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November 09, 2009

What Smart Diplomacy Looks And Sounds Like

Today is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

It didn't happen because Mikhail Gorbachev was a neat guy who was channeling his inner Jefferson. No matter what some will say, the Wall didn't fall because of protesters and appeasers, it happened in spite of them.

The Berlin Wall and the Soviet Bloc fell because of more than 40 years of constant effort and vigilance by millions of Americans and Europeans who stood watch against and on more than one occasion went to war with the forces of repression and tyranny.

It fell because of leaders like Ronald Reagan.

Reagan kept that "tear down this wall" line in over the objections of the State Department who feared it was too provocative. Somethings never change.

That speech was delivered a year and a half before the wall fell. Did it have any direct impact on the end of the Cold War as we knew it? The man who wrote the line thinks so.

As I looked over my notes in my hotel room that evening, I was struck by the way Marschinke and Bammel had both used language suggesting a sense of incredulity or unreality. The wall, both had implied, had seemed so real, solid, immovable--such a fixed part of everyday life, of the East German state and of the entire Communist outlook and philosophy--that the very idea of tearing it down had by contrast seemed strange and fantastic. Even when the wall had ceased to function, Bammel, a professional diplomat, had had trouble believing it until he had seen, with his own eyes, East Germans freely crossing the border.

Ronald Reagan, I recognized in that Berlin hotel room, had given something to people in the East, something difficult to describe but tangible all the same. In predicting that Communism would end up on the ash heap of history, in describing the Soviet Union as an evil empire--in insisting that the West remained fundamentally vibrant and good, the Soviet Union backward and corrupt--Reagan had spoken the unspeakable. He had done what no one could do. And he had thus created for people in the East a new space for thought and feeling, a new sense of the possible.

Many, the current occupant of the Oval Office included, are quick to deny America's role in the end of the Cold War. They see it as a great mistake, dragged out by mirror images in the West and East but it wasn't. It was a great struggle for freedom and right.

Too many of these same people saw the Cold War as a permanent feature of the world, one we needed to accommodate ourselves to. Well, if you were so small you could barely see beyond the end of your own nose or the next issue of Foreign Affairs, it certainly seemed that way.

But if you were a giant, like Reagan, Thatcher, Walesa, John Paul II, you could see further. You knew this mountain had a top and if you stayed the course and navigated by principal, you could get past it.

Reagan is often regarded as a foolish old man, out of touch with reality, too quick to see the world in terms of good and evil. Yet by word and deed he showed what smart diplomacy really is.


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posted by DrewM. at 11:57 AM

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