Friday, March 07, 2014

Ich bin ein Berliner

The tragedy of watching President Kennedy’s inspirational 1963 speech in West Berlin, and hearing his now famous phrase, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” met with cheers from the city’s citizens, is that too many people can’t put his words into historical context. 

What they don’t see is what it took for JFK to earn the crowd’s adoration.  It was coming from a people experienced in living under a totalitarian regime, Hitler and his Nazis, who, very suddenly, found themselves at the epicenter of the next greatest political stand off – the fight between freedom and Soviet-style oppression.

Having received the news about the Berlin Wall in August 1961, President Kennedy could have written off West Berlin, letting it fall into the hands of the Soviets and East Germans.  He could have stated there was no strategic consequence to ceding the city.

But instead of taking the easy way out, President Kennedy made a difficult decision, ordering what would become known as the “Berlin Brigade,” a 1,500 strong contingent of U.S. troops, into West Berlin, demonstrating that the United States wasn’t about to allow the Soviet Union and East Germany to occupy the entire city – at least not without a fight.

By doing so, Kennedy was challenging Moscow to a dare – to find out how serious they were about taking West Berlin, since only days earlier they started building the Berlin Wall.

Today, we’re at the same point with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the issue of Ukraine’s sovereignty.  If ever there were an “Ich bin ein Berliner” moment for President Barack Obama, this is it.

This isn’t the fight the United States and its allies want.  Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula likely come with more problems than we would prefer to solve.

But the issue isn’t Ukraine alone.  It’s what happens next if we don’t stop Putin now.

Are a country’s borders for real?  Or can they simply be shifted back and moved around at will, depending on which army invades?

When does Putin look at a map of the United States, to see where Russian émigrés are living, and do the unthinkable:  Decide his fellow citizens, inhabiting towns like Ashland, Brookline, Newton, Millers Falls and Sharon Massachusetts; Sharon Springs, New York; Mountain View, California, and various suburbs around Chicago, like Northbrook and Wheeling, Illinois, and think they, too, need to be protected.[i]

In fact, according to the source for that information, there are 101 cities and towns in the United States where many Russian immigrants are living.

Do they require the services of the Russian Armed Forces?

President Obama needs to make the hard decision.  He needs to put a contingent of troops on the ground in Ukraine and in the Crimea, showing Putin that he better withdraw his ground forces.

If he does so, he might just get the “Ich bin ein Berliner” moment he so very much wants.

If he cedes so much as an inch of ground to Russia in this latest international standoff, he looks no better than Jimmy Carter or, worse, Neville Chamberlin.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

For this President, his view is more likely to be "Ich bin kein Berliner!" Ukraine, since it's not a member of NATO, can't invoke Article 5 of the alliance, so our President doesn't really have to do a thing except, perhaps, issue strongly worded statements. I'm pleased to see a token force of additional NATO (US) jets to the Baltics, but then, they ARE NATO allies.