980s. Reagan was the first president with a background and media and dealing with the public, given his background as an actor and Hollywood star. Maybe this helped him to accomplish three great objectives that continue to stand out in history as critical moments for Americans. It was President Reagan who ended the Cold War, which potentially saved the world from the devastation that would have been caused by war between the superpowers. President Reagan was the first American President to survive being hit by a bullet in an attempt on his life early in his Presidency. Finally, it was President Reagan’s leadership during the Iran Contra affair which showed his accountability and trustworthiness as a leader. Reagan was an excellent representative of the American people and he cared deeply about his country, but more than that he had strength and bravery which were commendable.
Ending the Cold War
A people free to choose will always choose peace.
President Reagan, May 31, 1988, Moscow State University
President Reagan showed strong leadership in his peaceful strategy to end the Cold War. It was Reagan who designed the foreign policy which was successful in ending decades of standoff between the nations (Cannon 2011, 761). Reagan was a great leader because he did not look to violence but instead listened to the everyday Soviet people for inspiration, while on the other hand he ensured that the United States had the weapons power to annihilate another country if they wished to do so (Risse-Kappen 1994). Reagan opened up the dialogue while standing firm on policy regarding freedom and free markets. Reagan was able to pressure the Soviet government by aligning with the people of the Soviet Union and their wishes for reform. At the same time he was able to have a friendly relationship with Gorbachev, and even helped the American people to approve of Gorbachev (Fitzgerald 2001, 460). The greatest triumph was that Reagan did not force the Soviets to do anything, and in keeping with the principles of the American Way he gave good reasons for reform and let the Soviets and their leaders be the decision makers.
Democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form
of government ever devised by man. Ronald Reagan, June 6, 1984, D-Day Memorial
In 1981 President Reagan was the victim of an attempted assassination and the first President to be struck by a bullet and survive (Aaron & Rockoff 1994). If the assassin had been successful it is difficult to say how the course of history may have changed, as Reagan was so instrumental in the dramatic changes of the 1980s decade. President Reagan was able to show strength in not become fearful, despite the trauma that must have been inflicted on him (Wilber 2011). In fact, the incident and Reagan’s politics may have contributed to the Brady Law the following decade, which ensured that criminal background checks were conducted on anyone who wished to buy a firearm (Ibid, 223). The assassination attempt, and Reagan’s recovery and refusal to be scared by the event were a rallying point, and his popularity rose because of his leadership and courage (King & Schudson 1995, 136). He was seen as having courage and strength, “the good kind of cowboy and the brave face of America” (Wilber 2011, 6-7).
Iran Contra Affair
As I told the Tower board, I didn’t know about any diversion of funds to the contras.
But as President, I cannot escape responsibility. Ronald Reagan, March 4, 1987 speech.
The Iran–Contra affair references the 1986 scandal where it was discovered that the year before a secret American mission had traded arms to the Iran Contras through the Israeli secret service as part of a strategy to free American hostages held in Lebanon (Cannon 2011, 581). The Contras were a rebel group in South America and the Middle East, and the name reflects that they were contrary to the current government. There was a ban on trading weapons to such groups, and it was illegal to assist in any way. Reagan took full responsibility for the breaking of the law by his administration, even though he maintained that he had not been aware of it and there was never any evidence that the President had authorized the mission. The President did however ensure that Americans knew the truth. He did not cover-up that it happened, and remained honest and accountable to citizens. Actions such as this contributed to a resurgence of trust by the American people in their leadership (Citrin & Green 1986).
President Reagan was both loved and despised as the leader of the Free World, however we may have him to thank for the peace we share today. As a brilliant leader, Reagan was able to achieve great objectives in foreign policy such as world peace between superpowers. Reagan also supported the voices of Americans domestically, and he did so as an honorable and honest man that the American people could put their trust in. He was brave in the face of his life being in danger and he showed courage when he made mistakes. His incredible feats have ensured that he is a role model for future Presidents and a historical icon in his own right.
- Aaron, B. L., & Rockoff, S. D. (1994). The attempted assassination of President Reagan. Medical implications and historical perspective. JAMA, 272(21), 1689-1693.
- Cannon, L. (1991). President Reagan: The role of a lifetime. PublicAffairs.
- Fitzgerald, F. (2001). Way out there in the blue: Reagan, Star Wars and the end of the Cold War. Simon and Schuster.
- Reagan, R. (1984). ‘D-Day Memorial Speech’, June 6, 1984. D-Day Memorial, France.
- Reagan, R. (1988). ‘President Reagan’s Speech at Moscow State University’, May 31. Moscow State University.