Twenty years ago today, Ronald Reagan made a speech in Berlin, in which he uttered the famous line "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
Somewhat more than two years later, a large number of people, not including Ronald Reagan, tore down the Berlin Wall.
Since that time, neocons, so-called journalists, and other less-than-half-wits have been saying that Ronald Reagan himself tore down the Berlin Wall, ended the Cold War, defeated the Soviet Union and saved America from Communism.
They're loony, of course. The idea is not worth half a banana in historical terms. But as propaganda, it's irresistable. Here's a recent example, from TIME's Romesh Ratnisar:
The four most famous words of Ronald Reagan's Presidency almost were never uttered.This idea is loony too, of course. As if Fred saying something could discredit Barney! But it's also emblematic of a longstanding problem among the "thinkers" who had been making national security policy for the previous forty years: the "negative veto" power they granted the Soviet Union. In the White House, the Congress, the Pentagon, the State Department and elsewhere, virtually nothing could be done unless it could be demonstrated that the Russians wouldn't like it. And every policy initiative was viewed through the imaginary prism: What will the Russians think of this? Never mind that the geniuses in the CIA, the NSA, the DIA and State had no idea what the Russians were actually thinking, much less the ability to predict what they might think under some hypothetical circumstance.
Twenty years ago, on the morning of June 12, 1987, Reagan arrived in Berlin, on the occasion of the city's 750th birthday. He was scheduled to speak on the western side of the Brandenburg Gate, for years the city's symbolic dividing line. His speechwriters had drafted an address intended as much for Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, with whom Reagan was forging a close relationship, as for the 20,000 people who gathered to hear him speak. In the speech, Reagan would call on Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, but that language was opposed strongly by Reagan's National Security Council and the State Department, who feared it would be used by hardliners in the Kremlin to discredit Gorbachev.
After forty years of such twisted "analysis", it's no wonder the "experts" at State and elsewhere thought the Russian hardliners would (or could) use something Ronald Reagan said to discredit Mikhail Gorbachev. The Russian hardliners were nothing if not pragmatic, and clearly they understood Gorbachev could be discredited only by things he actually did or said. Similarly, Ronald Reagan was discredited by his words and actions, not by anything anyone else said about him, or to him.
But the White House wizards didn't understand any of this, and therefore, the article continues,
When the President's entourage arrived in Berlin, Reagan's team was still arguing over the final wording. State and NSC submitted yet another draft of the speech. But in the limousine ride to the Wall, Reagan told his deputy chief of staff, Kenneth Duberstein, that he intended to issue the fateful challenge to Gorbachev. "It's the right thing to do," he said.Sure it does! Unless it explains nothing of the sort!
For all its drama, the speech received relatively little media coverage. Compared to the younger, more vigorous Gorbachev, Reagan seemed to be a diminished figure on the world stage, a lame-duck President hobbled by the Iran-Contra scandal at home. But in hindsight, the "Tear Down this Wall" speech helps explain how the Cold War ended.
Realistically speaking, the Soviet Union was never a threat to the existence of the United States, nor to our so-called "way of life". But the presence of a threat which could be exaggerated at will was very handy for those who would profit from an arms race. So we were told outright lies about the intentions and capabilities of the Soviets -- from the end of World War II, through the dissolution of the USSR and beyond. It was (and still is) good for business.
Much has been made of the fact that the CIA "missed" the collapse of the USSR. How could such a huge event have come as a shock to the world's most sophisticated intelligence-gathering apparatus? The standard analysis seems to imply that they underestimated the power of Ronald Reagan's speech.
The problem with this analysis is simple: there already existed ample evidence that the Soviet Union was ready to crumble. But so much horse manure had been fed into the system over the years that our vaunted intelligence experts had no idea what to think.
It would never have been politically correct to explain their failure in such terms. Therefore a fictional history had to be invented, and one was readily available. Reagan had made a speech asking Gorbachev to tear down the wall, the wall was torn down, therefore, post hoc ergo propter hoc, Reagan's speech tore down the wall.
And this is why the TIME article is headlined: "The Speech That Brought Down a Wall".
O' course, matey! It was the speech that done it!
Two decades later, what can we learn from the epochal events that followed — the fall of the Berlin Wall, the reunification of Germany and the collapse of the Soviet Union? "People were afraid of the consequences of what Reagan would say," George Shultz, Reagan's long-serving Secretary of State, told me over lunch in Berlin last week. "But it turns out he was right."Sure he was! Really!! As long as you don't look at any of the historical facts!
As Bob Parry wrote in Rating Reagan: A Bogus Legacy:
How, why and when was the Cold War “won”? If, for instance, the United States was already on the verge of victory over a foundering Soviet Union in the early-to-mid-1970s, as some analysts believe, then Reagan’s true historic role may not have been “winning” the Cold War, but helping to extend it.And nowadays, Reagan is portrayed as a hero of America because he supposedly turned his back on the failed policies of his predecessors and went in another direction. In this context, it wouldn't be appropriate to mention that his "Tear Down This Wall" speech was actually an extension of détente rather than a rejection of it!
If the Soviet Union was already in rapid decline, rather than in the ascendancy that Reagan believed, then the massive U.S. military build-up in the 1980s was not decisive; it was excessive. The terrible bloodshed in Central America and Africa, including death squad activities by U.S. clients, was not some necessary evil; it was a war crime aided and abetted by the Reagan administration.
That debate, however, has never been engaged, except by Reagan acolytes who chose to glorify Reagan’s role in “winning the Cold War” rather than examining the assumptions that guided his policies in the 1970s and 1980s. Although it’s largely forgotten now, Reagan’s rise within the Republican Party was as a challenge to the “détente” strategies pursued by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger – before the Watergate scandal forced Nixon from office – and later by Gerald Ford. Détente was, in effect, an effort to ease the Cold War to an end, much as finally occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Later Ratnisar quotes George Schultz saying:
"It's become famous, first of all, because what he called for happened. If you look back to the day after the speech, or the month after, I don't think it was written about that much. But it got big reverberations once the Wall came down and people looked back at Reagan's speech and remembered that it was controversial at the time to say that."Listen: In the fall of 2000, a private interest group issued a position paper calling for "a catastrophic and catalyzing event", a "new Pearl Harbor", as they put it, which would enable their radical foreign and domestic policy agendas to be implemented very quickly. Four months later, more than a dozen signatories to that position paper found themselves in very high government positions, thanks to a new administration which hadn't exactly won any legitimate elections. Eight months after that two buildings at the World Trade Center were hit by hijacked airplanes and three WTC buildings disintegrated; in addition the headquarters of the world's most sophisticated military / intelligence organization was hit by a missile. One could make a reasonable claim that this was the New Pearl Harbor -- and therefore that the position paper had knocked down the towers. But even if you don't do that -- even if you merely mention all these facts in the same paragraph -- you're branded a lunatic fringe nut-case with a tin-foil hat, by the very same people who claim that Ronald Reagan's speech on June 12, 1987 was responsible for the fall of the Berlin Wall, two and a half years later!
Talk about nut-cases!!
Still and all, it is quite correct to say that the PNAC document has become famous, first of all, because what it called for happened. If you look back to the day after it was published, or the month after, I don't think it was written about that much. But it got big reverberations once the towers came down and people looked back at "Rebuilding America's Defenses" and realized that it was a smoking gun pointing to treason.
But Romesh Ratnisar probably never even thought of that. Instead the article continues:
Shultz went on. "I guess the point I'm making here is that ideas matter a lot, the underlying ideas that stand behind policies. When you don't have ideas, your policies are flip-flopping all over the place. When you do have ideas, you have more consistency. And when you have the right ideas — then you can get somewhere." Reagan had the right ideas.Bob Parry describes some of those "right ideas":
Cold War obsession led him to coddle an unsavory collection of right-wing psychopaths, including death squad operatives who engaged in genocide, neo-fascists who relished bizarre torture techniques, and drug traffickers who seized a rich geopolitical business opportunity.None of this "coddling" upended the Soviet Union, but it did enrich a few of the guiltiest people on the planet, while killing tens of thousands -- or more! -- of the most innocent.
Predictably, after the Soviet Union fell, the
neocons claim[ed] credit for “winning the Cold War” and thus walk[ed] away from accountability for supporting brutal right-wing regimes and even terrorists in the 1980s.So it goes.
And now the lie is being resurrected, by the supposedly liberal media, who want to keep you ignorant of everything that matters and obsessed with this bizarre fiction they call our national history.
Coincidentally -- or perhaps not? -- sixteen years ago today, Boris Yeltsin was elected president in Russia's first-ever democratic election.
His reform program consisted of the mass privatization of state-run enterprises. Soon after the program was instituted, the country experienced inflation, heavy taxes, and a protracted economic depression.And in another, utterly appalling, "coincidence", one of the ads appearing today at TIME dot Com features a photo of (and a quote from) O. J. Simpson, whose former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, was brutally murdered thirteen years ago today.
Simpson says the media should admit that it's not doing a good job. (And, ironically, he could use the coverage of his murder trial as Exhibit "A"!)
So we've got revisionist history all over the place today. How fitting.