Former President Ronald W. Reagan declared his support for American aims in the Persian Gulf war, although he acknowledged the United States "committed a boner" in selling arms to Iraq during its war with Iran.
Reagan also heralded the democratization of countries around the world Friday and stated his belief that American ideals will help lead to a "golden age of freedom."Reagan visited Brigham Young University as the guest of BYU President Rex E. Lee, who served as solicitor general in Reagan's administration. Reagan addressed nearly 10,500 people in the university's Marriott Center, focusing his remarks on world events and America's duty to aid countries struggling for freedom.
Reagan, who spoke free of charge at BYU, also spoke at Nu Skin International's annual conference in Salt Lake City Friday evening. Nu Skin, a Provo-based nutrition, hair and skin care company, reportedly paid Reagan about $25,000 to speak, although company officials would not comment on Reagan's fee.
In his introduction, Lee said Reagan's "farsighted judgments during (his eight years in office) are now having and will continue to have over the decades an enormous impact on our lives, our welfare and our happiness, our peace and our security."
Despite his responsibilities and power as president, Reagan never "lost touch with the real people of whom the world consists," Lee said.
During his speech, which lasted just under an hour, Reagan was bullish on America, a theme that hit home particularly because of the war in Persian Gulf.
"There are those who say America is weakening right now,that our glory was the brief flash of time called the 20th century, that ours was a burst of greatness too bright and brilliant to sustain," Reagan said. "Well, I do not believe that for one instant."
America's greatness is based on the ideals of freedom, democracy and a belief in the potential of the individual, Reagan said. It is also built on humanity toward other men, he said.
Americans, who represent the brotherhood of man, should not be "timid in our embrace of democracy," Reagan said. "We should be as bold and brash in our democratic ideals as ever in our history. The golden age of freedom is near because America has remained true to her ideals."
Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is now testing America's spirit, he said.
"Modern weapons being what they are, even minor maniacs like Saddam can kill untold thousands," Reagan said. "However, I do believe that the global yearning for freedom will cause his statues to be overturned as surely as it caused Lenin's statues to be toppled."
In response to a question from BYU student Jared J. Brown, Provo, one of 10 students chosen to ask Reagan a question at the end of his speech, Reagan said the United States and the United Nations are doing the right thing in seeking to oust Iraq from Kuwait.
However, when BYU student Jon Deal asked him about U.S. arms sales to Iraq, Reagan said "We committed a boner." At the time, it made sense to support Iraq in its war against Iran; however, the United States began to realize it made a mistake when Saddam Hussein used poison gas against the Kurds, he said.
Reagan described the "persistence" it sometimes takes to accomplish things in government, citing his own fight for the Strategic Defense Intiative, which many congressman "worked long and hard to kill."
"It took over 20 years, but today we're seeing the wisdom of those of us who persisted," Reagan said. "The weapon I'm talking about is the Patriot missile."
Reagan, whose speech was frequently interrupted by thunderous applause, looked fit, although his voice sounded soft and he at times faltered in his remarks.
Reagan took time to praise the university, acknowledging its illustrious string of leaders and athletes. He also paid tribute to Amy Baird, newly elected BYUSA president and the first woman to hold that position in the university's history.
"As students, you've made all of us very proud and also very optimistic about what this country will accomplish in the years ahead," Reagan said.
Reagan said a "whole new world" is opening up to young people. He noted the fall of the Berlin Wall, the unification of Germany, the strides Poland is making toward freedom under the leadership of Lech Walesa and the difficulties faced by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
"Perestroika has not yet made the promise of its name - restructuring - at least so far as economic results are concerned," Reagan said. "Making the shift from a 70-year-old command economy run by bureaucrats in Moscow toward a market economy where individuals make thousands of economic decisions every day would not be easy under the best of circumstances. Unfortunately, the circumstances facing President Gorbachev are about as far from best as they can be."
BYU student Yvette Donosso, Florida, asked Reagan if creating the biggest deficit in America's history was worth pulling the country out of a recession.
Reagan said he "can't say without profanity how I feel when I hear some congressman standing on the floor of Congress and citing the deficit as mine." It is Congress, not the president, that spends money, Reagan said.
He noted the country has had only eight balanced budgets during the 55 years Democrats have controlled the house. He urged the audience to push their representatives to give the president a line-item veto.
Reagan also hammered the American Civil Liberties Union after David Bjarnason, West Germany, asked whether "religion can still play a legitimate and honorable role in public life."
"I think they (the ACLU) are out of their cotton-picking mind," Reagan said. He also blasted the ACLU for pushing instruction about morality out of sex education.
Reagan's speech was momentarily interrupted as the crowd erupted in cheers when BYU security police escorted two males from the center who briefly held up a sign asking "Why did you arm Iraq?" A BYU spokesman later said neither of the two were BYU students. They were later escorted from the campus when they attempted to display the banner outside the center.
Reagan's speech at BYU marked the fourth time a sitting or former president has spoken at the university.