Courageous leaders

By Tom Quiner

Ronald Reagan said "no" to Mikhail Gorbachev at the Reykjavik Summit in 1986

The stakes were high.

The world was watching. An historic arms control treaty with the Soviet Union was within our grasp.

The date was October 12th, 1986. The place was Reykjavik, Iceland.

If Ronald Reagan said yes to Mikhail Gorbachev, Mr. Reagan would be hailed as a hero.

If he said no to the treaty they had hammered out, he would be reviled as a failure.

Mr. Reagan said no.

And the world reviled him for his “failure” at the Reykjavik Summit.

Reagan advisor, Richard Perle, described the scene:

“In a hot, crowded room in a turn-of-the-century house overlooking Reykjavik harbour, the President of the United States listened intently to his advisers. A few hours earlier, after a day and a half of intense negotiation, Mikhail Gorbachev had agreed to accept American proposals to slash nuclear arsenals–but only if Ronald Reagan would confine his Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) to the laboratory, effectively killing any chance it could be built. The question was whether to accept Gorbachev’s offer and abandon SDI, or reject it and return home without an agreement, leaving the US free to continue work on a defence against ballistic missiles.”

In other other words, Gorbachev wanted Reagan to get rid of “Star Wars” as the press called it then. Perle continues:

“As happened often, the president’s advisers were divided. Reagan asked his chief of staff, who was among those urging him to accept the Soviet proposal. “If we say ‘Yes’, won’t it be just so we can leave here with an agreement?” It was a rhetorical question. The President had made the most consequential decision of his political life.”

In other words, he wasn’t going to agree to something just to be popular if he thought it was wrong for America. He wasn’t going to make a decision just to win a Nobel Peace prize. Perle conludes:

“Thus did Ronald Reagan’s “No” to Gorbachev end the 1986 Iceland summit. Immediately, a breathless world press reported the apparent failure at Reykjavik. Without an agreement, the rebuilding of American defences, including SDI, would continue. Relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, already deeply strained, would surely worsen. Experts were despondent. Reagan was not.”

Ronald Reagan had courage. He knew what he believed in. He made an unpopular decision at that historic summit knowing the press would blast him. Mr. Reagan knew history would vindicate him.

And it did with the collapse of the Soviet Union, thanks in part to Ronald Reagan’s steadfastness at Reykjavik.


The date was January 10th, 2007. President George W. Bush was reviled by much of the country for the way the Iraq War was going. His political enemies had effectively (if inaccurately) made the case that “Bush lied and people died.”

The President went before the American people that evening and announced a new strategy in the war, which was called “the surge.”

In other words, the President wasn’t pulling out of Iraq, he was doubling down.

The popular thing to do was to pull out of Iraq. Mr Bush said in response: “We are not going to lose our nerve and abandon the people of Iraq the way we did the people of Vietnam, from an embassy rooftop.”

One of the President’s speech writers at the time was William McGurn, now a columnist for the Wall Street Journal. Writing in today’s Journal, Mr. McGurn said:

” It made for a lonely presidency. Rather than accept defeat, he ordered a surge that almost no one—including some around him—wanted: not the Pentagon, not a weary American public, certainly not Republicans or Democrats in Congress.”

Mr. Bush had the courage to do what be believed to be the right thing. And it worked.

I mention these two courageous leaders in light of the current political campaign. Republicans should scrutinize their crop of candidates in search of their courage quotient.

Intelligence is important, yes.

The right political views are important, yes.

But how much courage have they demonstrated in the course of their political career, in the course of their entire life?

Courage is an attractive and critical attribute for any leader.

Look at President Obama. He supported the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) with his rhetoric. But when the heat was on from his ultra liberal base, he quickly caved and proclaimed that he refused to enforce this law of the land.

His cowardice on this issue is a lesson to voters for the next election.

Who among this current crop of candidates most demonstrates courage?



  1. Monte B. Gray on July 26, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    Courage is all well and good. Too bad Bush’s courage did’nt fail him. It would have saved our economy and thousands of American lives had he not gone into Iraq. Then we might have seen a collapse in Iraq’s government as we’ve been observing throughout other governments in the Middle East.

  2. Tom Maly on July 26, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    An alternate vision may be that the stirrings of a more democratic form of government in Iraq provided a bit of the impetus for the “Arab Spring” in the large middle East with the potential it is showing now. We will never know.

    • quinersdiner on July 26, 2011 at 8:21 pm

      All we know for sure is that because of Mr. Bush, the mideast now has two democracies.

      • Monte B. Gray on July 27, 2011 at 10:04 am

        Two democracies in imminent danger of collapse as soon as we pull out, or that will revert to a totalitarian regimes, or just collapse into chaos. Lets not even talk about the hundreds of billions of dollares siphoned off into the hands of corrupt officials/contractors! That becomes an exercise in depression!
        Good investment of American dollars and lives. I’m impressed!

  3. quinersdiner on July 27, 2011 at 10:10 am

    Good point. I suppose the same could have been said about Germany, Europe, Korea, Japan …

    • Monte B. Gray on July 27, 2011 at 12:08 pm

      I disagree with that!. You cannot make that comparison with our victories in WWII.

      In WWII we fought and obtained unconditional surrender. War was used to destroy nations and crush a nations will to fight. Civilian casualties were never an issue.

      Those democracies were created from the ashes of nations who had lost the will to fight. That situation was never obtained in the Middle East.