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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"Tear Down This Wall!"

CBS News reports on the 25th anniversary of a key speech:
On June 12, 1987, in a dramatic speech set against the backdrop of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, President Ronald Reagan delivered a challenge to Soviet leader Mikahil Gorbachev: "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. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."

The speech, delivered about 100 yards from the Berlin Wall, marked Reagan's most prominent call for the reunification of East and West Berlin, and was considered a bold challenge to Gorbachev to prove he was serious about reforming Soviet governmental policies. Ultimately, it also signaled a hallmark moment in Reagan's presidency.

Peter Robinson, who drafted the speech, recalls that deputy chief of staff Ken Duberstein told President Reagan about objections from the State Department and NSC:
REAGAN: (A twinkle in his eye) I’m the president, aren’t I?
DUBERSTEIN: Yes, sir, Mr. President. We’re clear about that.
REAGAN: So I get to decide whether the line about tearing down the wall stays in?
DUBERSTEIN: That’s right, sir. It’s your decision.
REAGAN: Then it stays in.
In The Ambition and the Power (p. 486) John Barry reports how House Speaker Jim Wright (D., Texas) reacted:
Wright’s face hardened. Reagan’s declaration had destroyed any chance of the wall coming down, since Gorbachev could not appear to bow to him. Wright fumed, “It just makes me have utter contempt for Reagan. He spoiled the chance for a dramatic breakthrough in relations between our two countries It bespeaks his pettiness and self-centeredness. He just couldn’t bear Gorbachev doing it of his own volition.”
Our chapter on the presidency includes this dialogue, and our chapter on national security and foreign policy juxtaposes a photo of Reagan calling on the Soviets to tear down the wall with a 1990 photo of Reagan, chisel in hand, helping do just that.