tv Ronald Reagans Tear Down This Wall Speech CSPAN November 23, 2021 3:45pm-4:55pm EST
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i'm peter robinson. today a conversation with the ronald reagan institute. in a moment we'll discuss president reagan's june 12th, 1987 tear down this wall speech. since i was a speechwriter who wrote the speech i've been asked, general mcmaster has ordered me to tell the story of this speech. right there by the way is first page of president reagan's speaking copy. you can see my name as the speechwriter in the upper left-hand corner. first some historical background. after the first world war west berlin which is a portion of berlin itself remained under american, british, and french control even as east berlin and all of the surrounding east germany came under the control of a communist regime. this is very important to grasp that west berlin was completely
surrounded by the communist east. you can see west berlin is a little dot inside east germany. again, after the war, thousands of east germans flee the communist regime in east germany to the democratic west. very often they do it just by stepping across the street into west berlin and once in west berlin they could get on a train which had the right to cross east german territory to the west. so leaving was simple. by 1961 a fifth of the entire population of west germany had done just that. they fled. to stop this enormous exodus the east germans proposed a physical barrier and moscow agreed. in the middle of the night of
august 13th, 1961, the east germans strung barbed wire all the way around west berlin cutting it off. there is a slide that shows this barbed wire. essentially the -- eventually they would replace it with cinder blocks and then with slabs of concrete 13 feet high. more than one-quarter century later the berlin war remained in place again encircling west berlin. the slide shows where the wall cut off the brandonberg gate and since president reagan mentioned the gate in the speech you need to know it was an 18th century monument that once served as a ceremonial entrance to berlin. the berlin wall cuts it off. it is the spring of 1987. i am a young speechwriter in the
reagan white house. i'm told the president will speak in front of the berlin wall. he'll have an audience of 10,000 to 40,000 people. in the end it was about 40,000 people. that he'll speak for about a half hour and given the setting the subject will be foreign policy. and that was all the guidance i got. i flew to west berlin with the american preadvance party, the security people who would work out security with the west germans, members of the press office who would check camera angles and so forth, and i went to gather material. four stops in berlin. first the site where the president would speak. it is very difficult to convey how momentous the place felt. just a few feet away was the building which still bore damage from the world war. i climbed an observation platform and looked over the wall into east berlin. behind me west berlin a modern
city, light, motion, traffic. on the other side of the wall, colorlessness, more soldiers than pedestrians. on one side life. on the other side kind of twilight. next i went to the office of the ranking american diplomat in berlin. he was full of ideas about what president reagan should not say. east/west relations are nuanced and subtle. no commy bashing. don't mention the wall. they've gotten used to it by now. then i was given a ride in a u.s. army helicopter over the wall. from the air it looked even worse than it did from the ground in west berlin because from the air you could see what lay on the other side of the wall -- guard runs, dog towers, kind of a killing zone or no-man's land. that evening i broke away from the american party to go to a residential suburb of west berlin where a dinner party was
put on for me by a couple i had never met but worked in the world bank in washington and we had friends in common in washington. we talked about this and that and then i told them the american diplomat said they had all gotten used to the berlin wall. that turned out to be incorrect. they may have stopped talking about it after all these years but if you asked it became very clear they still hated that wall every day. our hostess made the comment that if gorbachev was serious with this talk, he could come to berlin and prove it by getting rid of the wall. i put that in my note book immediately because i knew if ronald reagan had been in my place he would have responded to the simplicity and the decency of that remark. back in washington drafted the speech. it went to the president one weekend when he was at camp
david. there is something of a story there because almost always in the reagan white house a speech would go out to staffing before it went to the president of but we speechwriters were able to persuade the staff secretary to let the president see this speech before it went out to staffing. the following monday may 18th, 1987, the speechwriters met in the oval office with the president and the president singled out the passage about tearing down the wall as something he particularly wanted to say. well, that wall needs to come down and that is what i want to say. then the speech went out to staffing. and for the three weeks until the president delivered it the state department and the national security council opposed it and tried to stop it in part by submitting one draft after another each of which omitted the tear down the wall.
here is one where it is x'd out the call to tear down the wall. and another one to colin powell, the memorandum calls the speech mediocre and a missed opportunity. in italy the president in attending an economic summit before going to west berlin, in italy as they got on airforce one to fly to west berlin the state department cabled over yet another alternative draft and in west berlin in the limousine on the way to the wall, i heard this from the deputy chief of staff who was in the limousine with the president ronald reagan explained he was going to deliver the speech as written and then he said the boys at state are going to kill me for this but it's the right thing to do. and that is the story of the speech ronald reagan delivered on june 12th, 1987. >> there is one sign that the
soviets can make that would be unmistakable that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. general secretary gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the soviet union and eastern europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. mr. gorbachev, open this gate. [cheers and applause] mr. gorbachev, mr. gorbachev, tear down this wall. [cheers and applause]
>> jamie fly is the president and ceo of radio free europe and radio liberty. mr. fly served during the bush administration on the national security council and in the office of the secretary of defense. he holds degrees from american university and george town. serving as the chair at the yuft of texas at austin during the bush administration he served at the state department and at the national security council. he holds his degrees from stanford and his under graduate degree from stanford and his doctorate from yale. hr mcmaster served as national security advise tower president trump and in the united states army in which he rose to lieutenant general. general mcmaster is the author of the classic work on vietnam "dereliction of duty" and last year published "battleground, the fight to defend the free world." a fellow at the hoover
institution general mcmaster holds an under graduate degree from the united states military academy and a doctorate from the university of north carolina at chapel hill. jamie, will, and h.r., thanks for joining us. on his first trip to germany, quoting your essay for the reagan institute. on his first trip to germany in 1978 reagan visited the site where 16 years earlier 18-year-old peter fector an east german who tried to escape over the wall was shot and bled to death in no-man's land. the former california governor and his delegation also ventured into east berlin and were disturbed by what they saw of life under east german communism. jamie, between 1978 when ronald reagan first visited the wall and 1987 when he spoke in front of the wall, what changed?
to use the soviet term how had the correlation of forces shifted? >> thanks for having me, the reagan institute and peter great to be with you. i was struck when i was reading will and general mcmaster's essay. i think we all cited you as sources and i think you have done an amazing job keeping the story of the development of the speech alive. i thank you for that. because i think future generations will be able to understand the context and history better. when i was writing the essay and looking at that period what struck me was how much the german public had suffered during that period as decades passed and germans especially west berliners moved well beyond the initial establishment of the wall which happened almost
overnight in some neighborhoods speaking from berlin so occasionally here in berlin, it happened very suddenly. families, friends, weren't prepared for it. some were thrust into a situation where it became difficult to interact rather quickly. for others it took longer. people as you noted, some people took their lives into their own hands and took the risk of trying to please the left. from my understanding of german history as time went on people became more depressed and pessimistic about the potential for change. by 19 #87 you also had successive german governments which in some policies had given an indication that perhaps they doubted change would be simple and quick and pursued various types of engagement with both east germany and the soviet union often to the consternation of u.s. administrations. i think reagan's arrival came at a key moment where germans
especially west germans needed a shot in the arm. they needed that encouragement that change was still possible, that hope should be maintained for some sort of different future for germany so the stars aligned in that respect with the timing of reagan's visit. >> you quote the state department official whom i saw in berlin. this is an article he wrote much later by 1987, quote, hopes in germany and much of europe lay not with ronald reagan but with mikhail gorbachev, close quote. by 1987 it is clear the soviet union is stagnating. by 1987 the united states is resurge ent. everyone in the world can see that including the germans. yet europeans see gorbachev as the more hopeful figure. let me go to h.r. mcmaster. how can that have been?
>> well, i think it has everything to do with confidence in our democratic form of governance, confidence in who we are as a people and of course confidence in the trans atlantic relationship and among the free states of europe at the time. what i hope to do with my essay is make an analogy to that period for exactly the point you are making implicitly peter is we can regain our confidence in who we are as a people and in our democratic form of governance and we can do it with effective leadership and with some clarity. clarity that speech provided and the leadership that ronald reagan provided. >> i'm quoting you. come now to the fight. the comment from the state department and staff on early speech draft give a flavor of their thinking. i put up a couple slides earlier but you provide a much more extensive overview of their
comments on speech draft. you are quoting the state department and nfc. this won't fly with the germans. not sentimental people. seems silly ased ited. this must come out. west germans do not want to see east germans insulted. weak. need concrete ideas not sentimental fluff. too much emphasis on good guys versus bad guys. >> okay. the state department and nfc did not like that speech. your little bits and pieces, but these were highly intelligent, very experienced people. what were they thinking? >> i think they were reflecting a lot of the conventional wisdom and expert opinion of the day. i don't use that dericively but this is where i think it really brings out reagan's strategic genius that he was willing,
summarize it this way, most of the conventional foreign policy wisdom of the day including every previous american president during the cold war had seen the cold war primarily as a great power contest between the powerful soviet union and the powerful united states. they saw their job as largely managing that. don't let the soviets expand anymore. at the same time we need to assume the soviet union and warsaw pact will be there almost in perpetuity. permanent features on the geo political landscape. reagan as you know well, he reversed that. he saw the cold war as primarily a battle of ideas that happened to have two powerful countries involved. because he thought of the cold war in terms of ideas, freedom against tyranny, capitalism against communism, democracy against dictatorship, he also thought of the cold war in terms of how it would hurt or affect individual people and he was aware of the sentiments of many
people living behind the iron curtain of the east germans, trapped by the wall there. a lot of sentiments you picked up from that dinner party. reagan was willing to go against a lot of the expert opinion and the state department and foreign policy establishment that-and say no. we can push this further and stand up for our ideas that this is better than tyranny and speak to people behind the iron curtain and in some ways channel their voices. i think it was because he had the entirely different strategic vision and theory of the case for what the cold war was all about that he was willing to back up his speechwriters like you and say, no. this is not sentimental fluff. we're not worried about the east germans. i think we are speaking to the heart of the german people and the hearts of soviet people. >> does anybody feel any urge, hr, you ran the national
security council. there was an event a couple years ago to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the berlin wall. and as jamie noted, i don't need much prompting to tell the story of the speech. there was a very sophisticated scholar of diplomacy there who said wait a minute now. that the speech worked out does not prove it was the right decision to give it. george shultz among others thought the speech might put gorbachev in a tight spot in the bureau you see you try to work with the americans and the president comes along and challenges you like this. what do you think you're doing comrade? hr, i am looking to you to stick up for the nfc in its objections to this speech 30 some years ago. jamie, you're right in the middle of berlin where as far as i can tell germans have forgotten the speech. i'm giving you guys a chance.
stick up for these guys. >> you want to give a president a broad range of views but the national security adviser job your job, because you are the only person in the united states government in the foreign policy and national security arena who has the president as his or her only client. your job is to give the president a say. it is really important you spend time with the president on as you did, peter, on these important speeches and i had a great relationship with your old friend tony and the other speechwriters in the white house and we worked together on a number of speeches very early. then i would ensure those speeches got to the president early. so he could put his imprint on it. i think if you look at president trump's warsaw speech for example there are echoes of it
in that speech. it is a messy, important aspect of the job is to help the president craft speeches that allow him to first of all kind of decide on what his foreign policy agenda is but importantly in our democracy to make it public. because it is important that the american people support these initiatives but i think often times what presidents don't realize enough especially if they're more domestically focused as president trump for example i think presidents sometimes under estimate the degree to which those overseas hang on every single word of a presidential speech. i think this is what you got so right is that for that speech spoke to an international audience in a powerful and profound way. >> okay. by the way, this is where i better step in and clear up one
thing. i wrote it but it was 100% ronald reagan. i would not have written that for anybody else and i can tell you that because i had worked for then vice president george h.w. bush. would never have written it for him. reagan alone with his insistence on delivering the speech once he had seen it over other objections, george bush in every foreign policy speech, the first question he would always ask me when i drafted a foreign policy speech, has state approved of this? so listen to this story. all three of you but jamie next. we'll stay with ronald reagan for a moment. this is a story, i think quite a famous story told to me by dig allen who was your predecessor, ronald reagan's first national security adviser. the year is 1977. reagan is now a former governor
and has just lost the republican presidential nomination to gerald ford. there is no inkling he is going to run for president. he is paying close attention to world affairs and dig allen stops by his house in pacific palisades and briefs him on world affairs. then reagan said, well, would you like to hear my theory of the cold war? dig allen said of course, governor. then ronald reagan and dick put this down in writing for me and i am quoting from dick. this is reagan speaking. some people think i'm simplistic but there is a difference between being simple and being simplistic. my theory about the cold war is, we win and they lose. well, how do you operationalize that? here is the whole -- richard nixon and detente and henry kissinger and jimmy carter, the
same year jimmy carter gave his speech warning against an inordinate fear of communism and ronald reagan's impulse is just to turn it upside down. it feels -- now that i'm older it feels a little risky to me, jamie. >> i'm a big fan of the approach obviously especially given where i stand today at radio liberty. i think the moral clarity of reagan is incredibly essential here. ultimately, incredibly fearful of their own citizens, authoritarians are, and when they realize democracies are resilient and united and up to the task, that strikes fear into the heart of every authoritarian leader. i think that is ultimately what reagan understood and why the speech was so powerful. in terms of what a president says in a setting like this,
that is one thing in terms of presenting the moral clarity, the vision. then you can debate the tactics and the diplomacy and the negotiations which obviously reagan engaged in extensively. one brief comment on the interagency about the conversation happening earlier i had only a bit role in the george w. bush administration but i worked for senator marco rubio four years. i wrote my share of speeches with him. what i found in all of the policy jobs i held in washington was far too many people in the government and national security apparatus lose sight of ultimately who they work for and why, whether the president or a senator they are in that position. they were the ones elected. it is ultimately their voice. most of those people were elected for the right reasons. the public put their confidence in them for a certain reason. a lot of the process, it is necessary, but ultimately many
staffers i think strive to box in their principles to move their principles through something like a speech writing process. they forget fundamentally where their boss's vision is, their boss's instincts. i had many experiences in my short time and working in the senate where we would debate for hours over e-mail or days about a speech and then you would put it in front of your boss and they would quickly resolve all of the issues because it wasn't even a question for them. i think what i have read of your accounts, peter, it sounds like this speech was one of those experiences. >> all i can say is where the heck were you guys when i needed you 34 years ago? a little more scene setting. autumn of 1989 a little more than two years after reagan delivers the speech. churches begin holding weekly prayer services followed by
small, peaceful demonstrations. i'm compressing a complicated story here. but the weekly demonstrations grow. they spread across the country of east germany. by early november a demonstration of more than 100,000 has marched in east berlin, itself. this brings us to the night of november 9th, 1989, when the eastern polit bureau is meeting in emergency session and decide to change rules concerning border crossings. one member of the polit bureau goes out to brief the press and gets it wrong. some small, technical change they are considering that will take place sometime but he gets it wrong. and the reporter says wait a minute. do you mean that all border controls have ended immediately? the polit bureau member thinks a minute and says yes. this is on radio and television. within minutes, literally a few minutes east germans begin
streaming to the four check points in the berlin wall. east german guards have no idea what is going on. they have not received new orders and there is a tense moment as the crowds grow and begin shouting. car horns are honking. the guards realize they have two choices. use force, or open the gate. they open the gate and the berlin wall has ceased to function. all right. again. reagan speaks on june 12th, 19 #87 and the wall ceases to function, effectively falls, on november 9th, 1989. with those two events were they connected in any way? will? >> absolutely, peter. yes. i think we can trace almost even a direct cause and effect. i don't want to take this too far. obviously the people of germany deserve tremendous credit for their own agency in rising up and tearing down the walls and
of course some really fascinating incidents of miscommunication of mid level communist bureaucrats and a couple guards outside. how did the circumstances even come about that the german people would feel like they could rise up and demand their own freedom when if you look at the history of the cold war, prague in 1958, budapest in 1956. previous times when this he would try to claim their freedom from soviet overlords the tanks would move in. what i would draw is that president reagan kind of gave voice to the hope and created the circumstances and the pressures and changed that correlation of forces so the german people could take advantage of the opportunity when history presented itself. i want to add one other thing on that. you asked earlier. this does get to the role of gorbachev and expertise.
the wall was able to come down peacefully in 19 #89 because of what gorbachev did do. he didn't send the tanks rolling in. i want to go back to the most, one of the most important parts of tear down this wall is what reagan says right before it. mr. gorbachev, tear down this wall. why does he direct it to gorbachev rather than an abstract sending words into the air hoping the wall would come down? it was because for all of our discussion earlier on foreign policy expertise when that speech was being written which member of the united states government knew gorbachev best? which member of the united states government had spent more time with gorbachev than any other american? ronald reagan. that is why reagan knew that from his countless hours with gorbachev at the geneva summit or their exchanges of letters or phone calls, he had a sense of this guy that i could push him further and put the demand in to
tear down the wall and it wasn't going to cause a complete rupture in the entire relationship. it wasn't going to cause the cold war to turn hot. reagan had the intuitive sense from more time with gorbachev more than all of those at the state department or cia of the balance of pushing this guy but stretching a hand out. when we look at gorbachev's role the peaceful end of the cold war a lot was facilitated by reagan knowing him and detecting the right balance of pressure and outreach. that helps create the circumstances of the german people to obtain their own freedom. >> excuse me. i don't know how to do this in a zoom call but i'd like to lean forward and kiss you right on the forehead. >> i'll give you a hug back. >> of course you are right. reagan knew gorbachev could take it. so let me tell you. meeting mikhail gorbachev, 15 years ago now. but one of the things he did,
the former leader of the great communist power, he came to the united states and gave talks. mike reagan the president's son interviewed him and mike and i are friends. mike arranged for me to go back stage and meet gorbachev. i could see his translators talking into his ear and telling him i had written that speech. gorbachev laughed and he said -- and then he explained through his translator, this was just a piece of theater. he knew ronald reagan. ronald reagan couldn't resist a good line. but it made no difference to them in moscow at all. jamie, h.r.? the speech didn't make a darned bit of difference. >> you know, it doesn't matter maybe if it made a difference to him or anybody in moscow.
it made a lot of difference to germans and east germans in particular. i was serving as a captain in the second united states cavalry on the border of east germany and west germany in november of 1989. and on that day near the town where martin luther translated the bible and determined the birthplace of hans morganthal, is where our soldiers, our cavalry troopers went from one moment staring down the border guards to the next moment seeing the gates thrown open and then tens and then thousands and then tens of thousands of east germans pouring across that border bearing bouquets of flowers and bottles of wine. there were hugs and tears of joy. and i tell you, i saw a direct correlation not only back to the speech, but to the resolve that president reagan demonstrated by effecting a renaissance in our military in the 1980s and
demonstrating our resolve to as you said in his words when you cited the early interview that hey. we win and they lose. so i felt a direct correlation and got to witness it first hand in coberg, west germany. >> jamie, i'll try one more time to find somebody who will say -- we are just way over doing this. you know correctly that, well, you said at the time the speech was ignored and i remember bristling because it did get covered but was treated the way the press would treat any statement by the president. nothing special. and then the wall fell and the speech all of a sudden sounded, this is a strange way of putting it but i can't think of any other way of putting it sounded retrospectively prophetic but at
the time it was just a speech. jamie? some of gorbachev's views may have been shaped and i think i mentioned this, i can't remember the source, from something you had written or elsewhere that i think the u.s. government actually briefed the soviets in advance to warn them about the lines and so that could have just been some of the bureaucratic way that the reagan administration gave a heads up essentially through the soviet ambassador in berlin or elsewhere. ultimately i agree with general mcmaster. it made things much more difficult for gorbachev if he wanted to intervene whether in germany, in berlin in november, 1989, or in poland or in czechoslovakia or in hungary. that was the fundamentalal
tipping point when it became clear the citizens of those countries had had enough. were going to rise up. and were going to be too much for the communist government to prevent them and they all needed ultimately soviet intervention if they were to survive. that is what the playbook had been for decades previously. whether it was prague '66 -- >> it was always the red army and if gorbachev kept the red army in the barracks they were done essentially, right? >> yes. i think that is ultimately, even the strengthening of the public perception in germany, in berlin, in the east as we know it was listened to in the east as well. that is what made it difficult for gorbachev. he didn't really have much
option at that point. you can look at the other diplomacy the administration engaged in with gorbachev and efforts to reach out to him i guess later in the george h.w. bush administration actually trying to find ways to support him which probably played a role but ultimately i think gorbachev had his hands tied when the key moment came. >> so lessons for today. china in a moment, the biden administration in a moment, right now, i'll stay with jamie because he is seated in berlin as we speak. this is something of a disappointment really. i'm quoting you, jamie. a united germany is now the largest economy in europe and the continent's natural leader. yet despite significant progress and its willingness to play a leading role, many german policy makers continue to resist the responsibility that comes with
such power, closed quote. so we have that celebration of reunification in 1994 is that the reunification and the final chorus of beethoven's symphony as fireworks explode. it was a thrilling moment. europe is democratic and free and it's going to be prosperous and healthy and now we come to a continent that seems, well, jamie, you tell us. you tell us what's happened here. >> the german part of the story is complex. some relates to germany with his precold war history, uncertain of its footing. unwilling to be provocative in its policy thinking. there is also a sad story to be honest as you look back at the speech about the divisions that
still exist in german society. i'm talking to you from east berlin where i've been living in recent months. i was in west berlin a few weeks ago at dinner. met new people from west berlin and talking to them about where even we live. it was another world to them and part of berlin they don't venture into, referred to as the soviet zone. that goes on in people's minds even now. and these were people who would have been around the time of '89 -- not even people who spent a significant part of their lives living during the divided past. german politics remain divided in the way that east germans vote and the success some of the far right parties for instance so a lot of that lives on. the fundamental question when it
comes to german leadership in the world and foreign policy is whether the next generation and we could see this after the september elections this year is more willing to step up, move beyond the world war ii legacy, the holocaust legacy, move beyond some of the divisions of the cold war era and assume the leadership mantle which to be honest given i spend a lot of time in prague and other parts of europe the rest of europe is looking to them to play, to take a stand for values and pursue a foreign policy whether it is russia or china that matches the recent history and the benefits they have achieved from german reunification. that is a big, open question that still exists in german society. >> come to china and you in just a moment, hr.
but will, how do we evaluate the american effort in europe during the cold war, four and a half decades. it begins with truman and runs right through george h.w. bush. of course the cold war is global. there is vietnam, korea. but europe is always what really matters. europe is at the center of it. we have this long, extensive, bipartisan effort, long twilight struggle as john kennedy called it, and we win. now, 34 years later, europe and the united states are drifting apart. we have a president over there now talking about coming together on climate change. forgive me. i don't want to become partisan.
so the soviet union would have fallen anyway and we waste a lot of time and money and europeans are europeans. they don't like us. it was artificial. they clung to us for those decades because we were protecting them against the soviets and it was just disappointing. will? >> i share a lot of concerns and of course really trying to stand up to trans atlantic values and maintain the alliance over there and it goes beyond -- obviously about sort of values of european and mid american peoples and the one great strength or resource for that is that history of working together first to defeat tyranny and soviet tyranny. but each generation in some ways needs to relearn those lessons anew. because you did talk about american policy in europe, two quick themes i want to highlight picking up on general mcmaster.
how important the american military build up and expansion, all of the pressures after world war ii were for the united states to rapidly demobilize, retreat behind our shores, bring defense spending way down. for good reasons. but then once we see the emerging threat of soefb yet communism and had to remobilize so building up the military prevents further soviet aggression and also, the key of reagan's genius, strengthen his diplomacy. that is what peace through strength is about, building the most powerful, potent, fearsome military so you don't have to go into a hot war but you can use that to point your adversaries to diplomatic solutions. the other key one and this gets to the point about shared values, the united states leading the way in creating the atlantic alliance? the first 150 years of our existence as a country where
after washington's farewell address no permanent alliances. let's not have those. they drag you into european wars you don't want and create free riding allies. for truman and eisenhower to then reverse that and say, no. we do need to enter into this north atlantic treaty, this atlantic alliance they knew it was going to be an asymetric strength to the united states against adversaries and certainly something the western european governments wanted as well. that is why -- the world's most successful treaty alliance in history because it did enable reagan's vision of accomplishing this peacefully. he wanted that peaceful victory. it is not the soviet union anymore, it is putin's imperialist russia, certainly of course china not just an asia pacific threat but coming more of a european threat as well. i hope drawing on that shared history and values will remind
americans and europeans we do a lot better work together than apart. >> h.r.? >> this is a competition of wills. between our free, open societies and closed authoritarian systems. we are talking about a speech that lent clarity to that competition and i think that is what we -- we are encouraged by the fact the biden administration has acknowledged this isn't an ideological competition with the chinese communist party but we have to back that up. in fact a defacto reduction of the defense budget because of the mantra from some people in the biden administration that our policy has become too militarized. we need more diplomacy. what we need is efforts of like minded partners to prevail in this type of competition. of course we need more diplomacy but more diplomacy has to be more than a better atmosphere at
cocktail parties in berlin or paris. our allies have to step up. germany has been a weak link in connection with the comprehensive agreement on investment which thankfully is dying in parliament. but also the competition with putin's kremlin. and sustained campaign of political sub version aimed at europe. i would say that campaign is effective in germany and i'd like jamie to maybe comment more about how russia's contributing to a weakening of resolve in germany. but an example of the u.s. not being as tough on our allies as much as we love them is backing off on the pipeline which is going to give russia coercive power over germany's economy. >> you're in the white house. your national security adviser, you have the top job in the
institution that brings together military and diplomatic initiatives and presents them to the chief executive of the united states at the moment when the whole country partly because of donald trump and partly because of president xi jinping the whole country is realizing china is not going to be our friend. we are in for something new here. hr mcmaster, quote, the berlin wall is an apt albeit direct analogy for the great fire wall of china. the combination of laws and technology designed to isolate the rem of the chinese communist party from outside influences closed quote. china is bigger than the soviet union ever was. it has cash. all we ever bought from all the russians ever bought from us was wheat. the chinese as you well know, my colleague here in northern california at the hoover institution, the chinese are invested in silicon valley up
and down the peninsula. so a lot of things are different. but you're arguing that there is something central to the relationship with china that is not that different from the relationship with the struggle, the conflict with the soviet union. is that correct? >> absolutely. you can see this in jamie and will's superb essays. this is an ideological competition and also a competition that requires a high degree of clarity. the phrase that comes to mind if i could paraphrase from reagan's speeches, chairman xi, tear down that fire wall. or we should do our best to get around it. this is what jamie does for us every day is to try to reach oppressed peoples who are not permitted to access wide range of sources of information. so that they have an opportunity to think differently. they have -- and as will i think said or jamie early said,
authoritarians are kind of touchy, kind of sensitive. and you see this with -- you see this with the chinese communist party. i think there is a tremendous opportunity for us to use the kind of clarity of the berlin speech to compete much more effectively with the chinese communist party. i think the best means of doing so is to bypass the great fire wall. >> let me quote you one more time. everybody should read all three essays. i am holding back slightly on quoting will because he was so effusive about the speech. i figured i can handle that part myself. jamie, reagan said our differences are not -- quoting you -- are not about weapons but liberty. this was an important reminder about what differentiates the soviet union from the west. these are all principles that have been neglected by recent u.s. administrations. u.s. negotiators have been quick
to -- flawed deals be it russia or iran with the obama administration or attempts to do so under the trump administration, h.r., are you listening, with north korea, close quotes. your overall point if i take this correctly, is that recent administrations have placed too much emphasis on diplomatic cooperation and too little on clarity and forth rightness of principle. have i gotta right? >> yes, i think clearly, especially when you have nuclear weapons involved, there is a need to negotiate even with authoritarians. we can't hope and aspire to quick regime change and all of the countries that threaten us but there was something obviously to the way reagan did it even as he was sitting down and speaking to gorbachev or other soviet leaders he had no problem publicly talking about
what was at stake and the hollowness of what that regime represented. and that i think has been missing in many recent u.s. administrations. it is a huge challenge in europe going back to what general mcmaster was saying. this is fundamentally part of the problem as europe and germany try to deal with russia heading in an incredibly dangerous direction, cracking down on defense at home, cracking down on dissent at home, trying to push my own organization out which has had a bureau there for 30 years ever since being invited by president yeltsin, freezing our bank accounts. a russia headed in that direction is highly likely to lash out at neighbors building up forces on the ukrainian border and china is a very similar story. there is very little interest in most parts of europe in speaking
openly and frankly about what is at stake with either of those two powers from a moral perspective. you still hear especially in germany but also in brussels and many other european capitals a lot of, well, we know that they have a lot of problems but on the other hand we have to do business with them. we need their investments. certain segments of our economy are reliant on engagement with them and a lot of european mindset has not moved beyond that. there were similar dynamics as we talked about earlier in germany circa 1987. that is how you got the policy from the west german government at the time. but it is a significant problem now and then the fundamental question to the u.s. side is how does the u.s. which i think now over both the trump administration and the biden administration when it comes to china has framed the conflict
correctly, has highlighted the situation correctly from a moral and economic perspective and defense perspective how do you bring allies along who feel that they have the luxury perhaps of remaining neutral in this competition? that is the fundamental challenge. we've seen starkly different approaches from the trump administration compared to the biden team on that as well. >> will, the three of you have convinced me that it works pretty well under reagan. moral clarity, simplicity, but if it works so well under reagan, why -- i'm going to grant jamie's argument that we haven't seen quite that kind of moral clarity. there is a question again to hit you with in a moment. no, i'll hit will with it. donald trump, god bless him, half a dozen real, in my opinion, really wonderful set
these speeches including in warsaw, which hr mentioned, and then walked away from the lectern and never mentioned them or behaved as if he given those. they didn't seem to be integrated. why does it seem to be, reagan's example still lives. why is it so hard to follow? >> it is a puzzle but old habits die hard. first of all, and the second point is, we do need to be careful as we look back at reagan and reagan administration successes from the hindsight bias. well of course it worked out. of course it was so simple. as you know, peter, at the time it wasn't really clear it was going to work out. reagan had confidence it was. a lot of criticism against it. he said he was trying some very risky things, challenging a lot of conventional wisdom. and, you know, somewhat
different than certainly the china and russian threat we face today. harder on the nuclear side but easier, i won't say easy but easier on the economic side. my two takeaways, china especially from reagan, are, one, remember that our adversary is not the country or people of china but the chinese communist party. >> right. >> and the people of china are potential allies for us. right? i mean, you know, they haven't lived under multi party democracy. they don't like looking -- being told how many babies they can or can't have. they don't like not being able to choose their own leaders. the soviet people didn't like that either and reagan spoke to that and part of the tragedy which would drive a wedge between the kremlin and the soviet people, hey, america is on your side. if you want freedom we are on your side. we're allies.
we need to recapture that with china speaking a lot more directly to the chinese people. the second part i want to come back to, reagan and gorbachev and negotiations also in tandem with the military build up and moral clarity at the same moment he was saying mr. gorbachev tear down this wall reagan and shulz were still working behind the scenes with the soviets to come up with the nuclear treaty. historically an unprecedented treaty that bans an entire class of nuclear weapons. so sometimes foreign policy experts, sometimes we do make these things harder than they need to be. you can either do diplomacy or you get tough. you can do nuanced diplomacy or speak in simple terms like tear down this wall or evil empire. bologna. you can do both together.
they are most effective when you do them together. that is why again going back to reagan's theory of the case, we win they lose, they wanted to win not with the hot war that destroyed the soviet union but peacefully. he knew he could do that with that diplomacy as long as it was backed up by military strength, economic strength, and moral clarity. >> h.r., last question about what it means for today before i move to kind of a summary here. hr mcmaster, quote. reagan's speech provides a reminder that self-respect, self-respect is foundational to the competition with the chinese communist party, closed quote. my first comment on that is you are a big shot sophisticated thinker and yet you are like reagan in that you keep coming back to the simple points.
all right. but how do we achieve self-respect as a nation at a time when we are so polarized, when half the country thinks your former boss should be in jail and the other half of the country thinks joe biden stole the election and we've got one part of the country watching msnbc keeping it on all day and the other part putting on fox news all day and things were rougher politically during the reagan years than is now remembered but it was not like this. so, self-respect, hr. >> this is why i think the reagan institute is such an important organization. and the hoover institution. all of us were working -- i think we have to make a concerted effort to rebuild our confidence. confidence in who we are as a people and confidence in our democratic institutions and
principles and processes. and i think we can do that, right? i mean, i think what we have to do is demand more from political leaders who are too often compromising principles to score partisan political points. but we can't wait for them either. we have to do our part to recognize the great promise of america to celebrate the fact we have a say in how we're governed. as will said i don't think the chinese people or any people are culturally predisposed toward not wanting a say in how they are governed. we ought to celebrate we live under rule of law and have freedom of speech and expression and we need to encourage institutions to reform themselves. i would say the, you know, the fourth estate is one of those. it has some work to do. but ultimately i think the number one priority for us these days are the education. education is particularly about our history. that is why i was so excited to
participate in this discussion with you and jamie and will because i think when you learn the history of the reagan years you see the contrast between the carter malaise speech and a real crisis of confidence in the 1970s. remember stagflation? remember a lost war in vietnam? remember the oil embargo? our confidence was shaken. like it is shaken today. right? but it doesn't have to remain permanent. just like the wall. just like that east-west german border was not a permanent condition. we can change it. what we have to do is educate ourselves, re-educate ourselves about the great promise of our republic and recognize as founders did that this republic required constant nurturing. so let's start nurturing our republic and regaining our confidence. >> all right. two final questions for you. i'll go around and give each of you a shot at this. we are coming up on, in fact we are at an hour so i have to ask you to be brief. give me a one sentence answer if
you possibly can. here is the first question. i'm going to give you two quotations. james hoagland at "the washington post" and this is writing soon after reagan delivered the berlin address, quote, history is likely to record the challenge to tear down the wall as a meaningless taunt, closed quote. that's quotation number one. here is quotation number two. this comes from an individual who at the time was a lutheran pastor and democracy advocate inside east germany who later went on to become president of the unified, reunified germany. quote, speaking a couple years ago, reagan spoke the right words at the right time in the right place. closed quote. will, who is right? >> oh, yes, certainly the pastor. >> i put that question together. i thought it would be a closer call at this point.
>> look, reagan had the strategic imagination to envision a world without berlin wall, without the iron curtain, even without the soviet union. >> jamie? >> certainly president gauch. >> jr. >> let's emphasize words and deeds. we've talked about the military strength and the broad range of diplomatic efforts. we've talked about the tear down the wall speech as well as sustained efforts to eliminate a class of nuclear weapons. i think it is the integration of speech and a broad range of efforts with those powerful words. >> you see what i have to deal with, with h.r. as my colleague? every so often you need to call in the tanks. last question, all three of you are or have been teachers.
h.r. is teaching this term or i guess the term just ended. will is smack dab in the middle of one of the nation's great universities. jamie is in a certain sense educating tens of millions of people with radio free europe. and radio liberty. you also have been a teacher. imagine a high school or college kid today and that is to say imagine someone who was born a dozen years or more after ronald reagan delivered the speech. guff me two sentences to explain to young americans why are we still talking about that speech 34 years later and what one thing if they can remember one thing about it, what one thing they need to remember?
jamie, you first. >> it is a tall order but i would say the message i have is it changed the lives of millions. i think, i do think it was that powerful and the basic, simple, moral clarity played a key role in helping to end the cold war. but it is incredibly difficult to explain that to people who did not live through that period. i was a kid when the wall fell. i watched it on tv. it had a powerful role in shaping my career from afar. i would just suggest we need to bring people to berlin. i think you can learn despite the challenges i described that exist here today, people need to see and walk through the brandenburg gate, walk past where the speech was given, talk to berliners, some who are still alive who lived through that period. and see it first hand. i think that is the most powerful way to learn about how important the speech was. >> h.r.? >> i guess two things. i think that young people should learn from this speech.
and from the cold war. is that there -- the arc of history does not guarantee the primacy of our free and open societies over closed, authoritarian systems. we have to compete effectively. >> you mean the arc of history doesn't always bend toward hist hasn't always been toward justice? you mean we have to grab it and bend it ourselves? >> and for us to compete effectively requires confidence. and i think history should teach us that america is a force for good in the world. we're not flawless, but i think we need to reject the orthodoxy of the real left and an ideological movement behind a real sentiment towards isolationism. so i think that's what students ought to take away from this, is that we have to compete and we ought to be confident in america's role in the world. >> last words.
all right, again, two things briefly. first, we need to teach this history to remind our students of the truly awful wicked things humans are capable of doing to each other. when you look at the vicious repression of soviet communism this has on the entire world, we should not forget that. second, i just want to pull my favorite lines from the speech which we haven't mentioned yet today as long as this star of the ball is committed to stand it is not the german question alone that remains open but the question of freedom for all man
kind. >> thank you. my pal here at the hoover institution and the author most recently of "battleground," thank you. and of the university of texas and author of the forthcoming book the title of which he's ability to name. >> the peacemaker, ronald reagan in the white house is in the world. >> wow, i like that. and the update is? >> sometime december or january, so still about six months away. the hoover institution, fox nation and the ronald reagan institute, peter washington. >> tonight historians and authors revisit the former president's warnings against threats concerning the nation. watch at 8:00 p.m. eastern on c-span 3.
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