By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Today is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and I thought you might enjoy President Bill Clinton's take on what happened on November 9, 1989. He and President George H.W. Bush were both honored a few weeks ago by The International Crisis Group at a dinner in New York City. Lauren Bush stood in for her grandfather, and here's what 42 had to say, both about 41 and 43:
Lauren, thank you for coming for your grandfather. I love him very much and we have had the time of our lives in our dotage doing the work we've done in the tsunami, for Katrina. I can't tell you how much I admire him.
And I want to emphasize something that means a lot to me and that made my job as President much easier. When the Berlin Wall fell, it was the product of nearly a half century of bipartisan American determination to protect the freedom of Western Europe and to stand up for our values. You can argue that not every call we made was right, but in the end I think we were on the right side of history. But whenever some momentous event like that happens, the question is always "Then what?"
George Bush made two important decisions that were of profound importance. The first was to support the democratic emergence of Boris Yeltsin as president of Russia and to try to develop a positive relationship with a new Russia that would be less aggressive toward its neighbors and to try to help them avoid the worst of the humiliations that were inevitably going to come from the collapse of its political and military and economic strength all at once. And that was a policy I embraced eagerly and worked hard to develop. My first meeting as President with a foreign leader was with Boris Yeltsin in Canada and we put together a $24 billion dollar aid package when we had a huge deficit and everyone thought I'd lost my mind. But it was clearly the right decision.
The second thing President Bush did was to support the person I hope someday will get the credit for being the most important European in the latter half of the twentieth century, the Chancellor of Germany, Helmut Kohl. And three decisions he made: one was to support the reunification of Germany, the second was to support the European Union so that Germany would be surrounded by its political allies and would never again be an aggressive force, and the third was to be the best friend Russia ever had as long as Russia was non-aggressive and was interested in being a good partner. Those two decisions were pivotal.
You know the second President Bush got made fun of for saying that the President was basically the Decider in Chief. Everybody thought that was funny. But it's not, it's true. And George H.W. Bush made those two decisions right and the rest of us are in his debt. And he made my job much, much easier. So I thank you for honoring him.