Monday marks the 30th anniversary of President Ronald Reagan’s iconic 1987 “Tear Down This Wall!” speech in West Berlin — a speech few remember for the small cadre of detractors who have called it insignificant.
Although Reagan’s bold address given during the last few years of the Cold War is primarily remembered today as one of the most significant speeches an American president has ever delivered, some national security figures have panned it as ineffectual.
“The day after Reagan gave the speech, both The New York Times and The Washington Post bashed him in editorials for advocating the reunification of Germany and the bringing down of the Berlin Wall and the opening of freedom back to East Germany because it would be a destabilizing force,” Reagan biographer Craig Shirley said Monday on “The Laura Ingraham Show.”
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Now, the very small number of Republicans who dismissed Reagan’s historic speech have something else in common: Many were also Never-Trumpers during the 2016 presidential election.
Philip Zelikow, a former counselor of the Department of State during the second Reagan administration, signed an August 2016 letter from 50 GOP national security officials in which they announced their adamant opposition to Donald Trump.
“None of us will vote for Donald Trump,” the letter pledged. “From a foreign-policy perspective, Donald Trump is not qualified to be president and commander-in-chief. Indeed, we are convinced that he would be a dangerous president and would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.”
“Mr. Trump lacks the temperament to be president,” the letter added. “We are convinced that in the Oval Office, he would be the most reckless president in American history.”
In a June 2007 New York Times op-ed, author James Mann noted that Zelikow took part in downplaying Reagan’s speech in a 1995 book written with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Mann wrote that the two “minimized the significance of the Berlin Wall address and its role in the events leading up to the end of the Cold War. They argued that after the speech was given there was no serious, practical follow-up. No one pursued any policy initiative with respect to the Berlin Wall.”
“American diplomats did not consider the matter part of the real policy agenda,” Rice and Zelikow wrote in their “Germany United and Europe Transformed” book.
Although Rice wasn’t a signatory of the letter to oppose Trump, she made her opposition to the now-president well-known in the days following the release of the Access Hollywood tape in October 2016, in the weeks leading up to the November 8 election.
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“Enough! Donald Trump should not be president. He should withdraw,” Rice wrote in a Facebook post. “As a Republican, I hope to support someone who has the dignity and stature to run for the highest office in the greatest democracy on earth.”
Brent Scowcroft, former national security adviser to former President George H. W. Bush, told Mann he thought Reagan’s “tear down this wall” line “was corny in the extreme,” adding, “It was irrelevant, that statement at that time.”
Scowcroft also endorsed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in the election against his party’s own nominee, saying she would bring “truly unique experience and perspective to the White House.”
“She brings deep expertise in international affairs, and a sophisticated understanding of the world,” Scowcroft had said in a statement. “I believe Hillary Clinton has the wisdom and experience to lead our country at this critical time.”
George P. Shultz, Reagan’s former secretary of state, also did not appear to place very much significance on Reagan’s famous lines.
“In his 1,184-page memoir, former Secretary of State George P. Shultz does not mention the speech at all,” Mann noted.
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Schultz was not shy about expressing his horror at the idea of a Trump presidency, however, in August 2016 when he told The Washington Post “God help us” if Trump won the presidency.
For most conservatives and Republicans the iconic speech from Reagan is a proud memory of American leadership against the specter of Communism.
“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!” Reagan said.
“Thirty years ago, but the lines still resonate, don’t they? They are timeless,” Shirley said, noting that if Reagan’s Trump-bashing advisers had had their way, those symbolic words would have never been uttered.