QUOTATIONS AS SENATOR.
No black and white and Latino America. “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America—there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America—there's the United States of America.” July 27, 2004.
Increasing debt limit ‘weakens us.’ “The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. Over the past 5 years, our federal debt has increased by $3.5 trillion to $8.6 trillion. And over the next 5 years, between now and 2011, the President’s budget will increase the debt by almost another $3.5 trillion. … Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here.’ Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. Americans deserve better. I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America’s debt limit.” March 16, 2006.
Foreigners must not ‘pour in’ illegally. “Today, it is estimated that there are more than 11 million undocumented aliens living in our country. The American people are a welcoming and generous people. But those who enter our country illegally, and those who employ them, disrespect the rule of law. And because we live in an age where terrorists are challenging our borders, we simply cannot allow people to pour into the United States undetected, undocumented, and unchecked.” April 3, 2006.
Bush’s ‘surge’ won’t help Iraq. “I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse. I think it takes pressure off the Iraqis to arrive at the sort of political accommodation that every observer believes is the ultimate solution to the problems we face there. So I am going to actively oppose the president’s proposal.” Jan. 10, 2007.
Five-days before presidential signings. “When there is a bill that ends up on my desk as the president, the public will have five days to look online and find out what’s in it before I sign it.” June 22, 2007.
Won’t leave Iraq “precipitously.” “Nobody is proposing we leave precipitously. There are still going to be U.S. forces in the region that could intercede, with an international force, on an emergency basis.” July 19, 2007.
Ignore genocide after Iraq withdrawal. “Well, look, if that’s the criteria by which we are making decisions on the deployment of U.S. forces, then by that argument you would have 300,000 troops in the Congo right now — where millions have been slaughtered as a consequence of ethnic strife — which we haven’t done.” July 20, 2007, answering if he would change course if U.S. withdrawal from Iraq led to genocide and a bigger war.
Law not subject to whim. “The separation of powers works. Our Constitution works. We will again set an example to the world that the law is not subject to the whim of stubborn rulers.” Aug. 1, 2007.
No more spying on Americans. “That means no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens. No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime … No more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient.” Aug. 1, 2007.
Health law will be written in the open. “I respect the fact that Senator Clinton and President Clinton attempted in ’93 to get health-care reform passed, but I do think that they did it in the wrong way because it was behind closed doors and it did not enlist the American people in the process.” Jan. 21, 2008.
Average savings on health. “And if you’ve got health care, we’re going to work with your employer to lower your premiums by $2,500 per family per year.” March 14, 2008. Later: “I also have a plan that would save the average family $2,500 on their premiums.” May 3, 2008.
Marriage means a man and a woman. “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. For me as a Christian, it’s also a sacred union.” April 17, 2008.
Won't use signing statements. “What George Bush has been trying to do as part of his effort to accumulate more power in the presidency is, he’s been saying, well, I can basically change what Congress passed by attaching a letter saying, ‘I don’t agree with this part or I don’t agree with that part. I’m going to choose to interpret it this way or that way.’ That’s not part of his power. I believe in the Constitution and I will obey the Constitution of the United States. We’re not going to use signing statements as a way of doing an end-run around Congress.” May 19, 2008.
Cuba policy will be for ‘libertad.’ “My policy toward Cuba will be guided by one word: ‘libertad.’ The road to freedom for all Cubans must begin with justice for Cuba’s political prisoners, the right of free speech, a free press, freedom of assembly, and it must lead to elections that are free and fair. That is my commitment.” May 23, 2008.
Slow the rise of oceans. “If we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth.” June 3, 2008, accepting Democratic presidential nomination.
Bring a gun to a knife fight. “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun. Because, from what I understand, folks in Philly like a good brawl. I’ve seen Eagles fans.” June 13, 2008, in Philadelphia.
Fatherlessness leaves ‘hole in your heart.’ “If we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that too many fathers also are, is missing — missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it. … You and I know how true this is in the African-American community. We know that more than half of all black children live in single-parent households, a number that has doubled — doubled — since we were children. We know the statistics — that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and 20 times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it. … We need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception. … I know the toll that being a single parent took on my mother — how she struggled at times to the pay bills; to give us the things that other kids had; to play all the roles that both parents are supposed to play. And I know the toll it took on me, not having a father in the house, the hole in your heart, when you don’t have a male figure in the home that can guide you and lead you and set a good example for you. So I resolved many years ago that it was my obligation to break the cycle – that if I could do anything in life, I would be a good father to my children; that if I could do anything, I would give them that rock – that foundation – on which to build their lives. And that would be the greatest gift I could offer them.” June 15, 2008.
$4 trillion debt unpatriotic. “The problem is that the way Bush has done it in the last eight years is to take out a credit card from the Bank of China in the name of our children, driving up our national debt from $5 trillion from the first 42 presidents. No. 43 added $4 trillion by his lonesome. So we now have over $9 trillion of debt that we are going to have to pay back. $30,000 for every man woman and child. That’s irresponsible. That’s unpatriotic.” July 3, 2008.
I’ll leave Iraq ‘carefully.’ “To achieve that success, I will give our military a new mission on my first day in office: ending this war. Let me be clear: we must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in.” July 14, 2008.
Afghanistan war must be won. “As President, I will make the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban the top priority that it should be. This is a war that we have to win.” July 14, 2008.
Iraq surge worked beyond dreams. “The surge has succeeded in ways that nobody had anticipated, by the way, including President Bush and some of its other supporters. It has gone very well. … I’ve already said it’s succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.” Sept. 4, 2008.
No more secrecy. “When I am president, meetings where laws are written will be more open to the public. No more secrecy. That’s a commitment I make to you as president. When there is a bill that ends up on my desk as President, you will have five days to look online and find out what's in it before I sign it.” Sept. 22, 2008.
We can’t ignore genocide. “When genocide is happening, when ethnic cleansing is happening … and we stand idly by, that diminishes us.” Oct. 7, 2008.
Balance new spending with cuts. “I’m a proponent of pay-as-you-go. Every dollar that I’ve proposed, I’ve proposed an additional cut, so that it matches.” Oct. 15, 2008.
I’m better than my staff. “I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.” November 2008.
Projects are shovel-ready. “We’ve got shovel-ready projects all across the country that governors and mayors are pleading to fund. And the minute we can get those investments to the state level, jobs are going to be created.” Dec. 15, 2008.
No kicking the debt can. “What we have done is kicked this can down the road. We are now at the end of the road and are not in a position to kick it any further. We have to signal seriousness in this by making sure some of the hard decisions are made under my watch, not someone else’s.” Jan. 15, 2009.
QUOTATIONS AS PRESIDENT.
‘American exceptionalism’ has limits. “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. I’m enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world. If you think about the site of this [NATO] summit [in France] and what it means, I don’t think America should be embarrassed to see evidence of the sacrifices of our troops, the enormous amount of resources that were put into Europe postwar, and our leadership in crafting an Alliance that ultimately led to the unification of Europe. We should take great pride in that. And if you think of our current situation, the United States remains the largest economy in the world. We have unmatched military capability. And I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional. Now, the fact that I am very proud of my country and I think that we’ve got a whole lot to offer the world does not lessen my interest in recognizing the value and wonderful qualities of other countries.” April 4, 2009.
Keep your health plan. “If you like your private health insurance plan, you keep your plan, period.” Aug. 21, 2009. He made similar statements at least 36 times. More than 1 million Americans lost their plans and had to pay more for a new plan.
You can keep your doctor. “No matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise to the American people: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.” June 15, 2009.
An IRS audit will teach foes. “President [Michael] Crowe and the Board of Regents will soon learn all about being audited by the IRS.” May 13, 2009, joking about Arizona State University’s refusal to give Obama an honorary doctorate.
‘Tea-baggers’ opposed ‘stimulus.’ That [the Republicans’ vote against his "stimulus" borrowing and spending plan] helped to create the tea-baggers and empowered that whole wing of the Republican Party to where it now controls the agenda for the Republicans.” Nov. 30, 2009.
Not ‘lie’ that health bill excludes illegals. “There are also those who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false. The reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.” Sept. 9, 2009, in an address to Congress on proposed health care reform. The statement prompted U.S. Rep. Addison “Joe” Wilson to shout, “You lie, you lie!” And Obama replied, “That’s not true.”
Law will cut health costs. “Everybody who’s looked at it says that every single good idea to bend the cost curve and start actually reducing health care costs are in this bill…. This is paid for and will not add a dime to the deficit. It will reduce the deficit.” March 20, 2010.
Some people have made ‘enough money.’ “I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money.” April 28, 2010.
Solyndra for prosperity. “It’s here that companies like Solyndra are leading the way toward a brighter and more prosperous future.” May 26, 2010. A year later, Solyndra, a maker of solar panels, defaulted on its $535 million government loan, laid off 1,100 workers and closed.
U.S. can ‘absorb’ another terror attack. “We can absorb a terrorist attack. We'll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever . . . we absorbed it and we are stronger.” July 2010.
Republicans take back seat. “We don’t mind the Republicans joining us. They can come for the ride, but they got to sit in back [of the car].” Oct. 25, 2010.
‘Can't drill our way’ out of costly gas. “We can’t just drill our way out of the problem [of rising gasoline prices, which were averaging $3.98 a gallon]. If we’re serious about addressing our energy problems, we’re going to have to do more than drill.” May 6, 2011.
Border fence is complete. “The fence is now basically complete.” May 10, 2011, five years after Congress passed a law to build a double-layer fence. Just 36.3 miles of the 652-mile fence really was complete.
Projects weren’t shovel-ready. “Shovel-ready was not as shovel-ready as we expected.” June 13, 2011.
Time for Assad to go. “The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way. His calls for dialogue and reform have rung hollow while he is imprisoning, torturing, and slaughtering his own people. … For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.” Aug. 18, 2011.
‘I’m really good at killing people.’ “Turns out I’m really good at killing people. Didn’t know that was gonna be a strong suit of mine.” early October 2011, on news of the Sept. 30, 2011, U.S. drone strike in Yemen that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, whose 16-year-old son Abdulrahman, an American, was killed by another drone two weeks later.
Iraq is stable, self-reliant. “We’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq with a representative government that was elected by its people. We’re building a new partnership between our nations. And we are ending a war not with a final battle, but with a final march toward home. This is an extraordinary achievement, nearly nine years in the making.” Dec. 14, 2011, as he announced the withdrawal of the last U.S. combat troops from Iraq.
Same-sex marriage is OK. “I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.” May 9, 2012.
Red line for Assad. “We have been very clear to the Assad regime … that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” Aug. 20, 2012.
I ended the Iraq war. “Four years ago I promised to end the war in Iraq. We did.” Sept. 8, 2012.
Mustn’t slander Islam's prophet. “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam,” Sept. 25, 2012, two weeks after four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, were killed in a terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. The Obama administration said the Sept. 11, 2012, attack was the unpredictable reaction to a video making fun of Muhammed.
Russia flexibility vow. “This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility” to abandon missile defense for eastern Europe, he says to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, in remarks accidentally heard over an open microphone, March 26, 2012.
Iraq 2011 pullout wasn’t ‘tragic.’ “FACT: President Obama kept his promise to end the war in Iraq. Romney called the decision to bring our troops home “tragic.” — Barack Obama (@BarackObama)” On Twitter, Oct. 22, 2012.
‘I ended’ the Iraq war. “You know I say what I mean and I mean what I say. I said I’d end the war in Iraq. I ended it.” Nov. 4, 2012.
‘Absurd’ not to raise debt ceiling over $16.4 trillion. “To even entertain the idea of this happening, of the United States of America not paying its bills, is irresponsible. It’s absurd. The full faith and credit of the United States of America is not a bargaining chip. The issue here is whether America pays its bills.” Jan. 14, 2013, as Congress threatened that, unless the president agreed to a spending reduction plan, it would reject Obama’s proposal to raise the national debt limit above $16.4 trillion. In February 2014, Congress did raise the debt ceiling to $17.2 trillion, and the borrowing and spending continued. In March 2015, the ceiling was raised to $18.1 trillion, allowing even more debt, never paying the government’s bills with a balanced budget. (See the July 3, 2008, quote by Senator Obama.)
‘Peace in our time’ from tolerance and justice. “And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice -- not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice.” Jan. 20, 2013.
‘Most transparent administration.’ “This is the most transparent administration in history. I can document that this is the case. Every visitor that comes into the White House is now part of the record. Just about every law that we pass and rule that we implement we put online for everyone to see.” Feb. 14, 2013.
Cynics accomplish the least. “The cynics may be the loudest voices -- but I promise you, they will accomplish the least.” May 5, 2013.
IRS targeting of conservatives ‘inexcusable.’ "I've reviewed the Treasury Department watchdog's report, and the misconduct that it uncovered was inexcusable. It's inexcusable, and Americans are right to be angry about it, and I'm angry about it." May 15, 2013, as he announced the resignation of interim IRS Commissioner Steven Miller.
Congress, courts, safeguards protect Americans from U.S. spying. “What the intelligence community is doing is looking at phone numbers and durations of calls. They are not looking at people’s names and they are not looking at content. But, by sifting through this so-called metadata, they may identify potential leads with respect to folks who might engage in terrorism. … With respect to the Internet and emails, this does not apply to U.S. citizens and it does not apply to people living in the United States. And again in this instance, not only is Congress fully appraised of it, but what is also true is that the FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] court has to authorize it. … What you’ve got is two programs that were originally authorized by Congress, had been repeatedly authorized by Congress; bipartisan majorities have approved of them – Congress is continually briefed on how they are conducted. There is a whole range of safeguards involved, and federal judges are overseeing the entire program throughout. … In the abstract you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a potential program run amok, but when you actually look at the details then I think we’ve struck the right balance.” June 7, 2013
Inaction on Syria is bad signal. “It’s important for us to recognize that when over 1,000 people are killed, including hundreds of innocent children, through the use of a weapon that 98 or 99 percent of humanity says should not be used even in war, and there is no action, then we’re sending a signal that that international norm doesn’t mean much. And that is a danger to our national security.” Aug. 30, 2013.
‘I didn’t set a red line’ on Syria. “First of all, I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line. The world set a red line when governments representing 98 percent of the world's population said the use of chemical weapons are abhorrent and passed a treaty forbidding their use, even when countries are engaged in war. Congress set a red line when it ratified that treaty.” Sept. 4, 2013.
Congress should not authorize Syria attack now. “In part because of the credible threat of U.S. military action, as well as constructive talks that I had with President Putin, the Russian government has indicated a willingness to join with the international community in pushing Assad to give up his chemical weapons. … I have, therefore, asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path.” Sept. 10, 2013, as Congress prepared to vote for a strike on Syria.
Want change? 'Win an election.' "You don't like a particular policy or a particular president? Then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election. Push to change it. But don't break it. Don't break what our predecessors spent over two centuries building. That's not being faithful to what this country's about." Oct. 17, 2013.
Take Mandela seriously. “There are too many of us on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.” Dec. 10, 2013.
ISIS is JV team. “The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.” Jan. 4, 2014, dismissing the threat of ISIS, which had just captured Fallujah in Iraq.
Not going to wait for laws. “We are not just going to be waiting for legislation in order to make sure that we’re providing Americans the kind of help that they need. I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone. And I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions.” Jan. 14, 2014.
Spy agencies protect privacy. “Everybody that I've dealt with in our intelligence community is really working hard to try to do a very tough job to protect us when there are constant threat streams coming at us, but doing so in a way that's consistent with the law and is consistent with our constitution and consistent with our privacy rights.” Jan. 31, 2014.
No IRS corruption. “Not even mass corruption -- not even a smidgen of corruption” in the IRS, which illegally delayed applications of conservative and independent political groups that sought IRS approval. Feb. 2, 2014.
Russia’s Ukraine invasion on ‘wrong side of history.’ “I think the world is largely united in recognizing that the steps Russia has taken are a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, Ukraine’s territorial integrity, that they’re a violation of international law. I think the strong condemnation that it has received from countries around the world indicates the degree to which Russia is on the wrong side of history on this.” March 3, 2014.
ISIS not going to cut off heads in U.S. “They’re not coming here to chop our heads off.” Speaking to Valerie Jarrett in summer 2014, when ISIS was cutting off heads in Syria.
Leaving Iraq in 2011 wasn’t my decision. “What I just find interesting is the degree to which this issue keeps on coming up, as if this was my decision.” Aug. 9, 2014, with ISIS holding at least a quarter of Iraq’s territory.
We have to destroy ISIS. “Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy.” Sept. 10, 2014.
Remember Crusades and slavery ‘in the name of Christ.’ “We … see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge -- or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon. … And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.” Feb. 5, 2015.
Blame me if Iran gets bomb. “Look, 20 years from now, I’m still going to be around, God willing. If Iran has a nuclear weapon, it’s my name on this,” talking about pending Iran nuclear deal. May 21, 2015.
Listen and argue, don’t silence. “I’ve heard of some college campuses where they don’t want to have a guest speaker who is too conservative or they don’t want to read a book if it has language that is offensive to African-Americans or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women. I’ve got to tell you I don’t agree with that. I don’t agree that when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view. Anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with them. But you shouldn’t silence them by saying, you can’t come because I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say. That’s not the way we learn.” Sept. 14, 2015.
Russia needs ‘consequences’ for Ukraine invasion. “We cannot stand by when the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation is violated. If it happens without consequences in Ukraine, it can happen to any nation here today.” Sept. 28, 2015, at the United Nations, six months after Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
Left power vacuum in Libya. “Even as we helped the Libyan people bring an end to the reign of a tyrant, our coalition could have and should have done more to fill a vacuum left behind.” Sept. 28, 2015.
Syria slaughter is against humanity. “Nowhere is our commitment to international order more tested than in Syria. When a dictator slaughters tens of thousands of his own people, that is not just a matter of one nation’s internal affairs -- it breeds human suffering on an order of magnitude that affects us all.” Sept. 28, 2015.
We have contained ISIS. “I don’t think they’re gaining strength. What is true is that from the start, our goal has been first to contain, and we have contained them.” Nov. 12, 2015, speaking of ISIS, which the very next day carried out an attack that killed 130 and injured 350 in Paris, France.
U.S. has unparalleled mass shootings. “The one thing we do know is that we have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world, and there’s some steps we could take, not to eliminate every one of these mass shootings, but to improve the odds that they don’t happen as frequently, commonsense gun-safety laws, stronger background checks and, you know, for those who are concerned about terrorism of, you know, some may be aware of the fact that we have a no fly list where people can’t get on planes but those same people who we don’t allow to fly could go into a store right now in the United States and buy a firearm and there’s nothing that we can do to stop them…. We should never think that this is something that just happens in the ordinary course of events, because it doesn't happen with the same frequency in other countries.” Dec. 2, 2015, after 14 were killed in a mass shooting at a health workers’ party in San Bernardino, Calif.
We will destroy ISIS. “We will destroy ISIL and any other organization that tries to harm us.” Dec. 6, 2015.
Iran won’t get nuclear bomb. “Under the nuclear deal that we, our allies and partners reached with Iran last year, Iran will not get its hands on a nuclear bomb.” Jan. 17, 2016.
Libya failure is Europe’s fault. “I had more faith in the Europeans, given Libya’s proximity, being invested in the follow-up. We actually executed this plan as well as I could have expected. … And despite all that, Libya is a mess … a shit show.” Early March 2016.
Need for Middle East smart autocrats. “All I need in the Middle East is a few smart autocrats.” Joking, early March 2016.
U.S. ‘a force for good.’ “For all of our warts, the United States has clearly been a force for good in the world. If you compare us to previous superpowers, we act less on the basis of naked self-interest, and have been interested in establishing norms that benefit everyone. If it is possible to do good at a bearable cost, to save lives, we will do it.” Early March 2016.
Cuba should consider democracy. “Cuba has a one-party system; the United States is a multi-party democracy. Cuba has a socialist economic model; the United States is an open market. Cuba has emphasized the role and rights of the state; the United States is founded upon the rights of the individual. … So let me tell you what I believe. I believe that every person should be equal under the law. Every child deserves the dignity that comes with education, and health care and food on the table and a roof over their heads. I believe citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear, to organize, and to criticize their government, and to protest peacefully, and that the rule of law should not include arbitrary detentions of people who exercise those rights. … And, yes, I believe voters should be able to choose their governments in free and democratic elections. Not everybody agrees with me on this. Not everybody agrees with the American people on this. But I believe those human rights are universal. I believe they are the rights of the American people, the Cuban people, and people around the world.” March 22, 2016.
Hillary Clinton knows stuff. "She's not always flashy. And there are better speech makers. But she knows her stuff." July 22, 2016.
U.S. elections can’t be rigged. “If whenever things are going badly for you and you lose, you start blaming somebody else, then you don’t have what it takes to be in this job [the presidency]. There is no serious person out there who would suggest somehow that you could even rig America’s elections.” Oct. 18, 2016
I ‘have not had a major scandal.’ “Here’s a guy who called my administration perhaps the most corrupt in history, despite the fact that actually, we have not had a major scandal in my administration." Oct. 23, 2016, speaking of U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who investigated Obama's IRS obstruction against non-Democrats trying to organize political groups; the VA's falsified documents covering up how it allowed military veterans to die without care; the coverup of the Democrats' principal role in wrecking the economy with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's unsound home-loan standards; the failure to save four Americans under attack for hours in Benghazi, Libya, and the dishonesty about the 2012 incident; the State Department's bribe-seeking machine run by Hillary Clinton and the deleted emails to cover up how she used her influence as Secretary of State to squeeze contributions to her Clinton Foundation; Obama’s June 2009 firing of an inspector general, Gerald Walpin, for investigating charges that an Obama supporter had siphoned $800,000 in federal AmeriCorps grants to pay for political activity and used some of the cash as hush money to cover up sex-abuse allegations by three students; the Fast and Furious sting operation that put guns in the hands of Mexican drug dealers, the 150 deaths in Mexico caused by those guns, the Dec. 14, 2010, death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry by one of those guns in Arizona, and the coverup for which Attorney General Eric Holder on June 28, 2012, was found in contempt of Congress; the ACORN community organization's voter registration fraud in the 2008 election, and the Justice Department's tepid response to it; the deceptive way the Affordable Care Act was passed with the false promises that no one would have to switch health plans, that it would pay for itself and that average health insurance prices would fall; the IRS letter, found 'misleading' by an inspector general, that told 7.5 million Americans in late 2016 and January 2017 that they should sign up for Obamacare because it would cost less than $75 a month, when it actually cost them an average $168 a month; the Environmental Protection Agency’s inexplicable seven-month delay, despite having the information and authority to act from June 2015 to Jan. 21, 2016, in issuing an emergency order to protect residents of Flint, Mich., from lead-tainted drinking water from the Flint River; the Aug. 5, 2015 release by an EPA “cleanup crew” of 3 million gallons of toxic mine waste, including lead, arsenic and mercury, into the Animas River in Colorado and the San Juan River in New Mexico and Utah, and the nearly two-day delay in notifying Navajos and others who used the polluted water for farming; the drone strikes that, without legal due process, targeted and killed American Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in 2011 and inadvertently killed six other Americans overseas from 2011 to 2015; the Solyndra Inc. campaign donations that led to a $535 million federal "stimulus" loan for the solar panel company that promptly went bankrupt and laid off its 1,100 workers; the release of five Taliban terrorists from Guantanamo in exchange for the Taliban’s release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a 2009 Afghan war deserter whom Obama’s National Security Advisor Susan Rice falsely claimed served “with honor and distinction”; the secret 2016 payoffs sent to Iran in three planes carrying $1.3 billion in cash; the Justice Department's telling a court that Fox News reporter James Rosen was a potential criminal conspirator under the Espionage Act as the FBI spied on Rosen to find out where he got his facts for a 2009 story on North Korea; the DOJ's 2013 subpoenas of two months of phone records of 20 Associated Press reporters; the CIA's spying on a central computer network of Congress in 2014; the NSA's "institutional lack of candor" in illegally invading the privacy of Americans by ignoring promised safeguards in the surveillance of foreigners' phone calls from 2011 to 2016; the Justice Department lawyers’ 2015 falsehoods, assuring a federal court that Obama had halted a plan to allow extended benefits to certain unlawful immigrants when, in fact, Obama was signing up 108,000 illegal immigrants for those benefits at that time; U.N. Ambassador Samantha Powers' Watergate-style illegal unmasking, from intelligence agencies' secret phone data files, of the names of dozens of Trump associates in order to let the Democrats spy on Republicans during the 2016 presidential campaign; the Oct. 21, 2016, submission by the FBI and Justice Department of the Christopher Steele-produced dossier, which was a document of dubious allegations paid for by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee, to a FISA court to obtain a warrant for secret electronic surveillance of Republican Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign; the failure of the FBI and Justice Department to tell the FISA court that the Steele dossier was paid for by Hillary Clinton and the Democrats, who had an unusually strong political motive to produce slanted or false information about the Trump campaign; among other scandals.
Trump’s victory part of ‘zig zag’ of history. “Now, everybody is sad when their side loses an election. But the day after, we have to remember that we’re actually all on one team. This is an intramural scrimmage. We’re not Democrats first. We’re not Republicans first. We are Americans first. We’re patriots first. We all want what’s best for this country.
“That’s what I heard in Mr. Trump’s remarks last night. That’s what I heard when I spoke to him directly. And I was heartened by that. That’s what the country needs ― a sense of unity; a sense of inclusion; a respect for our institutions, our way of life, rule of law; and a respect for each other. I hope that he maintains that spirit throughout this transition, and I certainly hope that’s how his presidency has a chance to begin. …
“So this was a long and hard-fought campaign. A lot of our fellow Americans are exultant today. A lot of Americans are less so. But that’s the nature of campaigns. That’s the nature of democracy. It is hard, and sometimes contentious and noisy, and it’s not always inspiring. …
“Sometimes you lose an argument. Sometimes you lose an election. The path that this country has taken has never been a straight line. We zig and zag, and sometimes we move in ways that some people think is forward and others think is moving back. And that’s OK. I’ve lost elections before. …
“That’s the way politics works sometimes. We try really hard to persuade people that we’re right. And then people vote. And then if we lose, we learn from our mistakes, we do some reflection, we lick our wounds, we brush ourselves off, we get back in the arena. We go at it. We try even harder the next time.
“The point, though, is, is that we all go forward, with a presumption of good faith in our fellow citizens ― because that presumption of good faith is essential to a vibrant and functioning democracy. That’s how this country has moved forward for 240 years. It’s how we’ve pushed boundaries and promoted freedom around the world. That’s how we’ve expanded the rights of our founding to reach all of our citizens. It’s how we have come this far.” Nov. 9, 2016.
Cuban refugees must return to slavery. “Effective immediately, Cuban nationals who attempt to enter the United States illegally and do not qualify for humanitarian relief will be subject to removal. By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries.” Jan. 12, 2017, ordering that Cuban refugees, fleeing the only country in the Western Hemisphere to have had no free speech and free elections in more than half a century, be sent back to the Communist police state.
Racialism against whites is wrong, too. “Madiba [Nelson Mandela] understood that we can’t say we’ve got a just society simply because we replaced the color of the person on top of an unjust system, so the person looks like us even though they’re doing the same stuff, and somehow now we’ve got justice. That doesn’t work. It’s not justice if now you’re on top, so I’m going to do the same thing that those folks were doing to me and now I’m going to do it to you. That's not justice. ‘I detest racialism,’ he said, ‘whether it comes from a black man or a white man.’ ... You notice, the people who you think are smart are the people who agree with you. Funny how that works. But democracy demands that we're able also to get inside the reality of people who are different than us so we can understand their point of view. Maybe we can change their minds, but maybe they’ll change ours. And you can’t do this if you just out of hand disregard what your opponents have to say from the start. And you can’t do it if you insist that those who aren't like you -- because they’re white, or because they’re male -- that somehow there's no way they can understand what I’m feeling, that somehow they lack standing to speak on certain matters.” July 17, 2018.
Trump could condemn Nazis. “How hard can that be? Saying that Nazis are bad.” Sept. 7, 2018.
It wasn’t enough that Fidel Castro’s socialism impoverished and imprisoned Cuba for more than a half century.
It wasn’t enough that Hugo Chavez, Castro’s ally in Venezuela, tried but failed to prop up the Cuban socialist hell and then created a Venezuelan socialist hell.
It wasn’t enough that Castro dismissed his own socialist health-care system when he took ill in 2006 and called in a doctor from Spain to save him.
'Caravan of liberty.' But this weekend, the official socialist Cuban jeep-like vehicle pulling Castro’s ashes broke down in the socialist’s memorial procession.
After a final farewell early in the week at Havana’s Revolutionary Square, the former president’s remains, placed in a small, glass-encased casket, began moving east in a cross-country cortege through towns, cities and listless countryside. The state called it “The Caravan of Liberty,” the same name the guerrillas called the journey they made from Santiago to Havana to topple the Batista regime in 1959.
It didn’t all go well despite the state’s attention to details: at one point, soldiers were forced to push the jeep towing the remains when it broke down, fitting for a country where vehicles creak along.
There’s a pattern to all of this, but socialists never seem to catch on.
No real caravan of liberty is led by a socialist vehicle.
* * *
With the death of Cuba dictator Fidel Castro, his 11 million slaves finally have a chance to claim the freedom that is their right.
Just yesterday, I said I wanted to return to Cuba when it is free. I think that day of liberation is coming soon.
* * *
My Oct. 3, 1999, news article on a visit to Cuba in May of that year:
Leaning against Havana's sea wall on a muggy, moonlit night, a bicycle taxi driver sums up his politics.
"Fidel Castro eats well," the Cuban tells us American visitors in Spanish. "We don't eat well."
The driver is a thin man, about 30 years old. In a nation of pesos, where U.S. dollars buy the best food, almost everyone is thin.
The man's three-wheel vehicle is parked at the curb on the Malecon, the city's promenade along the restless Florida Straits. Dark waters pound the rocks beyond the wall.
"What about the U.S. economic blockade, the bloqueo?" one of us asks. "Isn't that hurting Cuba?"
"Bloqueo, bloqueo, blah, blah, blah," the driver answers. Cuba's problem isn't the blockade, he says. It's Castro, the island's dictator since 1959.
The conversation surprises us, both for the depth of this Cuban's anger and for his readiness to complain about Castro to total strangers.
It is one of many surprises Cuba has for American tourists who, despite U.S. travel restrictions, are visiting the Caribbean island in growing numbers every year.
During this visit in May, I was struck first by the nation's poverty. The average Cuban makes the equivalent of $10 a month. Everything from toilet paper to medicine is in short supply.
Yet I was enchanted by the history and beauty of the land, the classic American cars driving ancient cobbled streets, and the friendliness of the Cuban people. And every step of the way, I was intrigued by the politics of Fidel Castro.
I traveled in a group of eight -- four from California, two from New England, one from Michigan and me from Pennsylvania -- who went to Cuba with Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based travel agency that regularly takes Americans to third-world nations.
We flew in through Cancun, Mexico. U.S. law doesn't allow tourists to fly directly from the United States to Cuba.
In our 10-day tour, we saw the cities of Havana and Matanzas. Our two government-approved guides took us to clinics, museums, schools and agencies of the Communist Party. We also were allowed to look around on our own.
* * *
In Havana, we woke up to roosters crowing among the homes and palm trees around our hotel, the Kohly, just west of the Almendares River. Then we took a tour bus eastward into the light traffic of Central Havana.
We passed smoke-belching motorcycles, Cameo buses packed full of commuters and compact cars made in the former Soviet Union. The Chevys, Dodges and Pontiacs of the 1950s were rolling along, too. They accounted for about one-fifth of the traffic and nine-tenths of the chrome.
In Old Havana, we strolled the narrow Spanish Colonial streets. Here was a treasure of handsome buildings, many with iron balconies, colorful awnings and terra-cotta roofs. Graceful as they were, most of the structures were in desperate need of a coat of paint.
At Cathedral Square, we found the Catedral de Habana. Crowds filed in to admire its baroque swirls, massive doors and two bell towers, one famously thinner and taller than its pair. On the other side of the plaza, a guitarist and a violinist played "Guantanamera." They played it all day, every day.
Around the corner, we stopped at O'Reilly's tavern, where we debated NATO involvement in Kosovo.
Joseph Mutti, our British-born tour guide, declared that Yugoslavia never engaged in ethnic cleansing. The Kosovo Liberation Army, not the Serbs, started the killing, he said.
Mutti had moved to Havana a year earlier for what he called "political reasons." The Cuban government hired him to be an English-language news reporter on Radio Havana, from which he now broadcast the anti-NATO viewpoint.
To most of us, Mutti's position seemed extreme. "What about the mass graves?" we asked. "You don't know there are mass graves," he said.
"What about the Serb army raping Kosovar women?" "All armies rape," he said.
The argument was fueled by our mojitos, the mixed rum drinks that were a favorite of former Cuban resident Ernest Hemingway.
No topic was off limits during our tour, but occasionally we held our tongues.
At dinner, Mutti commented on the four Cuban dissidents who were sentenced March 15 to 3-1/2 to 5 years in prison. The members of the Internal Dissident Working Group had disputed the Cuban Communist Party's version of history and called for free elections.
"I agree with jailing them," Mutti said, "but not for such long sentences." He said the timing of their trial was bad, just before a meeting of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. On April 23, the commission voted to demand an end to human rights abuses in Cuba.
None of us said anything to challenge Mutti's support for jailing democrats. Instead, we told ourselves we were in Cuba to listen, or we were trying to be polite, or perhaps we were thinking about where those dissidents went.
Mutti assured us that, after Castro leaves power, "Nothing will change; the Revolution has been built over 40 years." I doubt any of us believed him, but again we were silent.
On the porch of a Havana mansion owned long ago by a sugar millionaire, we met with Eduardo, a retired Communist economist who didn't give his last name. Eduardo said Castro has given tourism the highest priority since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
"Tourism has advantages. We can sell Cuban products without them ever leaving the country," he said. Already, tourism is Cuba's top industry, he told us. It brings in $2 billion a year -- far more cash than sugar, tobacco or nickel.
Cuba has had international aid to develop its tourism. Last year, Canada built the sprawling, modern Jose Marti Airport in Havana. Other foreign investors are lining up to build ocean-front hotels.
Eduardo noted that, in each of these deals, Cuban laborers must do the actual construction. The investors pay the Cuban government in dollars, and the Cuban government pays the laborers in pesos. Of course, the workers would rather have U.S. currency.
Cubans have been allowed to accept dollars since Castro legalized their circulation in 1993, but in most homes the coveted greenbacks remain scarce. Tourists are the only regular source of dollars -- as we could tell.
Everywhere we went, Cubans encouraged us to spend. What for us seemed a few dollars here and there for a meal, a ride, a trinket or a tip could amount quickly to several months' pay in Cuba. And some enterprising Cubans were making small fortunes.
Virginia Kohfeld of Santa Monica, Calif., asked Mutti whether Cuba's emphasis on tourism is creating two classes of Cubans, the rich and the poor. She saw similarities to the conditions that brought down former dictator Fulgencio Batista.
"Isn't it like Batista, when Cuba became the playground for the rich? Why wouldn't there be another revolution?" she questioned.
The situation is completely different, Mutti insisted. The Cuban people understand why their government is trying to attract dollars. Tourism helps pay for the free health care and free education so popular in Cuba.
Mutti denied that Cuba enforces a "tourism apartheid," keeping average Cubans away from the hotels and beaches where foreign tourists frolic. But official policy or not, most Cubans don't use those hotels and beaches. They simply can't afford them.
* * *
The divide between tourists and Cubans became starkly clear the night of May 3, when the Cuban national baseball team played the Baltimore Orioles in Baltimore.
Kohfeld, her husband, Jim, and I went to the Casa Che, a Havana boardinghouse, to join about 10 Cubans watching the game on television. With them, we enjoyed some beisbol heroics, then headed back to our hotel.
The game was still going as we walked in the dark. Through open windows and doorways along the streets, we could see the families of Havana huddled around their TV sets. From the nearby high-rises, we heard the happy voice of the Cuban play-by-play announcer.
Then we heard the distant thump-thump-thump of music. The beat grew louder as we continued on. Finally, we discovered that the offensively loud music was coming from the walled-off outdoor dance area at our own hotel.
It was Cher's recent hit song, "Believe."
All of Havana was watching the game. The Kohly Hotel was blaring Cher for tourists.
* * *
The Cubans were so friendly I began to imagine I could speak Spanish. Even away from our translators, it was never difficult to communicate.
One Havana family invited me to their apartment for a cup of black Cuban coffee. We were strangers, and yet we managed a wonderful conversation. I knew some Spanish verbs. That helped.
In fact, Cubans have many things in common with Americans. With its eternal summer, Cuba has baseball all year. On TV, they watch American movies with subtitles.
The children are well aware of U.S. culture. Many wore T-shirts of "The Simpsons" and the Los Angeles Lakers. At the Corynthia Elementary School in Matanzas, a girl dressed as Princess Jasmine and a boy as Aladdin sang a Spanish-language version of the Disney song "A Whole New World" for us.
* * *
In Matanzas, we saw some of Cuba's strengths and shortcomings up close. This city 50 miles east of Havana had doctors and dancers aplenty, but some basics of modern life seemed scarce.
While the city had an abundance, perhaps a surplus, of physicians, the healers we met had few supplies to work with. At a neighborhood emergency clinic, the doctors told us they had a severe shortage of antibiotics, high blood pressure medicine and birth-control pills. They also had aging X-ray equipment and little X-ray film.
But the doctors said they live in the neighborhoods they serve. They seemed to have a good rapport with their patients.
At a clinic for alternative medicine, magnets seemed the treatment of choice.
In one room, a doctor showed us two women lying on tables. One woman had a metal device the size of a toaster on her chest. The other had a similar device on her lower back. The magnets relieve pain, the doctor explained. In a hallway, lunchbox-size magnetic arches sat on the floor. On one, an elderly woman rested her aching feet.
The clinic also offered sonic therapy, light therapy, mud therapy, herbs, tai chi, nutrition counseling and psychological counseling.
At Matanzas' Teatro Sauto, we enjoyed excellent ballet in a sweltering hall. The 19th century theater had no air conditioning, at least none that worked. And there wasn't a single electric fan anywhere.
For us tourists, the performance cost $6 a seat. The Cubans paid 2 pesos, about 10 cents. The sticky heat was free.
But the theater itself was a work of magic -- its gilded ceiling decorated with images of the nine Greek muses, its stage high and deep, its acoustics quite fine. One look at the Cuban women flapping fancy hand fans in the balconies, and we were transported back 100 years.
The dancers, all local, were marvelously well-trained, and the crowd seemed to have a sophisticated appreciation of their performance.
At intermission, I went to the men's room. I discovered that public toilets in Cuba have neither toilet seats nor toilet paper. Guests are expected to carry their own stash of tissue.
Despite the ubiquitous billboards declaring "Viva La Revolucion" and "Patria O Muerte" (Our Country or Death), the Cubans we met were short on fervor for Castro's political and economic system.
Officials at the Union of Artists and Writers told us that Cuban artists expressed affection for the Revolution in the early years, but they've avoided the subject lately. Now artists talk more about themselves and the problems of the individual.
At the Young Communists League, a woman described how League members come up with new inspirational slogans every year. The organization seemed out of its era. Castro is 73, and the Revolution is old and tired.
For their part, the Cuban people are generally optimistic. At times, they grumble. The Havana bicycle taxi driver wasn't the only malcontent we heard. But most Cubans look forward to something better. Many study English.
In the Cuevos de Bellamar, caverns just outside Matanzas, Jesus, the cave guide, told us he learned English by listening to "American Top 40" radio announcer Casey Kasem, beamed in from Miami.
Jesus even quoted Kasem's motto: "Keep your feet on the ground, and reach for the stars!" The words echoed off the stalactites and stalagmites.
That was the ultimate in optimism -- a man in a cave speaking so hopefully of stars.
* * *
On one of our last mornings in Havana, we visited the National Museum of the Literacy Campaign. Dumpy and inconspicuous, it looks more like a convenience store than a national museum. But more than any other place we went, this little building revealed the heart, soul and musty dreams of the Cuban Revolution.
Its pamphlets, records, uniforms and thank-you letters tell the story of youngsters in 1961 traveling to remote mountains and valleys to teach farmers how to read and write. To Castro's opponents, these young tutors represented the enemy, and some were murdered, martyrs to the Revolution.
One of the slain teachers was a young man named Manuel Ascunce Domenech, a distant relative of our Cuban guide, Alberto Domenech. Manuel's picture appears in at least three prominent places in the museum.
Our tour bus driver, Francisco, was one of the thousands tutored during the literacy campaign. When a museum official heard this, he dug up an old record book, and Francisco proudly showed us, on a page that certified he could read, a 1961 photo of him as a 16-year-old.
Cubans still argue about how much of their population was literate before Castro's reign. Communists and dissidents have widely differing statistics on the number of Cubans Castro's teachers taught.
Whatever the true number, the Literacy Museum reflects the idealism and great expectations of so many Cubans two years after Batista fell.
The exhibits remind visitors of an inspired time, a time when Castro himself called for free elections. And 40 years into his dictatorship, the aging artifacts invite the question: What have you done for Cubans lately?
* * *
See also: "Castro and the magic billboard."
The Carmike movie theater chain is canceling its showings of the "The Interview," after defenders of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un hacked into Sony's computers and objected to the movie's insults of Kim and its fictional depiction of Kim's assassination.
Then, as threats were reported and investigators confirmed that North Korea is behind the Sony hacking, Sony canceled showing the movie at any theater, which was supposed to open Christmas Day.
The turn of events shows just how daring Charlie Chaplin was with "The Great Dictator" in 1940. How often do we see a motion picture mocking a living dictator?
Why did the Berlin Wall fall? It fell because Mikhail Gorbachev, dictator of the Communist Soviet Union, decided at his whim he would no longer use the Soviet Army to defend the puppet Communist dictatorships of Eastern Europe.
Several factors led to that decision, not the least of which was that it had become clear that communism was an atrocity never worth defending.
Europe really had been divided between West and East, free and unfree, since the Communists won the Russian Revolution in 1918. In spite of the mass murders, mass starvations and mass tortures applied to enforce Communism, the Soviet ideology of equality-for-all was attractive to simple-minded people the world round.
When Europe was separated along new lines with Germany’s defeat in World War II, millions of Europeans moved West to avoid Soviet Communist oppression. Many fled through West Berlin, which sat in the middle of East Germany, but was under the authority of the Americans and other democracies. The Soviets decided to plug the escape route.
What many didn’t realize about the Berlin Wall is that it didn’t simply separate free West Berlin from oppressed East Berlin; it surrounded West Berlin and separated it from all of East Germany -- from the whole world really.
John F. Kennedy was president of the United States when the wall was built. He chided the Communists for the project. "We have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in -- to prevent them from leaving us," he said in 1963. But he did not act against it.
For two decades, the United States government felt powerless to do anything about the Berlin Wall or the series of other Soviet-bloc walls and checkpoints that added up to the Iron Curtain dividing Europe. Since the Soviet Union’s acquisition of atomic weapons in 1949, any challenge to its oppression risked nuclear war.
Evil empire. But after the Soviet Army invaded Afghanistan to enforce Communist rule there in 1979, President Reagan, who took office in 1981, came up with a plan. He would help the Afghan mujahideen fight the Soviet invaders, stymieing Russian troops. In 1983, he would label the Soviet Union the “evil empire,” adding shame to their misery.
Then came the real stroke of luck. Soviet dictators started dying in rapid succession. They were old men.
Leonid Brezhnev died Nov. 10, 1982, after 18 years as Soviet dictator. Then Brezhnev’s replacement, Yuri Andropov, died Feb. 9, 1984, and Andropov’s successor, Konstantin Chernenko, died March 10, 1985.
All shook up. The rapid succession of dictators shook the Soviet bureaucracy at the once-unshakable Kremlin. Officials who had kept their jobs by making alliances and protecting other officials now had three or four chances to break their old bonds and start thinking for themselves.
This is when the Soviet Communists chose Mikhail Gorbachev as their new dictator. At age 54, he was young for a Soviet leader. The Soviets had their fourth ruler in less than three years.
Not only were the demoralized people of the Soviet Union yearning more than ever for something new in March 1985, Gorbachev himself would be open to new ideas.
Tear down this wall. Ronald Reagan quickly planted a few ideas. Dismantle the new Soviet nuclear-tipped missiles pointed at Western Europe, he urged the Communist. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” he said at the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987.
After a series of well-calculated negotiations, Reagan won Gorbachev's agreement to dispose of those missiles. On Dec. 8, 1987, Reagan and Gorbachev signed the first-ever treaty to reduce nuclear arsenals.
Meanwhile, the Afghan rebels, equipped with American anti-aircraft missiles, were bogging down the Russians long enough to make them wonder aloud why they were fighting for oppression. In April 1988, after 11,000 Soviet battlefield deaths, Gorbachev withdrew the last Soviet troops from Afghanistan.
On April 5, 1989, Gorbachev told the Communists in Poland to legalize the pro-democracy trade union Solidarity and to allow free parliamentary elections in June. Solidarity dominated the election results, and Lech Walesa became president a year later.
The free dictator. The Iron Curtain of Europe had been torn, not by an uprising, but by Gorbachev, the dictator in chief, responding to accumulating pressures from within and without Russia and acting -- much more freely than his predecessors -- on his own morality.
Testing the new politics, the East Germans demanded that their Communist puppet dictator Erich Honecker resign, and on Oct. 18, 1989, he did. On Nov. 9, 1989, a crowd of East Germans and West Germans converged on the Berlin Wall, where in 28 years 136 Germans had been shot to death trying to cross.
On this night on Nov. 9, 1989, some Germans climbed the Wall. Some danced on top of it. Many looked around for the Communist guards to shoot, or at least to chase them. The guards looked away. Then someone brought out a hammer and began pounding and cracking the concrete.
Wall down. The Berlin Wall was breached. East Germans walked West. West German walked East. Germans who had not seen one another in decades found one another and embraced. All of Germany was free.
George H.W. Bush was U.S. president at the time. His most important contribution was to say little, to avoid declaring "We won" for fear that boasting would offend Russian pride and change Gorbachev's mind.
A day after the Wall broke open, Todor Zhivkov, the Soviets’ puppet leader of Bulgaria, figured out the new rules. The Soviet Union no longer would protect him. Like the other puppets of Eastern Europe, he had no reliable police state of his own. Zhivkov resigned and Bulgaria was free.
In Rumania, civilians angry over years of repression stormed government buildings in Bucharest and quickly put dictator Nicolae Ceausescu on trial for crimes against the people. On Dec. 25, 1989, they executed Ceausescu and his wife.
Distorted view. To the romantics with visions of democrats storming the gates, Poland, East Germany, Bulgaria and Rumania looked like people rising up to overthrow their totalitarian dictators. But their real ruler was in Moscow, not in Warsaw, Berlin, Sofia or Bucharest. Gorbachev, their real ruler, already had acquiesced.
When the puppet dictators had Soviet protection, they could abuse their people. But now the puppets had no one to hold them up. Now they were defenseless.
On March 11, 1990, Lithuania declared independence from the Soviet Union. In the next year, with hardly a fight, Estonia, Latvia, Georgia, Ukraine and other former Soviet republics also would claim independence. Most took immediate steps toward democracy.
Evil empire dies. On June 12, 1991, Gorbachev allowed the first free elections in the history of Russia. Here, too, no uprising could claim credit. Boris Yeltsin was elected president and took office July 10.
The timing of Yeltsin’s election was especially fortunate because, as president, he was able to save Gorbachev from the Aug. 19-21 revolt of Communist Party hard-liners. Angry that Gorbachev’s reforms threatened their totalitarian careers, the hard-liners arrested Gorbachev in an attempt to reverse the liberalizations. Thanks to Yeltsin’s leadership, the coup failed, and Gorbachev was released.
As the Soviet Union’s republics and puppet states broke away one by one, and as Yeltsin’s democratic legitimacy eclipsed Gorbachev’s position, Gorbachev resigned on Dec. 25, 1991. The next day, the Soviet Union was dissolved. Its 73-year history of repression, aggression and 62 million (non-war-related) deaths was over.
Lesson of the wall. Gorbachev had freed the long-imprisoned masses of the Soviet Union, and its European and southwest Asian neighbors. But except in Afghanistan, where the rebels had substantial outside help, he never contended seriously with people who “rose up.”
That’s the real lesson of the Berlin Wall. Totalitarian empires don’t go down easily, particularly after they acquire nuclear weapons as the ultimate defense of their institutionalized oppression. Freedom is every human's right, but criminal regimes can deny it for whole lifetimes.
That wall would still be standing and Eastern Europe would remain a Communist prison if not for the combination of Reagan’s activism, the Soviet-Afghanistan war, the unusually quick turnover of Soviet leadership and, in the end, Gorbachev’s whim.
* * *
See also: Life after the end of history, by Ross Douthat.
President Barack Obama said at Fort Bragg on Dec. 14, 2011, that the United States was “leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people.”
Today, I’ve come to speak to you about the end of the war in Iraq. Over the last few months, the final work of leaving Iraq has been done. Dozens of bases with American names that housed thousands of American troops have been closed down or turned over to the Iraqis. Thousands of tons of equipment have been packed up and shipped out.Tomorrow, the colors of United States Forces-Iraq -- the colors you fought under -- will be formally cased in a ceremony in Baghdad. Then they’ll begin their journey across an ocean, back home. Over the last three years, nearly 150,000 U.S. troops have left Iraq. And over the next few days, a small group of American soldiers will begin the final march out of that country.Some of them are on their way back to Fort Bragg. As General Helmick said, “They know that the last tactical road march out of Iraq will be a symbol, and they’re going to be a part of history.” As your Commander-in-Chief, I can tell you that it will indeed be a part of history. Those last American troops will move south on desert sands, and then they will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high.One of the most extraordinary chapters in the history of the American military will come to an end. Iraq’s future will be in the hands of its people. America’s war in Iraq will be over. AUDIENCE: Hooah!THE PRESIDENT: Now, we knew this day would come. We’ve known it for some time. But still, there is something profound about the end of a war that has lasted so long. Now, nine years ago, American troops were preparing to deploy to the Persian Gulf and the possibility that they would be sent to war. Many of you were in grade school. I was a state senator. Many of the leaders now governing Iraq -- including the Prime Minister -- were living in exile.And since then, our efforts in Iraq have taken many twists and turns. It was a source of great controversy here at home, with patriots on both sides of the debate. But there was one constant -- there was one constant: your patriotism, your commitment to fulfill your mission, your abiding commitment to one another. That was constant. That did not change. That did not waiver.It’s harder to end a war than begin one. Indeed, everything that American troops have done in Iraq -– all the fighting and all the dying, the bleeding and the building, and the training and the partnering -– all of it has led to this moment of success.Now, Iraq is not a perfect place. It has many challenges ahead. But we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people. We’re building a new partnership between our nations. And we are ending a war not with a final battle, but with a final march toward home. This is an extraordinary achievement, nearly nine years in the making.And today, we remember everything that you did to make it possible. We remember the early days -– the American units that streaked across the sands and skies of Iraq; the battles from Karbala to Baghdad, American troops breaking the back of a brutal dictator in less than a month. We remember the grind of the insurgency -– the roadside bombs, the sniper fire, the suicide attacks. From the “triangle of death” to the fight for Ramadi; from Mosul in the north to Basra in the south -– your will proved stronger than the terror of those who tried to break it.We remember the specter of sectarian violence -– al Qaeda’s attacks on mosques and pilgrims, militias that carried out campaigns of intimidation and campaigns of assassination.And in the face of ancient divisions, you stood firm to help those Iraqis who put their faith in the future. We remember the surge and we remember the Awakening -– when the abyss of chaos turned toward the promise of reconciliation. By battling and building block by block in Baghdad, by bringing tribes into the fold and partnering with the Iraqi army and police, you helped turn the tide toward peace.And we remember the end of our combat mission and the emergence of a new dawn -– the precision of our efforts against al Qaeda in Iraq, the professionalism of the training of Iraqi security forces, and the steady drawdown of our forces. In handing over responsibility to the Iraqis, you preserved the gains of the last four years and made this day possible. Just last month, some of you -- members of the Falcon Brigade --AUDIENCE: Hooah!THE PRESIDENT: -- turned over the Anbar Operations Center to the Iraqis in the type of ceremony that has become commonplace over these last several months. In an area that was once the heart of the insurgency, a combination of fighting and training, politics and partnership brought the promise of peace.And here’s what the local Iraqi deputy governor said: “This is all because of the U.S. forces’ hard work and sacrifice.” That’s in the words of an Iraqi.Hard work and sacrifice. Those words only begin to describe the costs of this war and the courage of the men and women who fought it. We know too well the heavy cost of this war. More than 1.5 million Americans have served in Iraq -- 1.5 million. Over 30,000 Americans have been wounded, and those are only the wounds that show. Nearly 4,500 Americans made the ultimate sacrifice -- including 202 fallen heroes from here at Fort Bragg -- 202. So today, we pause to say a prayer for all those families who have lost their loved ones, for they are part of our broader American family. We grieve with them.We also know that these numbers don’t tell the full story of the Iraq war -– not even close. Our civilians have represented our country with skill and bravery. Our troops have served tour after tour of duty, with precious little dwell time in between. Our Guard and Reserve units stepped up with unprecedented service. You’ve endured dangerous foot patrols and you’ve endured the pain of seeing your friends and comrades fall.You’ve had to be more than soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen –- you’ve also had to be diplomats and development workers and trainers and peacemakers.Through all this, you have shown why the United States military is the finest fighting force in the history of the world.
Today, the U.S.-Iraq partnership looks like the U.S.-South Vietnam partnership of 1974 or the U.S.-Rwanda partnership of 1994. We're looking the other way.
You don't just unilaterally declare an end of a war. The forces of freedom have to back each victory by continuing to stand up against the tyrants and terrorists.
When Chinese art students designed the Goddess of Democracy for Tiananmen Square back in 1989, they said they wanted her to look different from the Statue of Liberty. They wanted the statue to represent China, not America.
France presented the Statue of Liberty to the United States in 1886 to recognize America’s place as a beacon of freedom to the world. One hundred and three years later, obviously, even the Chinese didn’t see China as a champion of liberty. Their Goddess had to say something else.
In New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty looks to the east, her right hand holding the torch of enlightenment high over her head. The flame is far from her eyes, and yet she knows what she carries -- freedom -- and she’s telling the world of its protective, creative and healing power. She is stepping ahead, crushing shackles in her path.
In tyranny’s face. In Tiananmen Square, the Goddess of Democracy faced north. She clasped her torch in two hands, not one. She held it out slightly forward, just above eye level and to her right. Her eyes looked ahead, the flame not far from her line of vision. Like the Statue of Liberty, the Goddess stepped forward.
In Beijing, perhaps accidentally, the Goddess of Democracy faced the traditional photograph of Mao Zedong on the Tiananmen Gate. It was as if freedom were confronting the tyrant. The Goddess held out the light of liberty as if to say, “Behold what we have been denied these many centuries.”
The Statue of Liberty celebrates the freedom the United States already has. The Goddess of Democracy celebrated freedom only as an ideal, a right yet to be claimed.
A lasting message. Today, the Goddess of Democracy has been gone from Tiananmen Square exactly 25 years. Yet the symbol represents the same ideal. All over the world, replicas of the original statue honor China’s most courageous democrats of June 4, 1989.
When she returns in grand form to a permanent place in Beijing, the Goddess of Democracy will say something different from what she said in 1989.
Towering above the Tiananmen Gate, that future Goddess will say, “We have our freedom at last, and we will never let it out of our sight. Until the end of time, each one of us will hold on to our liberty with both hands.”
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This was first posted June 4, 2009, on the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Serious journalists are going after the rampant corruption at the IRS. I look at CNN as the round-the-clock IRS Scandal Network but, funny, they always have breaking news to interrupt.
In Brussels, Belgium, yesterday, President Obama explained the clear distinction between the U.S. invasion of Iraq, to free a nation of 25 million from a totalitarian dictatorship, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea, to annex land and 2.5 million people into Vladimir Putin’s dictatorship.
Russia has pointed to America’s decision to go into Iraq as an example of Western hypocrisy. Now, it is true that the Iraq War was a subject of vigorous debate not just around the world, but in the United States as well. I participated in that debate and I opposed our military intervention there. But even in Iraq, America sought to work within the international system. We did not claim or annex Iraq’s territory. We did not grab its resources for our own gain. Instead, we ended our war and left Iraq to its people and a fully sovereign Iraqi state that could make decisions about its own future.
It is true that Crimea voted in a referendum to secede from Ukraine, but secession is illegal in every nation without approval of the legislature, or, in dictatorships like Russia, without approval of the dictator.
It’s too late now to reverse the annexation of Crimea. The West’s complacent fantasies made it easy for Putin to get away with this international crime. The saddest part is, for the adult population of Crimea, that referendum probably was the last time they’ll ever see an election that gives them more than one option.