Gingrich’s overblown Berlin Wall argument
On first glance, New Gingrich’s editorial describing Obama’s decision not to attend the anniversary of the Berlin Wall a "tragedy" (more here) seems like simple concern-trolling: The message of human dignity that led to the toppling of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago is a true message of hope rooted in the spiritual nature of ...
On first glance, New Gingrich's editorial describing Obama's decision not to attend the anniversary of the Berlin Wall a "tragedy" (more here) seems like simple concern-trolling:
On first glance, New Gingrich’s editorial describing Obama’s decision not to attend the anniversary of the Berlin Wall a "tragedy" (more here) seems like simple concern-trolling:
The message of human dignity that led to the toppling of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago is a true message of hope rooted in the spiritual nature of man and the freedom to know God.
And so it is a true shame that the president of the United States — this man who cloaks himself in the rhetoric of hope — won’t be pausing to remember.
But this argument actually makes a lot of sense within Gingrich’s view of Cold War history, which overwhelmingly emphasizes grand gestures and statements. At a talk I went to at the American Enterprise Institue last year, Gingrich made the case that Ronald Reagan’s speeches calling the Soviet Union an "evil empire" and announcing the creation of Strategic Missile Defense, turned the tide in the Cold War. (Christian Caryl does a nice job on the mythology of Reagan’s "tear down this wall" speech here.)
In this weekend’s editorial, it is Pope John Paul II who gets credit:
The crack in the wall that would become a torrent that day was made 10 years earlier during Pope John Paul II’s historic visit to his native Poland.[…] As he spoke, one by one, he punctured the lies of communism. During his first Mass in Poland, 1 million people who lived under a regime that said there was no God affirmed in spontaneous song, “We want God!”
Just 14 months after the pope left Poland, widespread strikes forced the official recognition of the trade union Solidarity. And from there, the dominos began to fall.
In Gingrich’s worldview, evil empires are destroyed by uncompromising stands of moral fortitude and powerful rhetoric from world leaders. But as Caryl writes, Western leaders deserve a lot less credit than "the crowds on the streets in Berlin, Prague, and Bucharest that fused inchoate anger at the regimes into an immediate and urgent challenge to the apparatchiks’ power and legitimacy."
It’s certainly fair to critique the adminsitration’s commitment to promoting democracy, buthe Wall didn’t fall because Reagan or the Pope said it should, and Obama’s decision to send Hillary Clinton instead of going himself is quite a bit less important than Gingrich seems to think it is.
And it’s not as if Obama didn’t have anything else to do today.
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating
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