Speaker Boehner: From Russia to Cuba, U.S. Should Not Accommodate Aggressors

Thursday, September 17, 2015
Excerpt from Speaker of the House, John Boehner's (R-OH), remarks to the International Republican Institute’s (IRI) Freedom Award Dinner:

The best thing that I can do – that we can all do, frankly – is give the stage to the true freedom fighters.  That way, people can hear their stories, and be inspired to action.

That’s why, as Speaker, my first meeting with a head of state was with the president of Georgia.  Not long after that, I met with a group of opposition leaders from Belarus.  In 2012, I visited Colombia to present its leaders with a copy of the new U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.  In 2013, we renamed a space in the Capitol ‘Freedom Foyer’ and now have a bust of Havel there.   Last year, we invited the President of Ukraine to address a joint meeting of Congress.  Last January, one of my guests at the State of the Union was Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, a leader of the Cuban resistance movement.

And in June, I led a bipartisan delegation to Lithuania, a nation celebrating the 25th anniversary of its modern independence.  There, we toured the Barricades and saw an original copy of their young Constitution.  They took us out to see their new LNG terminal, fittingly named ‘Independence.’  And we met with the man they call their George Washington, who, as it turns out, is an excellent piano player.

A generation ago, in his speech to the British Parliament, President Reagan called for a ‘crusade for freedom.’  Well this is it.  It is happening.  And this is why IRI is so important.

Because freedom is a powerful idea, but even a great idea is not enough.  We know you can’t just issue a declaration, and claim there’s freedom.  You can’t just have an election, and call it a democracy.  It all takes time and tremendous vigilance.

It goes back to that old saying: showing up is 90 percent of life.  You know why it’s an old saying?  Because it’s true.  When you show up, you show people that you care.  IRI does this better than anyone, and I thank you for that.

Yet I’m sure when President Reagan said those words, he envisioned that it would be the United States leading this crusade.  But sadly, promoting democracy isn’t a cornerstone of our government’s current foreign policy.  If anything, it is an afterthought.

We see this, for example, in Iraq.  When the White House had the chance to use its leverage to protect our progress and prevent the rise of ISIL, it did not act.  Instead, the Iranian regime now exerts great influence over Iraq’s institutions.  Except Iran has no interest in keeping Iraq whole and stable.

We see this in Cuba.  When our Secretary of State traveled to Havana to open our embassy, he had a great opportunity to highlight human rights problems.  But not a single dissident – not one – was invited to the ceremony.  Something about ‘limited space.’  And yet, on the eve of that ceremony, dozens of dissidents were arrested.

We see this in the irregular warfare against the legitimate government in Kiev.  Instead of providing lethal aid to Ukraine, as members of both parties have urged, the president stated that Congress wanted to escalate the conflict.   His response to our urging?  He went out of his way to praise Putin for helping secure the Iran deal.  I’ll say again what I said four years ago: cooperation can only be transactional to a point. We can never sacrifice – or even downplay – our values.

But that’s exactly what we have done.  Just look at the Iran deal.  Not only does this deal make the world less safe – it makes the world less free.  Long before we’ll ever know whether we prevented a nuclear Iran, we will be legitimizing a regime that jails journalists, tortures Americans it has unjustly imprisoned, and plots the annihilation of Israel, the only stable democracy in the region.

My guiding principle has always been that you stand with your friends and confront your enemies.  But in the foreign policy of this administration, we see a drift away from our allies – and our values – towards accommodation with the world’s aggressors.