“Tear Down This Wall” at 34

interview with H. R. McMaster, Jamie Fly, William Inboden
Thursday, June 17, 2021

To watch the video, click here.

TRANSCRIPT ONLY

Peter Robinson: Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge. I'm Peter Robinson. Today, a conversation host with the Ronald Reagan Institute. In a moment Jamie Fly, Will Inboden and H. R. McMaster will join me in discussing President Reagan's June 12th, 1987 "Tear Down This Wall" speech. But since I was the speech writer who wrote the speech I've been asked, actually General McMaster has ordered me to tell the story of the speech. Right there by the way is the first page of President Reagan's speaking copy and you can see my name as the speech writer in the upper left-hand corner. First, some historical background. After the Second World War West Berlin, which is a portion of Berlin itself, remained under American, British, and French control even as East Berlin and all of surrounding East Germany came under the control of a communist regime. And this is very important to grasp that West Berlin was completely surrounded by the communist East. And in the map that's on the screen now, you can see West Berlin is the little dot inside East Germany. Again, after the war, thousands of East Germans flee the communist regime in East Germany to the democratic west. How do they do this? Very often they do it just by stepping across the street into West Berlin and once they were in West Berlin they could get on a train which had the rights to cross these German territory to the West. So leaving was simple. And by 1960, 1/5 of the entire population of East Germany had done just that. They'd fled. To stop this big, this enormous exodus, the East Germans proposed a physical barrier and Moscow agreed. And in the middle of the night of August 13th, 1961, the East Germans strung barbed wire all the way around West Berlin cutting it off. There's a slide that shows this barbed wire. Eventually the East Germans would replace the barbed wire with cinder blocks and after that they would replace the cinder blocks with slabs of concrete 13 feet high. More than a quarter of a century later, the Berlin Wall remained in place again encircling West Berlin. Here's a slide that shows where the wall cut off the Brandenburg Gate and since President Reagan mentioned the gate in the speech, you need to know that the Brandenburg Gate was an 18th century monument that had once served as a ceremonial entrance to Berlin. Again, the Berlin Wall cuts it off. And that brings me to the speech itself. It's the spring of 1987. I'm a young speech writer in the Reagan White House. I'm told that the president will speak in front of the Berlin Wall, that he'll have an audience of between 10 and 40,000 people. In the end it was about 40,000 people. That he'll speak for about half an hour and that given the setting, the subject will be foreign policy. And that was all the guidance I got. I flew to West Berlin with the American pre-advance party. That is the security people who would work out security with the West Germans, members of the press office who would check the camera angles and so forth. And I went to gather material. Four stops in Berlin. First, the site where the president would speak. And it's very difficult to convey how momentous the place felt. Just a few feet away was the Reichstag which still bore damaged from the Second World War. I climbed an observation platform and looked over the wall into East Berlin. Behind me, West Berlin a modern city. Light, motion, traffic. On the other side of the wall colorlessness, more soldiers than pedestrians. On one side life, on the other side a kind of twilight. Next, I went to the office of the ranking American diplomat in Berlin and he was full of ideas about what President Reagan should not say. East-West relations are very nuanced and subtle, no anticommunist rhetoric here, no commie bashing, and don't have him mention the wall, they've gotten used to it by now. Then I was given a ride in a US Army helicopter over the wall. And from the air it looked even worse than it did from the ground in West Berlin because from the air you could see what lay on the other side of the wall. Guard runs, dog towers, a kind of killing zone or no man's land. And then that evening I broke away from the American party to go to a suburb, residential suburb of West Berlin, where a dinner party was put on for me by Dieter and Ingeborg Elz. We'd never met but Dieter Elz had worked at the World Bank in Washington and we had friends in common in Washington. We talked about this and that. And then I told them that the American diplomat had said that they'd all gotten used to the Berlin Wall. And that turned out to be incorrect. They may have stopped talking about it after all these years but if you asked it became very clear they still hated that wall everyday. Ingeborg Elz, our hostess made the comment that if Gorbachev was serious with this talk of perestroika and glasnost he could come to Berlin and prove it by getting rid of the wall. Well I put that in my notebook immediately because I knew that if Ronald Reagan had been there in my place he would have responded to the simplicity and the decency of that remark. Back in Washington, drafted the speech. It went to the president one weekend when he was at Camp David. There's something of a story there because almost always in the Reagan White House his speech would go out to staffing before it went to the president but we speech writers were able to persuade the staff secretary to let the president see this speech before it went out to staffing. The following Monday, there's a picture of this that shows this meeting. The following Monday, this will be May 18th, 1987, the speech writers met in the Oval Office with the president and the president singled out the passage about tearing down the wall is something he particularly wanted to say. Well, that wall needs to come down and that's what I want to say. Then the speech went out to staffing and for the three weeks until the president delivered it, the State Department and the National Security Council opposed it and tried to stop it in part by submitting one alternative draft after another, each of which omitted the call to tear down the wall. Here's a slide that shows one NSC comment where it's exed out the call to tear down the wall. Here's another slide that's a memorandum to Colin Powell who's the number two on the National Security Council at that time. And as you'll see the memorandum calls the speech mediocre and a missed opportunity. In Italy, the president had been attending an economic summit before going to West Berlin. In Italy as they got on Air Force One to fly to West Berlin, the State Department cabled over yet another alternative draft. And in West Berlin, in the limousine on the way to the wall, and I heard this from Ken Duberstein, the Deputy Chief of Staff who was in the limousine with the president. Ronald Reagan explained that he was gonna deliver the speech as written and then he said, "The boys at state are gonna kill me for this, but it's the right thing to do." And that is the story of the speech that Ronald Reagan delivered on June 12th, 1987.

Ronald Reagan: There is one sign that the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. 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. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

Peter Robinson: Jamie Fly is the president and CEO of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. Mr. Fly served during the Bush administration on the National Security Council and in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He holds degrees from American University and Georgetown. William Inboden serves as Chair of the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austin. During the Bush administration he served at the State Department and at the National Security Council. He holds his degrees from Stanford and his undergraduate degree from Stanford and his doctorate from Yale. H. R. McMaster served in the White House as national security advisor to President Trump and in the United States Army in which he rose to Lieutenant General. General McMaster is the author of the classic work on Vietnam, "Dereliction of Duty," and last year he published "Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World." A fellow at the Hoover Institution, General McMaster holds an undergraduate degree from the United States Military Academy and a doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Jamie, Will, and H. R., thanks for joining us. Jamie Fly, let's set the scene. "On his first trip to Germany, in 1978," I'm quoting your essay for the Reagan Institute. "On his first trip to Germany, in 1978, Reagan visited the site where 16 years earlier, 18-year-old Peter Fechter," this is an East German who tried to escape over the wall, "was shot and bled to death in no man's land. The former California governor and his delegation also ventured into East Berlin and were disturbed by what they saw of life under East German communism." Jamie, between 1978 when Ronald Reagan first visited the wall and 1987 when he spoke in front of the wall, what had changed? To use the Soviet term, how had the correlation of forces shifted?

Jamie Fly: Well, I think and thanks for having me to the Reagan Institute and Peter, great to be with you because I was struck when I was reading Will and General McMaster's essays in addition to mine. I think we all cited you as sources and I think you've done an amazing job keeping the story of the development of the speech alive. And I thank you for that because I think future generations will be able to understand the context and history better. So when I was writing the essay and looking at that period, what struck me was how much the German public had suffered during that period. As decades passed and Germans, especially West Berliners moved well beyond the initial establishment of the wall which happens almost overnight in some neighborhoods, and I'm speaking actually from Berlin so I may say occasionally here in Berlin. It happened very suddenly. Families, friends weren't prepared for it. Some were thrust into a situation where it became difficult for them to interact rather quickly, for others it took longer. People as you noted, some people took their lives into their own hands and took the risk of trying to flee to the west. And from my understanding of German history, as time went on, people became more and more depressed and pessimistic about the potential for change. And so by 1987, you would also had successive German governments which in some of their policies had given an indication that perhaps they doubted that change would be simple and quick, and had pursued various types of engagement with both East Germany and the Soviet Union, often to the consternation of US administrations. And so I think Reagan's arrival came at a key moment where Germans especially West Germans needed a shot in the arm. They needed that encouragement that change was still possible, that hope should be maintained for some sort of different future for Germany. And so the stars aligned in that respect with the timing of Reagan's visit.

Peter Robinson: Jamie, you quote John Kornblum, the State Department official whom I saw in Berlin. This is an article he wrote much later, "By 1987," quote, this is Kornblum now. "Hopes in Germany and in much of Europe lay not with Ronald Reagan but with Mikhail Gorbachev." Closed quote. By 1987 it's clear that the Soviet Union is stagnating. And by 1987 the United States is resurgent and everyone in the world can see that including the Germans. And yet Europeans see Gorbachev as the more hopeful figure. Let me go to H. R. McMaster. How can that have been, H. R.?

H. R. McMaster: Well, I think it has everything to do with confidence. Confidence in our democratic form of governance, confidence in who we are as a people, and of course confidence in a transatlantic relationship and confidence among the free states of Europe at the time. What I hope to do with my essay is to make an analogy to that period for exactly I think the point that you're making implicitly, Peter, is that we can regain our confidence in who we are as a people and in our democratic form of governance, and we can do it I think with effective leadership, and with some clarity. Clarity that that speech provided and the leadership that Ronald Reagan provided.

Peter Robinson: Will? I'm quoting you. We come now to the fight. Will Inboden, quote, "The comments from the State Department and the NSC staff on early speech drafts give a flavor of their thinking." I put up a couple of slides earlier but you provide a much more extensive overview of their comments on speech drafts. You're quoting the State Department and NSC. "This won't fly with the Germans. Not sentimental people. Seem silly as edited. This must come out. West Germans do not want to see East Germans insulted. Weak. Needs concrete ideas not sentimental fluff. Too much emphasis on good guys versus bad guys." Okay. The State Department then and the NSC did not like that speech. Will Inboden, I quoted little bits and pieces but these were highly intelligent, very experienced people. Not that that thought went through my mind at the time. What were they thinking?

Will Inboden: You know, Peter, I think they were reflecting a lot of the conventional wisdom and the expert opinion of the day. And again, I don't use that derisively but this is where I think it really brings out Reagan's, let's call it strategic genius, that he was willing and I'll summarize it this way. Most of the conventional foreign policy wisdom of the day including every previous American president during the Cold War had seen the Cold War primarily as a great power contest between the powerful Soviet Union and the powerful United States. And they saw their job as largely managing that. Don't let the Soviets expand anymore but at the same time we need to assume the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact will be there almost in perpetuity. Those are permanent features on the geopolitical landscape. And Reagan as you know very well in how you channeled some of the, much of his vision and ideas in the speech, he reversed that. He saw the Cold War as primarily a battle of ideas and that happened to have two powerful countries embodying those. And so, because he thought of the Cold War in terms of ideas, freedom against tyranny, capitalism against communism, democracy against dictatorship, he also thought of the Cold War in terms of how does it hurt or affect individual people? And he was aware of the sentiments of many of the people living behind the Iron Curtain of the East Germans trapped by the wall there. A lot of the sentiments that you'd picked up in that dinner party. And so Reagan was willing to go against a lot of the expert opinion in the State Department and the foreign policy establishment that wanted to see the Cold War all in terms of these rival power blocks, and say, no, we can push this farther. We can stand up for our ideas that freedom is better than tyranny and we can speak to the people behind the Iron Curtain, and we can even in some ways channel their voices. And I think it was because he had that entirely different strategic vision and theory of the case for what Cold War was all about that he was willing to back up his plucky speech writers like you and say, no, no, this is not sentimental fluff. No, we're not worried about offending Germans. I think we're actually gonna be speaking to the heart of the German people and speaking even to the hearts of the Soviet people.

Peter Robinson: Does anybody feel any urge? H. R., you ran the National Security Council. Well, let me put it this way. There was an event a couple of years ago to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. And as Jamie noted, I don't need too much prompting to tell the story of this speech. And there was a very sophisticated scholar diplomacy there who said, well, wait a minute now. That the speech worked out does not prove that it was the right decision to give it. George Schultz among others thought that speech might put Gorbachev in a tight spot. In the politburo you see you try to work with the Americans and the president comes along and challenges you like this, what do you think you're doing comrade? H. R., I'm looking to you to stick up for the NSC in its objections to this speech 30 some years ago. Jamie, you come in, you're right in the middle of Berlin where as far as I can tell, Germans have forgotten the speech or don't care to remind. Somebody... I'm giving you guys the chance. Come in and tell, stick up for these guys.

H. R. McMaster: Well, you know, the NSC process is important, right? Because you wanna give a president a broad range of views. But the National Security Advisor job, your job is as advisor because you're the only person in the United States government, in the foreign policy, national security arena who has the president as his or her only client. Your job is to give the president a say. And so, it's really important that you spend time with the president on as you did Peter, on these important speeches. And I had a great relationship with your old friend Tony and then the other speech writers in the White House. And we worked together-

Peter Robinson: Tony Dolan-

H. R. McMaster: On a number of speeches very early. And then I would ensure that those speeches got to the president early so he could put his imprint on it. And I think that if you look at President Trump's Warsaw speech, for example, there are echoes of the Berlin speech in that speech. And so, it's an immensely important I think aspect of the job is to help the president craft speeches that allow him to first of all, kind of decide on what his foreign policy agenda is but then importantly in our democracy, to make it public, right? Because it's important that the American people support really these initiatives. But I think oftentimes what presidents don't realize enough especially if there's more domestic focused, I mean, like President Trump was for example. That I think presidents sometimes underestimate the degree to which those oversees hang on every single word of a presidential speech. Yes and I think this is what you got so right is that that speech spoke to an international audience in a powerful and profound way.

Peter Robinson: Okay. Well, by the way, so this is where I better step in and clear up one thing. I wrote it, there was this, this kind of strange thing that I wrote it and that is true as far as it goes but it was 100% Ronald Reagan. I would not have written that for anybody else and I can tell you that because I had worked for then Vice President George H.W. Bush. We've never written it for him. Reagan alone and Reagan alone would have insisted on delivering the speech once he's seen it over other objections. George Bush, Vice President Bush in every foreign policy speech the first question he would always ask me when I draft a foreign policy speech, "Has state approved of this?" That was his first question. Okay, so Jamie listen to this story, all three of you but I'm going, Jamie next. We'll stay with Ronald Reagan here for a moment. This is a story. I think it's quite a famous story. It was told to me by Dick Allen who was your predecessor, who was Ronald Reagan's first National Security Advisor. The year is 1977, Reagan is now a former governor. He has just lost the republican presidential nomination to Gerald Ford. And so far, there's no inkling that he's going to run for president. Still he's paying close attention to world affairs and Dick Allen stops by his house in Pacific Palisades, and briefs him on world affairs. And then Reagan said, "Well, would you like to hear my theory of the Cold War?" And Dick Allen said, "Of course, governor." And then Ronald Reagan, I'm quoting now from, Dick put this down in writing for me and I'm quoting from Dick. This is Reagan speaking. "Some people think I'm simplistic, but there's a difference between being simple and being simplistic. My theory about the Cold War is that we win and they lose." How do you operationalize that? Here's the whole, here's Richard Nixon and detente and Henry Kissinger and Jimmy Carter. I think it was the same year that Jimmy Carter gave his speech warning against an inordinate fear of communism. And Ronald Reagan's impulse is just to turn it upside down. It's a little, it feels risky. Now that I'm older it feels a little risky to me, Jamie.

Jamie Fly: I'm a big fan of the approach obviously especially given where I stand today at Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty. I mean, I think the moral clarity of Reagan is incredibly essential here. Authoritarians ultimately are incredibly fearful. They're fearful of their own citizens and when they realize that democracies are resilient and united and up to the task, I mean, that strikes fear into the heart of every authoritarian leader. And I think that's ultimately what Reagan understood and why the speech was so powerful. Now that's in terms of what a president says in a setting like this. That's one thing in terms of presenting the moral clarity, the vision, then you can debate the tactics, and the diplomacy, and the negotiations which obviously Reagan engaged in extensively. But one brief comment on the inter-agency process that the conversation was happening earlier, I had only a bit role in the George W. Bush administration but I worked for Senator Marco Rubio for years. I wrote my share of speeches with him. What I found in all of the policy jobs I held in Washington was that far too many people in the government and the national security apparatus, they lose sight of ultimately who they work for and why, whether it's the president or a senator, they are in that position. They were the ones elected. It is ultimately their voice. Most of those people were elected for the right reasons. The public put their confidence in them for a certain reason. And a lot of the process it's necessary but ultimately many staffers I think strive to box in their principals, to move their principles through something like a speech-writing process. And they forget fundamentally where their boss' vision is, their boss' instincts. And I had many personal experiences even in my short time both at the NSC and working in the senate where we would debate for hours over email or days about a speech. And then you would put it in front of your boss and they would quickly resolve all of the issues because it wasn't even a question for them. And I think from what I've read of your accounts, Peter, it sounds like the speech was one of those experiences.

Peter Robinson: All I can say is where the heck were you guys when I needed you 34 years ago? Okay, a little more scene setting. Autumn of 1989. Now we're a little bit more than two years after Reagan delivers the speech. In the East German city of Leipzig churches begin holding weekly prayer services followed by small peaceful demonstrations. I'm compressing a complicated story here but these weekly demonstrations grow. They spread across the country of East Germany. By early November, a demonstration of more 100,000 has marched in East Berlin itself. This brings us to the night of November 9th, 1989 when the East German politburo was meeting in emergency session and they decide to change rules concerning border crossings. And one member of the politburo goes out to brief the press and gets it wrong. Some change, small technical change they're considering that'll take place sometime but he gets it wrong. And a reporter says, "Wait. Well, wait a minute. Do you mean that all border controls have ended immediately?" And the politburo member thinks for a moment and says yes. This is on radio and television. Within minutes, literally just a few minutes, East Germans began streaming to the four checkpoints in the Berlin Wall. East German guards have no idea what's going on, they have not received new orders. And there's a tense moment. As the crowds grow they begin shouting, car horns are honking, and the guards realize they have two choices use force or open the gates, and they opened the gates. And the Berlin Wall has ceased to function. All right, again, Reagan speaks on June 12th, 1987 and the wall falls, ceases to function, effectively falls on November 9th, 1989. Were those two events connected in any way, Will?

Will Inboden: Absolutely, Peter. Yeah. I mean, I think we can trace almost even a direct cause and effect and I don't wanna take this too far. Obviously the people of Germany deserve tremendous credit for their own agency in rising up and tearing down the wall. And there's of course, some of those really fascinating historical accidents of miscommunication and mid-level communist bureaucrats, and a couple of guards out front. But how did those circumstances even come about that the German people would feel like they could rise up and demand their own freedom when if you look at the history of the Cold War, Prague in 1968, Budapest in 1956. Previous times when East German citizens would try to claim their freedom from their Soviet overlords, the Red Army tanks would roll in. And so I think the causality I would draw is that President Reagan kind of gave voice to the hopes and created the circumstances and the pressure, and changed that correlation of forces so that the German people could take advantage of that opportunity when history presented itself. And I wanna add one other thing on that if I will which also draws back to what you were asking Jamie earlier, and this does get to the role of Gorbachev and expertise. Because one reason why the wall was able to come down peacefully in November of '89 was because of what Gorbachev didn't do. He repudiated the Brezhnev Doctrine. He didn't send the tanks rolling in. And I wanna go back to the most, one of the most important parts of tear down this wall. It's what Reagan says right before it. "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." Why does he direct that to Gorbachev rather than just an abstract hurling words into the air that would hope the wall will come down? It's because for all of our discussion earlier on foreign policy expertise, when that speech was being written which member of the United States government knew Gorbachev best? Which member of the United States government had spent more time with Gorbachev than any other American? Ronald Reagan. And so that's why Reagan knew that from his countless hours with Gorbachev at the Geneva Summit or at the Reykjavik Summit or their exchanges of letters or their phone calls, he had a really intuitive sense of this guy Gorbachev, that I could push him further. I could put that, demand him to tear down that wall. And it wasn't going to cause a complete rupture in the entire relationship. It wasn't going to cause the mushroom planet, it wasn't gonna cause the Cold War to turn high. And so Reagan had that really intuitive sense from so much time with Gorbachev more than all the Kremlinologist at the State Department or CIA of that balance of pushing this guy, but also stretching a hand out. And so I think when we look at Gorbachev's role the peaceful end of the Cold War, a lot of it was facilitated by Reagan knowing him well and just having that right balance of pressure and outreach. And that helps create the circumstances in November of '89 for the German people to claim their own freedom.

Peter Robinson: Excuse me. Will, I don't know how to do this in a Zoom call but I'd like to lean forward and kiss you right on the forehead. I've worried about this for 34 years.

Will Inboden: I'll give you a hug back.

Peter Robinson: Of course you're right. Reagan knew that Gorbachev could take it. All right, so let me tell you about meeting Mikhail Gorbachev. This is a long time ago, now this must be 15 years ago now. But one of the things he did, the former leader of the great communist power was become a socialist. I beg your pardon, a capitalist. And he came to the United States and gave talks. And Mike Reagan, the president's son interviewed him and Mike and I are friends and I helped. So, Mike arrange for me to go backstage and meet Gorbachev. And I could see Gorbachev's translator talking into his ear and telling him that I had written that speech. And Gorbachev laughed and he said, "Dramaturge, dramaturge." And then he explained through his translator this was just a piece of theater. He knew Ronald Reagan and Ronald Reagan couldn't resist a good line but it made no difference to them in Moscow at all. Jamie, H. R. stick up for Gorby, will you please? The speech didn't make a darn bit of difference.

H. R. McMaster: It doesn't make that much, it doesn't matter maybe if it made difference to him or to anybody at Moscow. Made a heck of a lot of difference to Germans and East Germans in particular. And somebody was, I was serving as a captain in the second United States Cavalry on the border of East Germany, West Germany in November of 1989. And on that day near Coburg, Germany, the town where Martin Luther translated the Bible and determined the birthplace of Hans Morgenthau, is where our soldiers went, our cavalry troopers went from one moment staring down these German border guards to the next moment seeing the gates thrown open. And then tens and then thousands and then tens of thousands of East Germans pouring across that border bearing bouquets of flowers and bottles of wine. And there were hugs and tears of joy. And I'll tell you, I saw a direct correlation not only back to the speech but to the resolve that President Reagan demonstrated by affecting a Renaissance in our military in the 1980s, and demonstrating our resolve to, as you said in his words, when you cited that early interview, that, hey, we win and they lose. And so, I felt a direct correlation, Peter, and got to witness it firsthand in Coburg, West Germany.

Peter Robinson: Jamie, I'm gonna try one more time to find somebody who will say, wait a minute, we're just way overdoing this. You know correctly that, well, you say the speech at the time the speech was largely ignored. And I remember bristling a little bit at ignored because it did get covered but it was just treated as the way the press would treat any statement by the president, nothing special. And then the wall fell and the speech all of a sudden sounded, this is a strange way of putting it but I can't think of any other way of putting it, sounded retrospectively prophetic. But at the time it was just a speech. Jamie?

Jamie Fly: Yeah, I think, some of Gorbachev's views may have been shaped and I think I mentioned this in my essay. I can't remember the source, it was from something you had written or elsewhere where I read it, that I think the US government actually briefed the Soviets in advance to warn them about the line. And so that could have just been some of the kind of bureaucratic way that the Reagan administration gave a heads up essentially I think through, I forget it was a Soviet ambassador in Berlin or elsewhere. But ultimately I agree with General McMaster. I mean, I think it made things much more difficult for Gorbachev if he had wanted to intervene whether it was in Germany, in Berlin in November 1989 or in Poland, or in Czechoslovakia, or in Hungary. I mean, that was the fundamental tipping point when it became clear that the citizens of those countries had had enough and were going to rise up and we're going to be too much for their, for the communist client governments to prevent from toppling them. And they all needed ultimately Soviet intervention if they were to survive. That is what the playbook had been for decades previously whether it was Hungary '56, Prague '68.

Peter Robinson: It was always Red Army. It was always the Red Army and if Gorbachev kept the Red Army in the barracks they were done essentially, is that right?

Jamie Fly: Yes and that, I think that is ultimately even the strengthening of the public perceptions in Germany, in Berlin, in the East as we know that it was listened to in the East as well, that is what made it difficult for Gorbachev. I think it limited his options. He really didn't even have much of an option then at that point. You can also then look, obviously, the other diplomacy that the administration engaged in with Gorbachev and their efforts to actually reach out to him I guess later in the George H.W. Bush administration to actually try to find ways to support him, which probably played a role. But ultimately I think Gorbachev had his hands tied when the key moment came.

Peter Robinson: Okay, so lessons for today. China in a moment. The Biden administration in a moment. Right now I'll stay with Jamie because he's seated in Berlin as we speak. This has been something of a disappointment really. I'm quoting you Jamie. "A united Germany is now the largest economy in Europe and the continent's natural leader. Yet despite significant progress in its willingness to play a leading role, many German policymakers continue to resist the responsibility that comes with such power." Closed quote. So we have that celebration of reunification in 1994, is that the formal reunification? And there's that moment of playing the final chorus from Beethoven's "Ninth Symphony" in front of Brandenburg Gate as fireworks explode. And it was a thrilling moment. Europe is democratic and free and it's going to be prosperous and help. And now we come to a continent that seems, well, Jamie, you tell us. You tell us what's happened here.

Jamie Fly: Well, the German part of the story is complex. Some of it relates to Germany being tortured by it's pre-Cold War history, uncertain of its footing, unwilling to be provocative in its policy thinking. There's also a sad story to be honest if you look back at the speech just about the divisions that still exist in German society. It's striking, I'm talking to you from East Berlin where I've been living in recent months but I was in West Berlin a few weeks ago at dinner. Met some new people from West Berlin and talking to them about where even we live. It was another world to them. It was a part of Berlin they don't even venture into. Refer to it as the Soviet zone. That lives on-

Peter Robinson: Still?

Jamie Fly: In people's minds.

Peter Robinson: Even now? Even now?

Jamie Fly: Yes, even now. Yes, even now.

Peter Robinson: Wow.

Jamie Fly: And these were people who would have been around the time of '89, children. So not even people who kind of spent a kind of significant part of their lives living during that divided pass. German politics remained divided in the way that East Germans vote and the success of some of the far right parties for instance. So a lot of that divided legacy lives on and I think the fundamental question though when it comes to German leadership in the world, German foreign policy is whether the next generation, and we could see this after the September elections this year, is more willing to step up, move beyond the World War II legacy, the Holocaust legacy. Move beyond some of the divisions of the Cold War era and assume that leadership mantle. Which to be honest, given that I also spend a lot of time in Prague and other parts of Europe, the rest of Europe is looking to them to play, to take that leadership role, not just economically which they have now for decades, but to take a stand for values and pursue a foreign policy whether it's vis-a-vis Russia or China, that matches the significant history of their recent decades, and the benefits that they've achieved from German reunification. And so that's a big open question that still exists in Germany society.

Peter Robinson: H. R. I'll come to China and you in just a moment but Will, how do we evaluate? This removed, how do we evaluate the American effort in Europe during the Cold War? 4 1/2 decades. It begins with Truman and runs right through George H.W. Bush. And of course there are, the Cold War is global, there's Vietnam, there's Korea but Europe is always what really matters. Europe is at the center of it. And we have this long expensive bipartisan effort, this long twilight struggle as John Kennedy called it and we win. And now 34 years later, Europe and the United States are drifting apart. We have a president over there now talking about coming together on climate change. Forgive me, I don't wanna become partisan. So the Soviet Union would have fallen anyway and we wasted a lot of time and money in the Europeans. The European they don't like us, it was artificial. They just clung to us for those decades because we were protecting them against the Soviets, and it was all just disappointing. Will?

Will Inboden: Yeah, no, I share a lot of concerns and of course, Jamie is really on the front lines of trying to stand up for transatlantic values and maintain the Atlantic Alliance over there. And of course it goes beyond just leader to leader relations but it's obviously about sort of the shared values and amendments of European and American peoples. And one great strength for that or one great resource for that is that history of working together first to defeat Nazi tyranny and then to defeat Soviet tyranny. But each generation in some ways needs to learn those, relearn those lessons anew. I mean because you did talk about American policy in Europe throughout the Cold War, two quick themes I wanna highlight in that picking up on General McMaster. First is how important the American military buildup and expansion was. All the pressures after World War II were for the United States to rapidly demobilize, retreat again behind our shores, bring defense spending way down, and for good reasons. There was a peace dividend to be had. But then once we see the emerging threat of Soviet communism had to remobilize. And so, building up that military which helps prevent further Soviet aggression but also and this is the key of Reagan's genius, strengthened his diplomacy. That's what peace through strength is about is building the world's most powerful, most potent, most fearsome military so that you don't have to go into a hot war. But that you can use that to point your adversaries to diplomatic solutions because the military solution is not there. But the other key one and this gets to this point about shared values was United States leading the way in creating the Atlantic Alliance. Remember for the first 150 years of our existence as a country, went back to Washington's farewell address, no permanent alliances, let's not have those. They drag you into European wars you don't want. They create free-riding allies. And for Truman and Eisenhower to then reverse that and say, no, we do need to enter into this North Atlantic Treaty Organization, this Atlantic Alliance, they knew that that was going to be an asymmetric strength for the United States against our Soviet adversary. And it was something that the, certainly the Western European governments wanted as well. And that's why we, I think, can refer to NATO as the world's most successful treaty alliance in history. Because it did enable Reagan's vision of we win, they lose to be accomplished peacefully 'cause you really had wanted that peaceful victory. The threats are somewhat different now, it's not the Soviet Union anymore. It's Putin's kind of imperialist Russia. It's certainly of course China which is not just an Asia Pacific threat and becoming more of a European threat as well. But I do hope that drawing on that shared history and those shared values will remind Americans and Europeans that we do a lot better when we're together than when we're apart.

Peter Robinson: H. R., China.

H. R. McMaster: This is a competition of wills, you know? This competition between our free and open societies and closed authoritarian systems. And we're talking about a speech that lent a tremendous clarity to that competition. And I think what we need today. I'm encouraged by the fact that the Biden administration has acknowledged that this isn't at its base an ideological competition with the Chinese Communist Party. But we have to back that up. What is it? A defacto reduction in the defense budget, for example, because of this mantra you hear from some people in the Biden administration that our policies become too militarized. What we need is more diplomacy. What we need is what Will says, you need the integration of all instruments of national power and efforts of like-minded partners to prevail in this type of competition. Of course, we do need more diplomacy but more diplomacy has to be more than a better atmosphere at cocktail parties in Berlin or Paris, you know? Our allies have to step up and Germany has been a weak link, a weak link in connection with the negotiation of the comprehensive agreement on investment which thankfully is dying in the European parliament. But also in connection with the competition with Putin's Kremlin and the Kremlin sustained campaign of political subversion aimed at Europe. I would say that campaign is effective in Germany and I'd like Jamie maybe to comment more about how Russia's contributing to a weakening of resolve in Germany. But an example of the US maybe not being as tough on our allies as much as we love them is backing off on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline which is going to give Russia course of power over Germany's economy.

Peter Robinson: H. R., China though. You're in the White House. You're National Security Advisor. You have the top job in the institution that brings together military and diplomatic initiatives and presents them to the chief executive of the United States. At the moment when the whole country partly because of Donald Trump and partly because the President Xi Jinping, the whole country is realizing that China's not going to be our friend. We're in for something new here. H. R. McMaster quote, "The Berlin Wall is an apt, albeit inexact analogy for the Great Firewall of China, the combination of laws and technologies designed to isolate the realm of the Chinese Communist Party from outside influences." Closed quote. All kinds of things are different. China's bigger than the Russia, than the Soviet Union ever was. It has cash. All we ever bought from, all the Russians ever bought from us was wheat. The Chinese, as you well know my colleague here in Northern California at the Hoover Institution, the Chinese are invested in Silicon Valley up and down the peninsula. So a lot of things are different. But you're arguing that there's something central to the relationship with China that's not that different from a relationship with the struggle, the conflict with the Soviet Union. Is that correct?

H. R. McMaster: Absolutely. And you can see this in Jamie and Will's superb essays. I mean, this is an ideological competition. It's also a competition that requires a high degree of clarity. So I mean, the phrase that comes to mind if I could paraphrase from Reagan's speech is Chairman Xi, tear down that firewall. Or we should do our best to get around it and this is what Jamie does for us everyday, is to try to reach oppressed peoples, peoples who are not permitted to access a wide range of sources of information so that they have an opportunity to think differently. And as Will I think said or Jamie early said authoritarians are kinda touchy, they're kinda sensitive. You see this with the Chinese Communist Party. I think there's a tremendous opportunity for us to use the kind of clarity of the Berlin speech to compete much more effectively with the Chinese Communist Party. And I think the best means of doing so is to bypass the great firewall.

Peter Robinson: Let me quote you one more time, Jamie. Everybody should read all three essays and I'm holding back slightly on quoting Will because he was so effusive about the speech and I figured I can handle that part myself. Jamie, "Reagan said our differences are not about," I'm quoting you, "are not about weapons but about liberty. This was an important reminder about what differentiated the Soviet Union from the West. These are all principles that have been neglected by recent US administrations. US negotiators have been quick to conclude flawed deals, be it with Russia or Iran in the Obama administration or attempts to do so under the Trump administration," H. R. are you listening? "With North Korea." Closed quote. Your overall point if I take this correctly is that recent administrations have placed too much emphasis on diplomatic cooperation and too little on clarity and forthrightness of principle. Have I got that right?

Jamie Fly: Yeah, I think clearly especially when you have nuclear weapons involved, there is a need to negotiate even with authoritarians. We can't hope and aspire to quick regime change and all of the countries that threaten us but there was something to obviously the way that Reagan did it, even as he was sitting down and speaking to Gorbachev or other Soviet leaders. He had no problem publicly talking about what was at stake and the cruelty and the hollowness of what that regime represented. And that I think has been missing in many recent US administrations. It's a huge challenge in Europe going back to what General McMaster was saying. And this is fundamentally part of the problem as Europe and Germany tries to deal with Russia that is heading in an incredibly dangerous direction, cracking down on dissent at home. You see what even the Kremlin has done to Navalny's organization in the last few days. Trying to push my own organization out which has had a bureau there for 30 years ever since being invited by President Yeltsin, freezing our bank accounts. And then Russia that is headed in that direction is highly likely to lash out at its neighbors, building up forces on the Ukrainian border and China's a very similar story. And there is very little interest in most parts of Europe in speaking openly and frankly about what is at stake with either of those two powers from a moral perspective. And you still hear, especially in Germany, but also in Brussels and many other European capitals, a lot of well, we know that they have a lot of problems but on the other hand, we have to do business with them. We need their investment. Certain segments of our economy are incredibly reliant on engagement with them. A lot of the European mindset has not moved beyond that and there were similar dynamics as we talked about earlier in Germany, circa 1987. That's how you got Ostpolitik from the West German government at the time. But it's a significant problem now and then the fundamental question for the US side is how does the US which I think now over both the Trump administration and the Biden administration when it comes to China had framed the conflict correctly, has highlighted the situation correctly both from a moral perspective, and economic perspective, and a defense perspective. How do you bring allies along who feel that they have the luxury perhaps of remaining neutral in this competition? That's the fundamental challenge and we've seen starkly different approaches from the Trump administration compared to the Biden team on that issue as well.

Peter Robinson: Will? Will. The three of you have convinced me that it worked pretty well under Reagan. Moral clarity, strength, simplicity, and so forth. Well, if it worked so well under Reagan, why have... I'm going to grant Jamie's argument that we haven't seen quite that kind of moral clarity. There's a question I'm gonna hit you within a moment, no, I'll hit Will with it. Donald Trump, God bless him, gave half a dozen in my opinion really wonderful set piece speeches including in Warsaw which H. R. mentioned. And then walked away from the lectern and never mentioned them or never behaved as if he'd given those, they didn't seem to be integrated. Why does it seem to be... Reagan's example still lives. The three of you have proved that. Why is it so hard to follow? Will?

Will Inboden: Yeah, well, it is a puzzle but I mean, again, a lot of... Old habits die hard, first point. And then the second point is we do need to be careful as we look back at Reagan and Reagan administration successes from the hindsight bias of being like, well, of course it all worked out. Of course, it was so simple because as you know, Peter, at the time it wasn't really clear it was gonna work out. You know, Reagan had confidence it was but he had a lot of criticism against it because he was trying some very, very risky things. He was challenging a lot of the conventional wisdom. And the Soviet threat as awful as it was was somewhat different than certainly the China threat or even the Russia threat that we face today. Harder in some ways especially on the nuclear side but then easier on the, I won't say easy but easier on the economic side. But my two takeaways vis-a-vis China especially from Reagan are one, remember that our adversary is not the country or people of China, it's the Chinese Communist Party.

Peter Robinson: Right.

Will Inboden: And the people of China are potential allies for us, right? I mean, they like getting richer and they haven't lived under multi-party democracy, but they don't like living in an Orwellian surveillance state. They don't like being told how many babies they can or can't have. They don't like not being able to choose their own leaders. The Soviet people didn't like that either and Reagan spoke to that and part of his strategy was to drive a wedge between the Kremlin and the Soviet people. And tell the Soviet people, hey, America is on your side. Insofar as you want freedom we're on your side, we're allies. We need to recapture that with China and speaking a lot more directly to the Chinese people. And again, Jamie's organizations are doing some good work there. But the second part I do wanna come back to Reagan and Gorbachev and negotiations also is in tandem with that military buildup, in tandem with speaking with the moral clarity, at the same moment that he was saying, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," Reagan and Schultz were still working behind the scenes with the Soviets to conclude what became the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty. And it's still a historically unprecedented treaty that banned an entire class of very frightening nuclear weapons. And so, we sometimes "foreign policy experts," I'll put that in quote, might pretend to be one of myself sometimes. Sometimes we do make these things harder than they needed to be. And we think, okay, you either do diplomacy or you get tough. Or either do subtle nuanced diplomacy or you speak in simple jingoistic terms like tear down this wall or evil empire. Baloney. You can do both of those things together and they're most effective when you do them together. That's why, again, going back to Reagan's theory the case we win, they lose, but he wanted to win not with a hot war that destroys the Soviet Union and destroys the world, he wanted to win peacefully. And he knew that he could do that with that diplomacy as long as it was backed up by military strength, economic strength, and moral clarity.

Peter Robinson: H. R., last question about what it means for today before I move to kind of summary here. H. R. McMaster quote, "Reagan's speech provides a reminder that self-respect, self-respect is foundational to the competition with the Chinese Communist Party." Closed quote. My first comment on that is you're a big shot sophisticated thinker and yet you're like Reagan and that you keep coming back to the simple points. All right. But how do we achieve self-respect as a nation at a time when we're so polarized, when half the country thinks your former boss should be in jail and the other half of the company thinks that Joe Biden stole the election? And we've got one part of the country watching MSNBC, keeping it on all day and the other part putting on Fox News all day. And things were rougher politically during the Reagan years than is now remembered, but it was not like this. So, self-respect H. R.

H. R. McMaster: Well, this is why I think the Reagan Institute is such an important organization. I mean, I think all of us have to and the Hoover Institution, all of us were working in this space, Radio Free Europe. I think that we have to make a concerted effort to rebuild our confidence. Confidence in who we are as a people and confidence in our democratic institutions and principles and processes. And I think we can do that, right? I mean, I think that what we have to do is demand more from political leaders who are too often compromising principles to score partisan political points. But we can't wait for them either, right? We have to do our part to recognize the great promise of America. To celebrate the fact, right, that we have a say in how we're governed. As Will said, you know, I don't think the Chinese people or any people are culturally predisposed toward not wanting a say in how they're governed. We wanna celebrate that we live under rule of law, that we have freedom of speech and freedom of expression. We need to encourage institutions to reform themselves. I would say the Fourth Estate is one of those that has some work to do. But ultimately I think the number one priority for us these days ought to be education. Education is particularly about our history. That's why I was so excited to participate in this discussion with you and Jamie and Will because I think when you learn the history of the Reagan years you see the contrast between the Carter malaise speech and a real crisis of confidence in the 1970s. You remember stagflation, remember a lost war in Vietnam, remember the oil embargo? And our confidence was shaken like it's shaken today, right? But it doesn't have to remain permanent just like the wall. Just like that East-West German border was not a permanent condition. We can change it. And I think what we have to do is educate ourselves, reeducate ourselves about the great promise of our republic and recognize as the founders did, that this republic required constant nurturing. So let's start nurturing our republic and regaining our confidence.

Peter Robinson: All right. Two final questions for you. I'll go around and give each of you a shot at this. We're coming up on, in fact we're at an hour so I'm gonna have to ask you to be brief, succinct. Give me a one sentence answer if you possibly can. Here's the first question. I'm gonna give you two quotations. Jim Hoagland, James Hoagland at the Washington Post and this is writing soon after Reagan delivered the Berlin address. Quote, "History is likely to record the challenge to tear down the wall as a meaningless taunt." Closed quote. That's quotation number one. Here's quotation number two. This comes from Joachim Gauck who at the time was a Lutheran pastor and democracy advocate inside East Germany, who later went on to become president of a unified, Reunified Germany. Quote, this is Joachim Gauck speaking a couple of years ago. "Reagan spoke the right words at the right time and in the right place." Closed quote. Will, who's right?

Will Inboden: Yeah, certainly the pastor. So, Reagan had the-

Peter Robinson: I have to confess, I put that question together, I thought it was gonna be a little closer call at this point in the conversation.

Will Inboden: No look, Reagan had the strategic imagination to envision a world without the Berlin Wall, without the Iron Curtain, even without the Soviet Union.

Peter Robinson: Jamie?

Jamie Fly: Certainly President Gauck.

Peter Robinson: And H. R., you're gonna make it unanimous or give me trouble?

H. R. McMaster: I'll make unanimous but I will say let's also emphasize words and deeds, right? Words and deeds and we've talked about the military strength and the broad range of diplomatic efforts. We've talked about the "Tear Down The Wall" speech as well as sustained efforts to eliminate a class of nuclear weapons. So I think it's the integration of policy and a broad range of efforts with those powerful words.

Peter Robinson: You see, what I have to deal with at the Hoover Institution with H. R. as my colleague? He says, yes, yes, Robinson words matter but every so often you need to call in the tanks. Last question. All three of you are or have been teachers. H. R. is teaching this term or I guess the term just ended. Will is smack dab in the middle of one of the nation's great universities. Jamie's in a certain sense educating tens of millions of people with Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty but you also have been a teacher. Imagine a high school or college kid today and that is to say imagine someone who was born a dozen years or more after Ronald Reagan delivered the speech. Give me a sentence, two sentences that explain to such a young American why we're still talking about that speech 34 years later. And what one thing, if they can remember one thing about it, what one thing they need to remember? Jamie, let's go with you first.

Jamie Fly: It's a tall order but I'll just say I think the message I would have is it changed the lives of millions because I think, I do think it was that powerful and the basic simple, moral clarity played a key role in helping to end the Cold War. But it's incredibly difficult to explain that to people who did not live through that period. I was a kid when the wall fell so I watched it on TV. It had a powerful role in shaping my career from afar. But I would just suggest that we need to bring people to Berlin. I think you can learn even despite the challenges that I described that exists here today, people need to see and walk through the Brandenburg Gate, walk past where the speech was given, talk to Berliners, some who are still alive, who lived through that period and see it firsthand. I think that's the most powerful way to learn about how important the speech was.

Peter Robinson: H. R.?

H. R. McMaster: Just I guess two things. I think that young people should learn from the speech and from the Cold War is that the arc of history does not guarantee the primacy of our free and open societies over closed authoritarian systems. We have to compete effectively.

Peter Robinson: You mean the arc of history doesn't always bend toward justice?

H. R. McMaster: It does not.

Peter Robinson: You mean we have to grab it and bend it ourselves?

H. R. McMaster: And for us to compete effectively require confidence and I think that the history should teach us that America is a force for good in the world. We're not flawless but I think we need to reject the orthodoxy of the new left as well as the orthodoxy of the so-called realist school which is really an ideological movement behind a new sentiment toward isolationism. I think that that's what students wanna take away from this is that it is that we have to compete and we ought to be confident in America's role in the world.

Peter Robinson: Will, last words.

Will Inboden: All right. Again, two things briefly. First, we need to teach this history to remind our students just as we teach them about the Holocaust, of the truly awful, wicked, barbarous things that human beings are capable of doing to each other. And when you look at the vicious repression that Soviet communism visited on the entire world, we should not forget that. Second, I just wanna quote one of my favorite line from the speech which we haven't mentioned yet today. This is, again, Reagan's words. "As long as this gate is closed, as long as the scar of a wall is permitted to stand, it is not the German question alone that remains open, but the question of freedom for all mankind." And when we look at Chinese communist tyranny today or North Korea's tyranny or Putin's tyranny we're reminded that the question of freedom for all mankind is not a historical question alone, it's a present day challenge for our students and our young people today.

Peter Robinson: Jamie Fly of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, thank you. General H. R. McMaster, my pal here at the Hoover Institution and the author most recently of "Battlegrounds," thank you. And Will Inboden of the University of Texas and the author of the forthcoming book the title of which he's about to name.

Will Inboden: "The Peacemaker: Ronald Reagan in the White House and in The World."

Peter Robinson: Wow, I like that. And the pub date is?

Will Inboden: Sometime December or January, so still about six months away.

Peter Robinson: All right. Jamie Fly, Will Inboden, and H. R. McMaster, thank you. For Uncommon Knowledge, the Hoover Institution, Fox Nation, and the Ronald Reagan Institute, I'm Peter Robinson.