327. Editorial Note
On July 19, 1988, President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs Colin Powell spoke before the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles. Powell began his remarks by referencing both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions (July 18–21 in Atlanta and August 15–18 in New Orleans, respectively), adding that the upcoming Presidential election afforded each party the opportunity “to state their views forcefully and to highlight their differences” to enable the American electorate to choose the next President. Debates over foreign policy would inevitably emerge, which Powell termed “essential if we are to make informed and wise choices.” He suggested, however, that Americans remember that “a remarkable degree of domestic consensus” had developed in the last several years concerning “the basic principles and directions of American foreign policy”. He stated that “Certainly, there are remaining controversies, and I’ve struggled through a lot of them—over Central America, the trade bill, the Strategic Defense Initiative, the defense budget, to name a few. But in a real sense, something very important and very positive has happened in this country in recent years: we now find ourselves agreeing where there was once deep, often bitter division.
“For example, the American people clearly do not want to see a repetition of the period of military weakness that we went through in the wake of the Vietnam war. Today’s battles over the particulars of the defense budget should not obscure the basic fact that Americans agree on the need for a strong defense and are willing to pay a reasonable price for it. The public and the Congress have also shown their support for the use of our military strength when and where our vital interests or those of our friends and allies are threatened—such as in Grenada, the blow struck against Libyan terrorism, and our commitment in the gulf. Our people understand the need for a strong, engaged America actively defending what it stands for.
“There is agreement that our military forces must be strong and ready, not only so that they will be effective should we have to commit them but also to keep others from forcing us to use them. ‘Peace through strength’ is more than a slogan. It is a fundamental reality. It is strength that enables us to pursue peaceful relations with our adversaries.
“For that reason, our relations with the Soviet Union are based on strength and realism and on a willingness to resolve problems through negotiation. It is no accident that we are now negotiating with them on the most comprehensive agenda ever and that today our approach to the Soviet Union has broad and deep public support.
“There is a significant moral dimension in our foreign policy as well, as there must be in a democracy. Human rights has to be—and [Page 1506] is—an important element in our relations toward the Soviet Union, toward South Africa, and toward all nations, whether in Europe, Asia, Africa, or Latin America. The transitions to democracy throughout Latin America, in the Philippines, and in the Republic of Korea are supported by all Americans. ‘Human rights’ is not just an abstract concept. It means the ability of people to worship, to speak, to write, and to vote as they please; freely to choose, as we do, how and by whom they will be governed.
“Related to this commitment is our active support for those struggling against tyranny—those whom we call the freedom fighters. Where our backing of these freedom fighters has been strong, consistent, and bipartisan—as in Afghanistan, Angola, and Cambodia—there has been progress toward diplomatic solutions. Central America is today the exception, with potentially calamitous strategic consequences, precisely because we have been divided. Nevertheless, the degree of bipartisan support that has existed for these efforts elsewhere is something the next President can build upon.
“In short, the American people have made it clear they want their country strong and engaged. They want an effective foreign policy that promotes with energy and commitment our values of freedom, democracy, and human rights.
“The restoration of our domestic consensus—of our military and moral strength—is what has reestablished America’s strategic position in the world. It is a bipartisan accomplishment of the executive branch, the Congress, and the American people. These achievements could not have been reached any other way.”
Powell then reviewed the pursuit of U.S. foreign policy goals in Europe, East-West relations, East Asia and the Pacific, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. He concluded his address by asserting: “All Americans can be proud that a stronger and reengaged America has made the world more secure. We can be proud that our ideals of political and economic freedom are being rediscovered by others and are turning out to be, once again, powerful forces in the world.
“Many of these successes flow from the new consensus on the basic principles I began with. But recent history also teaches that when we are divided over tactics—as in Central America—our policy suffers grievously, and our national interest does, too. When we are united—as we have been in support of the Afghan freedom fighters, or of a solid NATO, or a new basis for U.S.-Soviet relations, or of a vital commitment in the gulf—we can achieve a great deal.
“Another lesson, I would argue, is the need for presidential leadership. Our postwar history is a history of courageous Presidents—of both parties—making many courageous decisions. In the aftermath of Iran-contra, Congress may be tempted to try to limit presidential power. [Page 1507] Divided, shared, and countervailing powers are the hallmarks of our system—by design of the Founding Fathers. Weakening the presidency also weakens the country. This President—any president—must defend his constitutional authority against efforts, however well intentioned, which unbalance the always delicate relationship between the executive and legislative branches.
“The executive branch, of course, has an obligation to keep its own house in order. There must be adherence to law and to the Constitution and a willingness to consult and deal openly and respectfully with the Congress, taking legislative leaders into its confidence even on the most sensitive matters. There should also be smooth procedures for collegial deliberation and orderly policymaking within the executive branch. I believe this Administration, after the aberration of Iran-contra, has reestablished and enjoys such a coherent and cooperative process internally. It has served the President and the country well. It has helped our relations with the Congress and added to our credibility with the American people and other nations.
“And so, as we go into the fourth quarter of our political season, we should remember that next January 20 we must come together in support of our new President. We must remember that what unites us is more important than what divides us.
“And, as for myself, I expect to go back to a nice quiet foxhole where I can serve my country in a more comfortable and, perhaps, less-exposed position.” (Department of State Bulletin, October 1988, pages 51–53)