Tag Archives: Berlin Wall

RIP, George H.W. Bush; you have earned it

The tributes are pouring in from around the world over the news our nation received Friday night, that our 41st president, George H.W. Bush has died at the age of 94.

We knew it would come sooner rather than later, quite obviously. President Bush led the fullest of lives. He now joins the love of his life, Barbara, in eternal peace.

The world reacts

Of all the ways to honor this great man, I want to look briefly at two related episodes of his four-year presidency. They speak to this man’s humility and his grace. Yes, he was the most qualified man ever to serve as president: combat Navy aviator during World War II, successful West Texas  businessman, member of Congress, special envoy to China, ambassador to the United Nations, director of the CIA, Republican Party chairman, vice president of the United States.

I’ll leave it to others to comment on those accomplishments, singularly and collectively.

Two events occurred on his presidential watch that speak to this man’s astonishing grace: the Berlin Wall tumbled down in 1989 and the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

The collapse of the wall was a singular event that heralded what we all knew was going to happen, that communism in Europe was done for. Did President Bush high-five everyone he could find to celebrate the event? No. He stood by stoically while the world witnessed with its own eyes the unification of a great European nation and the first visible sign that the end of the Cold War was at hand.

Then came the dissolution of the Soviet Union two years later. Soviet chairman Mikhail Gorbachev resigned. The communist government collapsed under its own weight of corruption ideological bankruptcy. It was replaced by the Russian Federation. It began a new era we all hoped would signal the creation of a democratic state in the former USSR. Sadly, it hasn’t worked out the way we hoped it would.

Again, the president didn’t run a victory lap. He didn’t proclaim that the Good Guys had defeated the Bad Guys. He didn’t gloat, prance and preen. He acted with nobility and calm. The world did not need to hear the president of the United States explain what it was witnessing in real time.

Those, I submit, are the hallmarks of a man who knew his place and knew in his huge heart how to behave while the world was changing before our eyes.

We are saddened today to learn of the passing of this great man. We are grateful, though, for his lifetime of service to his beloved nation.

Well done, Mr. President.

Good call on Person of Year, Time magazine

angela-merkel

OK, so Time didn’t pick Donald Trump as its Person of the Year after all.

Instead, the venerable magazine went with someone who’s actually accomplished something, been a force for positive change and has earned her spurs leading a continent that’s going through some monumental change.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gets the nod as Person of the Year.

I am fascinated by Time’s description of her upbringing.

She grew up in East Germany, which used to call itself the “German Democratic Republic.” As Time notes, the communist-run dictatorship was neither “democratic” or a “republic.” It was run by tyrants. Thus, young Angela developed an early craving for freedom and liberty.

She and the rest of her country got it when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and the communist dictatorship fell apart.

Merkel’s ascent to power was dramatic. Once there, she became Europe’s most powerful leader, which is saying something, given that the continent is populated by several powerful heads of government — such as the British prime minister and the president of France.

Check out this passage from Time’s article on the selection: “At a moment when much of the world is once more engaged in a furious debate about the balance between safety and freedom, the Chancellor is asking a great deal of the German people, and by their example, the rest of us as well. To be welcoming. To be unafraid. To believe that great civilizations build bridges, not walls, and that wars are won both on and off the battlefield. By viewing the refugees as victims to be rescued rather than invaders to be repelled, the woman raised behind the Iron Curtain gambled on freedom. The pastor’s daughter wielded mercy like a weapon.”

The reference here is to the refugee crisis exploding in the Middle East. Merkel has “wielded mercy like a weapon.”

Let’s pay attention on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

 

End of Cold War brought disarray

Joe Scarborough asks a compelling question about the state of U.S. foreign policy.

How did it get so messed up?

The one-time Republican congressman from Florida wonders how the world’s pre-eminent military and economic power can get in such a muddled mess.

I think I have a partial answer. Or perhaps just some food for thought: The end of the Cold War.

http://www.politico.com/story/2015/03/history-scarborough-obama-bush-isil-israel-116495.html?hp=l3_3

Geopolitical relationships have gotten incredibly complex since the days when the Soviet Union sought to control the world and the United States kept pushing back the Big Ol’ Bear.

Our adversary was a clearly defined nuclear power. It covered 8 million or so square miles of territory across two continents. They were fearsome. Then again, so were we.

Then the Berlin Wall came crashing down in 1989. Two years later, the Evil Empire imploded.

Just like that, our Enemy No. 1 was gone.

In its place a lot of other enemies have arisen to rivet our attention. Scarborough thinks two American presidents — George W. Bush and Barack Obama — have presided over this turmoil. Granted, the Soviet Union disappeared on George H.W. Bush’s watch and his successor, Bill Clinton, managed to keep the assortment of new enemies at bay.

Here’s part of what Scarborough writes: “Bush’s ideological foreign policy was tragically followed by Obama’s delusional belief that America could erase the sins of the Bush-Cheney era by simply abdicating the U.S.’s role as indispensable nation.”

I am not certain anyone quite yet is capable of juggling so many balls at the same time. President Bush took dead aim at al-Qaeda immediately after 9/11, but then expanded that effort into a war against Iraq. Then came Barack Obama — and the world has just kept on getting more unstable.

But we still haven’t yet figured out how to manage crises that keep cropping up throughout the Middle East and northern Africa. The result has been, as Scarborough notes, a vast explosion of crises involving ISIL, Syria, Turkey, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria … and even Venezuela in our own hemisphere. Let’s not forget North Korea and the immigration crisis emanating from Latin America.

We’ve got to keep our eyes on many balls all at once.

 

Paying tribute to Bush 41

Lanny Davis and I have something in common.

We’re both reading the same book, “41,” the biography of the 41st president of the United States written by his son, the 43rd president of the United States.

http://thehill.com/opinion/lanny-davis/230351-lanny-davis-bush-41-and-the-credit-he-is-due

Davis is a much bigger hitter than I am. He once served as special White House counsel in the Clinton administration. However, he and I share the same respect for the 41st president, George H.W. Bush.

Davis perhaps has finished reading his copy of “41,” the volume written by former President George W. Bush. I’m still in the middle of it. I’m enjoying it immensely.

“W” makes no apologies about this book. He calls it a “love story” written to and about the man he admires most. Davis shares George W.’s affection for the elder Bush.

Davis writes in The Hill: “To me, the most important — and perhaps least generally recognized — is Bush 41’s role in the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.”

Indeed, President Bush didn’t spike the ball, so to speak, when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, nor did he do a victory jig in the Oval Office when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. He chose to mark those dates quietly. Indeed, he barely said a thing when both events occurred.

Davis recounts how Bush 43 writes that congressional Democrats urged Bush 41 to go to Berlin when the wall came down.

Then the Evil Empire dissolved. When it did, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev sent Bush 41 a “thank you” note. Davis writes: “Gorbachev had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990, a year after the Berlin Wall had fallen peacefully. Perhaps if the Nobel Peace Prize Committee had known at the time about Bush 41’s crucial but virtually invisible role helping Gorbachev reach this result with dignity, he would have shared that prize.”

Bush 41 is ailing these days. He isn’t quite so vibrant, even though he jumped out of an airplane on his 90th birthday.

His humility — one of his most endearing personal traits — shows through in the story written by his son.

Davis believes — as I do — that historians will rank Bush 41’s presidency as a consequential time in our history: “I believe that some day, history will judge this humble, self-effacing man as one of America’s most important presidents, if for no other reason than he helped achieve, as his son wrote, ‘one of the most stunning diplomatic achievements in history: a peaceful end to the Cold War.’”

 

The Wall came tumblin' down

Walls were meant to be broken, scaled, breached.

Thus, when the Berlin Wall came crashing down a quarter-century ago today, it signaled an inevitable result.

The communists who ruled East Germany at the time built the wall in 1961 to keep people in, not necessarily to keep people out. Their strategy never really worked. People fought to break through the wall to find freedom in West Berlin, which still was surrounded by the rest of the communist country. Still, the people fled, often dying in the effort.

http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/ng-interactive/2014/nov/03/the-berlin-wall-in-the-cold-war-and-now-interactive

The Wall is history now. It came down. Berlin would be united. Germany would unite as well.

The Soviet Union? It hung on for two more years before it, too, disintegrated into oblivion.

One element about all of that stands out for me as I look back at that tumultuous time.

The president of the United States at the time didn’t do a touchdown dance. He didn’t crow aloud about how great we are and how evil the communists were. George H.W. Bush wasn’t one to spike the ball, as it were, in a moment of supreme triumph.

His immediate predecessor, Ronald Reagan — whom Bush served as vice president for eight years — didn’t do any shouting from the rooftop either. Both men, to their credit, chose to let the events play out, to allow the people to celebrate their freedom and for the world to draw its own conclusions about what was occurring in a great European city.

It’s helpful, though, to recall the abject failure of the wall. It symbolized only the tyranny of those who erected it and served to remind those who sought freedom of their own desire to breach the wall.

They succeeded. Good for them. Good for the rest of the world as well.