FULTON, Mo. - Evoking former President Ronald Reagan's approach during the Cold War, former Attorney General John Ashcroft said Tuesday that the U.S. should assert its interests in freedom and liberty in a world challenged by terrorists and rogue nations.
Ashcroft was the keynote speaker for the 20th anniversary of the dedication of a section of the Berlin Wall at Westminster College. Then Missouri's governor, Ashcroft also was present on Nov. 9, 1990, when Reagan addressed about 7,000 people at the central Missouri campus.
Reagan spoke just a month after East and West Germany were reunited and one year after the gates on the wall separating East Berlin and West Berlin were first opened.
Part of the Berlin Wall was brought to Westminster College because it was the site of the famous 1946 "Iron Curtain" speech by former British prime minister Winston Churchill, who warned of efforts by the Soviet Union to spread communist control in Europe. Churchill's granddaughter, Edwina Sandys, obtained a 32-foot section of the concrete wall and transformed into an artwork by carving out the shapes of a man and woman.
Just as Churchill's assertiveness helped preserve liberty for western civilization during World War II, Reagan's assertiveness in building U.S. military strength helped to eventually bring freedom to Eastern Europe during the Cold War, Ashcroft said.
Reagan explained in his 1990 speech: "I thought that the 1980s were a time to stop apologizing for America's legitimate national interests and start asserting them."
Ashcroft quoted that Tuesday and said it remains true.
"America should lead from strength, not from weakness, and shouldn't devalue its position in order to find itself at parity with the rest of the world," said Ashcroft, who was attorney general when terrorists attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001.
Ashcroft presided over an expansion of investigatory powers by U.S. law enforcement agencies that was intended to prevent further terrorist attacks but was criticized by some as infringing on individual freedoms. The Supreme Court is to hear arguments early next year on whether Ashcroft can be held personally liable in a lawsuit brought by a man detained as a potential material witness in a terrorism case in 2003.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that the case could go forward. Ashcroft told reporters Tuesday that the appeals court ruling "was inappropriate" and said he was "delighted the Supreme Court has taken the case." Ashcroft noted that he and FBI director Robert Mueller prevailed in a previous Supreme Court case involving a separate detainee seeking to hold them personally liable.
Although terrorists remain a major threat, "It would be naive to think that we have graduated as a planet to a place where the only threat is terrorism," Ashcroft told reporters before his speech to about 250 people.
"The maintenance of the right kind of armed forces and defense is very important to the success of freedom in the world, and particularly to the preservation of liberty in the United States," he said.