We don't need to "reinvent" conservatism, but we certainly do need to reacquaint millions of Americans---especially the young---with what conservatives believe about many issues. And foreign policy is an arena where conservative vision is most needed today.
If anyone had said in 1981 that Ronald Reagan would end the Cold War by building up U.S. military strength, by challenging the Soviet Union, by publicly denouncing Soviet tyranny while quietly waging relentless economic warfare against an evil empire, and even by holding Soviet communism up to international ridicule, that person would have been deemed a starry-eyed visionary. Yet that was Reagan's achievement. For that, he deserved a Nobel Peace Prize.
George H.W. Bush's domestic policies certainly could not be defended as conservative, but in foreign policy, he pressed for the reunification of Germany. The Soviets didn't want it. The French and the British didn't want it. Even the German Social Democrats resisted it. But Bush believed that America had given her word in international forums for half a century, and America under George H.W. Bush brought about this miracle. Germany today is free, united, democratic, peaceful, and a member of NATO. Who could have imagined such a stunning development when the senior Bush took the oath of office in January 1989? For his skill and determination, George H.W. Bush deserves a Nobel Peace Prize, not only for that but also for greatly strengthening America's alliance with Japan, a nation against whom he warred as our youngest Naval aviator.
Another deserving a Nobel Peace Prize was Harry Truman, for his sponsorship of the Marshall Plan to rebuild the economies of war-torn Western European democracies. He deserved a second for the Berlin Airlift---his peaceful yet forceful way of keeping freedom alive in that embattled city. Truman should also have won the award for the founding of NATO. It is true that we conservatives today praise Truman for policies that conservatives like Ohio's Robert Taft strenuously opposed at the time. But to admit error and to learn from the past is a conservative trait, too.
Truman also wisely desegregated the U.S. armed forces, and America could never have stood strong against communist tyranny if every U.S. military base abroad was an advertisement for injustice.
John F. Kennedy helped lead America to the moon and beat the Soviets in the space race. He also taught developing nations that freedom, not communist dictatorship, was the real road to peace and development. His strong support for civil rights always took into account America's leading role in the world. But he, too, was never honored with a Nobel.
Theodore Roosevelt did win the Nobel Peace Prize---for his negotiation of the end of the Russo-Japanese War. But he should have won a second one for sending the U.S. Navy's "Great White Fleet" on an around-the-world journey to show the flag. By demonstrating American naval strength, T.R. helped mightily to preserve the peace with Japan and, for a decade, with Germany.
In every instance I've cited, peace was achieved or preserved through strength. But apart from T.R., the folks in Oslo never honored the leaders I've praised here. Instead, the award, unfortunately, has too often gone to people such as North Vietnam's Le Duc Tho, an apologist for mass murderers, and the blood-soaked Yasser Arafat, the man who invented airline hijacking for terrorist purposes, and who personally ordered the murder of U.S. ambassador Cleo Noel. What a disgrace these awards have been.
We conservatives need to award not a tarnished Nobel Peace Prize, but a "Noble" Peace Prize. These should go to those inspired and visionary leaders who recognize that peace is achieved not by apologizing everywhere for their country, and not by appeasing dictators, but by defending America's principles and America's allies, and always by keeping America's defenses, in Ronald Reagan's words: second to none.
You will notice that this is not a partisan list I've compiled. It includes Democrats and Republicans. Conservatives are not about meekly going along with one party, even when they are wrong. Greatness knows no party. Because Ronald Reagan put American ideals and American security before party membership, he was able to cooperate with Democrats at home and democrats abroad to achieve higher goals.
America is a great country because the leaders whom we have freely chosen have met the dangers and the opportunities of their times.
Finally, we need to remind ourselves and others that conservatives believe in American exceptionalism. We believe that it is in freedom, and not in some despotic UN bureaucracy, that man's best hopes for peace and justice can be realized.
Ken Blackwell was the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.