Thiessen column: Ronald Reagan’s policies helped bring down the Berlin Wall. Now he’s not even welcome there
WASHINGTON — In June 1987, President Ronald Reagan stood before the Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate and uttered those iconic words that shook the world: “General Secretary Gorbachev … come here to this gate … Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” They had been repeatedly removed from his draft speech by nervous State Department bureaucrats, but Reagan kept putting them back in. And just 2½ years after Reagan spoke them, that wall came down.
We speak now of the “fall” of the Berlin Wall, but in truth the wall did not just fall. It was pushed. It was the policies of Reagan — his insistence on speaking truth about the evils of Communism, and his support for anti-Soviet freedom fighters, increased defense spending, the deployment of intermediate range missiles in Europe and the Strategic Defense Initiative — that bankrupted the Soviet Union and brought about the peaceful collapse of the wall and the Evil Empire that built it.
So it comes as a shock to learn that today Reagan is not welcome in Berlin. To mark the 30th anniversary of the wall’s collapse, the United States tried to get German agreement to erect a statue of Reagan in a public square in Berlin. Berlin officials refused. John Heubusch, head of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, said that “we were told it would be near impossible to make such a statue in Berlin.”
Faced with German rejection of a Reagan statue on German soil, the Trump administration decided to erect it on U.S. soil — on the embassy terrace overlooking the Brandenburg Gate where Reagan delivered his fateful call. In an interview, U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell says, “We decided we were going to take matters into our own hands and put a statue up on the top of the U.S. Embassy.” Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to Berlin to unveil it.
Germany’s ingratitude is stunning. Perhaps no country on Earth owes more to the American people. It was the United States that rebuilt postwar Germany with the Marshall Plan. It was the United States that saved Berlin from Soviet domination with the Berlin Airlift. It was the United States that stationed tens of thousands of troops in Germany to prevent a Soviet invasion across the Fulda Gap. The threat of such an invasion was real. The Washington Post reported in 1993 that after East Germany’s collapse, the German military found that the communists had “prepared a detailed plan for the takeover of West Berlin” in which “Soviet forces and East German army, border police and local police … would storm through the Berlin Wall.” The planning was “so detailed and advanced that the communists had already made street signs for western cities.”
Without the United States, without Reagan, the wall would have been brought down — smashed under the treads of Soviet tanks.
It is not simply Germany’s refusal to honor Reagan that rankles. Grenell points out that Foreign Minister Heiko Maas “wrote a definitive opinion piece that was produced in more than 20 papers across Europe … about the 30th anniversary of the fall of the wall and how far Germany is coming … and he didn’t mention the United States.” Indeed, his only reference to America was bemoaning how Berlin’s exhortations to address issues such as climate change “fall on deaf ears in Moscow, Beijing and, unfortunately, to an increasing extent also in Washington, DC.” He thanks “Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost and perestroika” but not a word of gratitude for Reagan or the United States.
This from a country that is failing to meet its financial obligations to the NATO alliance that secured its freedom. Germany is one of the wealthiest countries in Europe, which sends billions of dollars to Russia for natural gas in Germany. Yet it spends just 1.24% of its gross domestic product on defense, among the bottom of the NATO allies. This month, Germany’s defense minister called for raising its defense spending to the required 2% of GDP … by 2031.
In the 20th century, Americans sacrificed their lives and treasure to liberate Germany first from National Socialism and then from Soviet socialism. When the world wanted peaceful coexistence with Soviet communism, Reagan declared his policy toward the U.S.S.R. was simple: “We win, they lose.” Lose they did, without a shot fired. And today, the United States still has 50,000 troops stationed on German soil. Germany owes its freedom and prosperity to America and specifically to Ronald Reagan. The least they could do is say thank you, and put up a simple statue.
Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.
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