Jan 11, 1989: Reagan Gives His Farewell Address

Official Portrait of President Ronald Reagan.

Official Portrait of President Ronald Reagan.

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After eight years as president of the United States, Ronald Reagan gives his farewell address to the American people. In his speech, President Reagan spoke with particular enthusiasm about the foreign policy achievements of his administration.

In his speech, Reagan declared that America “rediscovered” its commitment to world freedom in the 1980s. The United States was “respected again in the world and looked to for leadership.” The key, according to the president, was a return to “common sense” that “told us that to preserve the peace, we’d have to become strong again after years of weakness.”

Reagan proudly enumerated the successes of his vigorous foreign policy: achieving peace in the Persian Gulf, forcing the Soviets to begin departing from Afghanistan, and negotiating for the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops from Cambodia and Cuban forces from Angola. These efforts were all waged against communism, the ideology that Reagan believed was the main threat to freedom. “Nothing,” he stated, “is less free than pure communism.”

Reagan’s Cold War record was a bit more complicated than he described. One of the costs of America’s renewed “strength” was vastly increased defense expenditure, which helped create a national debt of over one trillion dollars. Peace in the Persian Gulf was temporary, as the Gulf War–which erupted during the presidency of Reagan successor George Bush–later demonstrated. Finally, the Iran-Contra scandal revealed that the Reagan administration employed some questionable means to reach its anticommunist ends-specifically, a complicated scheme involving covertly selling weapons to Iran and illegally supplying the Contra forces in Nicaragua. Nonetheless, the achievements of his administration gained him much favor with the American public, and Ronald Reagan left office as one of the most popular modern U.S. presidents.

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