Job Corps Reforms; Bruce Ohr; Reagan at the Wall

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Good morning, it’s Wednesday, June 12, 2019. Thirty-two years ago today, Ronald Wilson Reagan arrived at the Brandenberg Gate in the starkly divided city of Berlin, where he mustered all his presidential eloquence -- along with his thespian training and personal indignation -- in a speech that advanced the cause of human freedom.

The 40th U.S. president arrived in Germany 24 years after John F. Kennedy electrified the world with his speech there. Now, it was Reagan’s turn. Although the atmosphere was much different, and Reagan was hardly idolized in Europe the way President Kennedy had been, what ensued on June 12, 1987 contained a more momentous kind of magic.

I’ll have more on that in a moment. First, I’d point you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion columns spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters and contributors, including the following:

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Trump’s Job Corps Reforms Stir Rural Lawmakers’ Unease. Phil Wegmann has the story.

An Alternative to Impeachment. Les Francis offers advice to lawmakers who, like him, are eager to see Donald Trump return to private life.

Bruce Ohr’s Linchpin Role in Russiagate. In RealClearInvestigations, Eric Felten explores why Ohr omitted from his Justice Department ethics disclosure his wife’s work for Clinton-paid opposition researchers. 

Will SCOTUS Check Government’s Power of Confiscation? In RealClearPolicy, John Eastman considers a case involving Love Field in Dallas and the Constitution’s “Takings Clause.”

The People Are the Press. Also in RCPolicy, Matthew Daniels decries “black holes” of internet censorship in China, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

Your Coffee-Buying Habit Could Hamper Your Retirement. In RealClearMarkets, Dustin Siggins explains how daily stops at Starbucks and its ilk add up to lost potential on a grand scale over the years.

The Underground Arms Race in the Middle East. In RealClearWorld, Yaacov Ayish warns that militant groups’ subterranean networks are a growing feature of modern warfare. 

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Although he received little credit for it, by the time President Reagan arrived in Berlin, he’d been fixated for decades on reducing the world’s nuclear arsenal. The hang-up, from his standpoint, was the Kremlin’s aversion to allowing inspectors into the Soviet Union to verify implementation of arms reduction treaties. This reluctance convinced many Americans, Reagan included, that the Russians were not to be trusted.

In 1986, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev altered the calculation. After NATO called for elimination of intermediate and short-range nuclear missiles on a “global and effectively verifiable basis,” Gorbachev announced that his government would comply if the United States would do the same. In so doing, Gorbachev threw verification back onto the Americans’ laps.

Gorby’s gambit achieved its purpose. Although U.S. intelligence services warned Reagan that mutual verification might work to the Soviets’ advantage, the Gipper didn’t care. This was the opening he’d been looking for: Reagan instructed Secretary of State George Shultz to begin negotiating a deal.

But the arms race -- and the insane doctrine of “mutually assured destruction” -- was only part the problem as far as Reagan was concerned. For him, the other half of the equation had always been the Soviet Union’s virtual enslavement of its own people and those in Eastern Europe trapped behind the Iron Curtain.

And so, on his visit to Germany 32 years ago today, it was Reagan’s turn to see if Gorbachev was bluffing. At the Brandenburg Gate, before a huge crowd, the American president praised the sounds of “reform and openness” emanating from Moscow, but said the question was whether they signaled “profound changes” or were “token gestures.”

“There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace,” Reagan said. “Secretary General 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! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

It was a dramatic gesture, which the aging actor knew. “I got a tremendous reception,” he wrote in his diary, “interrupted 28 times by cheers.”

Later, Reagan would tell his best biographer that he could hear the anger in his own voice as he spoke the famous lines in his speech; Reagan was vexed because he’d learned just before taking the podium that East German police had forced thousands of people on the other side of the wall away from loudspeakers so they couldn’t hear the president’s remarks.

It wouldn’t matter. Reagan’s words echoed from Berlin all the way to Moscow. Instead of falling on deaf ears, they resonated in the heart of a Soviet leader who was ready for change. The immediate future included an invitation by Reagan to his Russian counterpart to visit Washington, where he would receive a reaction so unexpected it resulted in the incongruous phrase “Gorby Fever.”

There is a lesson here for other presidents, and for other leaders. In 1987, neither George Shultz nor the White House National Security Council wanted Reagan to call on Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. They considered it too provocative and feared that Kremlin hard-liners would use it to undermine Gorbachev. The language State Department speechwriters put in Reagan’s address? “Someday this ugly wall will disappear,” they wrote.

Fortunately, the old Hollywood leading man at the head of our government chose to replace this wooden prose with his own clarion call to action. Although Reagan’s theatrics did not end the Cold War, they did set the stage for successful diplomacy with his Russian counterpart, as Shultz later admitted.

“People were afraid of the consequences of what Reagan would say,” Shultz told Time magazine two decades later. “But it turns out he was right.” 

Carl M. Cannon  
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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