In his speech in Tallinn, Estonia, Wednesday, en route to a summit with NATO leaders in Wales, President Obama acknowledged and honored the perpetual ache of human beings, equally born and invested with inalienable rights, to live freely, and for all countries to chart their own destinies.
Obama’s “ode to democracy” saluted human dignity and the pursuit of justice, and hailed the indomitability of the people of central Europe who, despite invasion, war and oppression, survived until, ultimately, they saw their ambitions for liberty fulfilled.
This was good and right and proper, a praiseworthy acknowledgement of the natural human yearning that survived homegrown dictators, waves of Nazis and, at last, decades under the yoke of the Soviet Union.
“[T]he only reason we’re here today in a free and democratic Estonia is because the Estonian people never gave up,” the president said. “You never gave up when the Red Army came in from the east or when the Nazis came in from the west. You never gave up when the Soviets came back or when they sent your best and brightest to the gulag, never to return. You never gave up through a long occupation that tried to break your spirit and crush your culture. Their tanks were no equal to the moral power of your voices united in song. Their walls were no match for the strength of your people united in that unbreakable chain.”
Well. This is true, up to a point. What the president failed to mention, however, is every bit as important as what he praised: The release of the iron grip was brought about not solely by the ambitions of stubborn middle Europeans, as Obama implied, but by the relentless pressure of Western military might, particularly American military might.
Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Latvians, East Germans, Bulgarians, Romanians and the rest could have yearned for freedom from the collapse of the Third Reich until the sun went super nova and nothing would have changed for them without the persistent ratcheting up of Western military forces and technological know-how, particularly under the astute calculations of Ronald Reagan, who called out the evil empire and whose dreams of missile defense panicked Moscow, setting the regime’s collapse in motion.
Freedom, says the bumper sticker, is not free. It always has relied on expertly trained and well-equipped military forces to beat back the inexhaustible ambitions of oppressors. Yes, when the guards dropped their weapons as young East Germans clambered, triumphant, atop the Berlin Wall, the image was one of impossible dreams fulfilled on both sides of the Brandenburg Gate.
But never let it be forgotten whose shoulders boosted them up there, and whose severe readiness deserved a mention in President Obama’s otherwise commendable and useful speech about the march of liberty. Because some commander-in-chief — perhaps even one as hesitant, as reluctant, as feckless as this one — will summon them again to the task of routing thugs and promoting freedom – sooner rather than later, it seems – and in the meantime their necessary role in this ceaseless process deserves at least a mention. At least that.