By Steven Donald Smith
SIMI VALLEY, Calif., Aug. 18, 2006 – As during the Cold War, the spread of freedom remains America's most valuable tool in combating the nation's enemies, a senior Defense Department official said here yesterday. "The power of freedom brought down the Berlin Wall in 1989, and it brought millions to the voting booth in Iraq and Afghanistan," Christopher "Ryan" Henry, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, said during a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library here.
President Reagan, like President George W. Bush, presided over an era when the stakes were high for U.S. national security, Henry said. "Nuclear armed global superpowers were locked in a tense standoff, and a major part of the world's population was effectively imprisoned behind an iron curtain," he said.
The Soviet Union may be a thing of the past, but the U.S. now faces an ever-more-nefarious and -elusive enemy in the form of terrorist networks and rogue states. "Today, America and our friends and allies face a broader array of potential adversaries than ever before," he said. He pointed to rogue states, such as Iran and North Korea, as posing a grave danger to the United States, but said transnational terror networks, like al Qaeda, offer the most pressing threat.
"The most concerning (problem) is something we refer to as 'cultural totalitarianism' -- the threat from terrorist extremists who are determined to destroy our very way of life," he said, "even, if it's achievable for them, the fall of Western civilization." This is a different type of adversary than the U.S. has ever faced before and, because of the availability of weapons of mass destruction, possibly the most dangerous, he said.
It is difficult to counter an enemy that targets innocent civilians while using their own civilian population as human shields, he said. "This adversary is ruthless and has no qualms about blowing up civilian airliners," he said. "They would kill 3 million just as easily as they killed 3,000 five years ago on Sept. 11, 2001."
Henry said these extremists are a patient bunch. "They view their struggle as an epic confrontation that spans millennia, not just years," he said. Terrorist networks are technologically savvy, using technology to communicate, recruit and transfer money, he said. The threat may have changed since Reagan's day, but several basic principles remain the same, such as the need for broad coalitions, national unity and a strong military, he said. "A military that is ready and capable for the task that the nation may give it," he said. "Our brave men and women in uniform are the best in the world."
Another principle that transcends eras is the need to adjust course when necessary, Henry said. When Reagan saw a shift in Soviet attitudes under Mikhail Gorbachev, he exploited the opportunity to gain leverage through new technology and diplomacy. President Bush and the Defense Department are doing the same by learning valuable lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan. "We are transforming the way we operate, the way we do business, and the way we work with others," he said.
Henry concluded his remarks by returning to the principle of freedom, which he said is a privilege that must be vigilantly guarded. "President Reagan said, 'Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.' We didn't pass it on to our children in the bloodstream, it must fought for, it must be protected, and it must be handed on to them to do the same," Henry said.