For decades the Berlin Wall separated Communist East Germany from Democratic West Germany, and prevented the free flow of peoples, trade and ideas. But it was also a symbol of tyranny.
The people on the Eastern side of the Berlin Wall were serfs to an all-powerful state, with no control over their own destiny and no ability to change those who ruled them. The people on the Western side of the Berlin Wall were free. Their economies thrived, they traded and traveled throughout the world, they created their own government and chose their leaders. It was as if one side of the wall were in black and white and the other side in Technicolor.
Twenty years ago when the wall came down it signaled the dawn of a new era for the people of Eastern Europe and, ultimately, the Soviet Union. It was the harbinger of the defeat of communism and the restoration of basic human rights to hundreds of millions of people. It was the ultimate expression of people breaking free from their chains of bondage. And America, especially President Reagan, was instrumental in bringing it about.
So why has President Obama refused to honor the occasion? The excuse that he’s too busy preparing for his upcoming trip to Asia rings hollow. It’s like the girl who tells a guy she can’t go out with him because she’s got to stay home and wash her hair. Clearly Obama just doesn’t want to go.
What’s behind the decision?
Is President Obama just playing petty politics and not wanting to lend his presence to an event which is seen as a victory for a Republican President?
Is President Obama just too young to realize the momentous significance of the fall of the Berlin Wall? He was born in 1961; when the Wall went up Obama was an infant. His youth was spent in Indonesia and Hawaii, far from the struggles between the Democratic West and Communist East. He probably didn’t practice civil defense drills at school; fallout shelters weren’t part of his childhood; pictures of mushroom clouds weren’t burned into his consciousness at an early age.
Or is President Obama just naive? Is he a no-show in Germany because he wants to offer the Russians yet another goodwill gesture, on the heels of the one he offered just a few weeks ago when he cancelled the planned missile shield for Poland and Czech Republic? With these two goodwill gestures Obama is in essence telling the countries of Eastern Europe -- you’re on your own. We are no longer standing with you against Russian expansionism. He is in essence telling the Russians they can reclaim those countries back into their sphere of influence.
Some have implied Obama is offering these goodwill gestures so the Russians will reciprocate by helping us stop Iran’s nuclear program, and cooperate and in possible sanctions against Iran. The Russians scoffed at the mere mention of sanctions against Iran.
Whether it is petty politics, or historical ignorance or naivete, it’s wrong. President Obama should be in Berlin, along with other world leaders, celebrating the birth of freedom for hundreds of millions of people.
Kathleen Troia "KT" McFarland served in national security posts in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan Administrations, and was a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense. She is a Senior Advisor to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Her website is KTMcFarland.com