Yesterday President Obama spoke at the New Economic School in Moscow. The transcript of his speech is available here. In part the speech reiterates themes sounded in his Cairo speech. In part Obama flatters Russia and Russian history, omitting any mention of Soviet tyranny and terror.
The twenty million victims of Stalin’s Great Terror are tossed down the memory hole. Instead Obama vaguely alludes to the “old political and economic restrictions” of the Communist past. One is tempted to laugh at the conclusion of his speech: “Russia has cut its way through time like a mighty river through a canyon, leaving an indelible mark on human history as it goes.” Is this some kind of a joke? It is really a remarkable performance.
Obama continues his campaign against nuclear weapons in the speech. Obama counts himself “pleased that President Medvedev and I agreed upon a joint threat assessment of the ballistic missile challenges of the 21st Century, including from Iran and North Korea.” And President Medvedev is pleased that power politics are not Obama’s strong suit.
When Obama prefaces an observation with the command that we heed his words — “make no mistake” — a whopper is sure to follow. Here is Obama on the end of the Cold War:
[W]ithin a few short years, the world as it was ceased to be. Make no mistake: this change did not come from any one nation alone. The Cold War reached a conclusion because of the actions of many nations over many years, and because the people of Russia and Eastern Europe stood up and decided that its end would be peaceful.
In his interview with Obama after the speech, Major Garrett asked: “In your speech this morning, you said the Cold War reached its conclusion because of the actions of many nations over many years. Mr. President, are the Russian sensitivities so fragile that you can’t say the Cold War was won? The West won it? And it was led by a combination of Democratic and Republican American presidents?”
Well, listen, the — I think that you just cut out Lech Walesa and the Poles. You just cut out Havel and the Czechs. There were a whole bunch of people throughout Eastern Europe who showed enormous courage.
And I think that it is very important in this part of the world to acknowledge the degree to which people struggled for their own freedom. I’m very proud of the traditions of Democratic and Republican presidents to lift the Iron Curtain.
But, you know, we don’t have to diminish other people in order to recognize our role in that history.
Walesa himself has a somewhat different perspective. In his comments on the death of Ronald Reagan, Walesa wrote: “When talking about Ronald Reagan, I have to be personal. We in Poland took him so personally. Why? Because we owe him our liberty. This can’t be said often enough by people who lived under oppression for half a century, until communism fell in 1989.”
As Obama rewrites the relatively recent past, it would be well to keep in mind Orwell’s Ingsoc slogan holding that “He who controls the past controls the future.”