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Gorbachev’s Sermon on the Mount

Posted on Nov 11, 2009
AP / Herbert Knosowski

He’s a superstar: Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signs an autograph while crossing the Bornholmer Street bridge in Berlin during the commemorations of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

By Robert Scheer

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” That biblical quotation certainly applies to Mikhail Gorbachev, a man not honored enough for the example he set and whose past practices and recent cautions about Afghanistan should be heeded by Barack Obama. Or, on a secular note, if the Sermon on the Mount doesn’t cut it for you, take German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s praise for the former Soviet leader at the ceremony marking the fall of the Berlin Wall, which he helped destroy: “You courageously allowed things to happen, and that was much more than we could have expected.” 

The hero’s reception granted Gorbachev when he accompanied the German leader across the Bornholmer Street bridge to mark the 20th anniversary of the end of the city’s division was credit long overdue. As The New York Times reported: “More than 1,000 people lined the bridge Monday night under gray skies and a steady drizzle to hear the chancellor speak, but their loudest cheers came when she thanked Mr. Gorbachev for the reforming attitude he brought to the Soviet leadership that helped make the events of that historic night possible.” The crowd, chanting “Gorby, Gorby, Gorby,” understood that he had done something unique for a world leader: He admitted the error of his system’s ways and radically reversed its course.

The surrender of immense political power, personal as well as international in scope, is something we never expect from leaders, but Gorbachev set a model of self-sacrifice for a larger purpose that one wishes others would follow. How rare in history for a leader of such great standing to surrender his position, along with its abundance of personal perquisites, for the larger common good. How unexpected for the leader of a military colossus to turn swords into plowshares.

That is what Gorbachev did, beginning with his bold outreach to Western leaders including Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, prompting the latter to say, “I like Mr. Gorbachev; we can do business together.” The British prime minister influenced President Reagan to take a similarly open stance, and when Gorbachev reciprocated, the Cold War effectively came to an end. Gorbachev’s words were followed by actions, beginning with suspension of the scheduled deployment of intermediate-range nuclear weapons. That was followed with an even bolder proposal to cut both the Soviet and U.S. nuclear arsenals by half and then act to eliminate them altogether. Most important for the current moment was Gorbachev’s decisive moves to reduce the Soviet troop presence in Afghanistan, followed by his 1988 announcement of the full withdrawal of troops from that country.

Gorbachev drew on his experience in a CNN interview Sunday during which he again played the part of peacemaker, urging Obama to pull troops out of Afghanistan. “I think that our experience deserves attention,” the former Soviet president said. He recommended that the U.S., in the hope of bringing an end to “the long suffering of the [Afghan] people,” focus on “dialogue” and that “withdrawal from Afghanistan should be the goal.”

Unfortunately, it seems from media leaks that President Obama is moving in the opposite direction. The speculation now is that he will increase U.S. forces by a number slightly less than the 40,000 that Gen. Stanley McChrystal has requested, a decision that would make no sense at all. If the goal is, as McChrystal’s report defined it, to rebuild Afghan civil society from the ground up, something on the order of the half-million troops that were dispatched to Vietnam will be required. But that cannot be done without a draft, and we all know that outcome would not be politically acceptable to either the Democratic or Republican party.

Nor is such nation-building advisable, even if the American public and the treasury would support it. Our war in Afghanistan is no more warranted than the one the Soviets waged. Ironically, they were opposing Muslim fanatics we supplied with Stinger rockets and whose descendants we now blame for terrorism. In the name of fighting Soviet imperialism, our CIA recruited the worst of the worst and called them freedom fighters until we renamed them terrorists. We got it terribly wrong then, and yet we still insist that we know what we are doing in that country.

When Gorbachev came to power he, like Obama, inherited a war that was not in the interest of his nation. If the response of a Soviet dictator was to end it, might we not be justified in expecting the enlightened president of a democratic society to do the same?


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By montanawildhack, November 11, 2009 at 4:12 am Link to this comment

Good for Gorbachev!!!!  The man obviously has a spine and does not appear to be a member of the weasel family….  Unfortunately,  our leader du jour is a pimp, hustler, judas goat, Uncle Tom and a Weasel….  I’ll bet the farm, boys and girls, that old Uncle Barack is going to agree to send 39,999 troops to Afghanistan…  That way he can say proudly, “Ya see childrens, I’s dun standed up to da white folks and da Hebrus….  Dey wanted 40,000 troops but I showed ‘em I ain’t no Uncle Tom.  I sho enuff did.”

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By Mike3, November 11, 2009 at 3:40 am Link to this comment

I echo the previous posts, a great article. What is quite amazing is that there is slowly a real friendship developing between the Germans and the Russians, and who would have thought it? Something the Pentagon and certain circles in Washington don’t want. They don’t want it because “full-spectrum dominance” is still the official (but unstated) doctrine of the American War Lords. These War Lords do not want to see Eurasia coming together.

Of course Germany still votes with Israel in the UN when it comes to whitewashing the IDF’s slaughter of women and children, and provides them with knock down priced state of the art submarines – two recently delivered. But we have to remember that because of its history, Germany is in quite a different position vis-à-vis Israel. A German politician only has to raise an eyebrow at Israel’s warmongering and his career is over. If he has the audacity to make a comment that even looks slightly ant-Semitic, (and as you may know, all criticism of Israel is now anti-Semitic) whatever hobbies he has, like tending his roses, are suddenly going to be fulltime.
Walking with Gorbachev and Merkel through Berlin, and looking rather out of place (as Americans do) with Europeans; was Clinton, who seems to be a closet Christian-Zionist. Well to be a successful politician in Washington today, one has to be a Zionist, or at least pretend to be.

Towards the end of the celebrations in Berlin, they had devoted some time to “walls that still exist”. I said to my wife (I live in Germany), “well they are surly not going to mention Israel’s monstrosity” but amazingly they did. Well they didn’t say: “Israel’s built this abomination that they euphemistically call a ‘fence’”. But it was done very discretely, as the word “Israel” was not mentioned, neither if my memory serves me right, was the word “Palestine”. But strangely they mentioned (and I hope I’m right here), Ramallah. Ramallah being a mostly Christian city: but one that has taken sides with the rest of the Muslim Palestinians. One has to give the Germans an A+ for diplomacy.

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By C.Curtis.Dillon, November 11, 2009 at 3:18 am Link to this comment

Living in Eastern Europe, I talk often about the collapse with friends.  Most here, as folktruther points out, do not like Gorbachev.  They often deride his openness and economic reforms which did not really work as intended.  However, in his defense, there was little he could do.  Even before his election, the country was headed into oblivion with massive economic problems and a population growing more restive with each passing year.  The corrupt and oppressive Brezhnev coupled with two totally inept and short-lived successors had left the USSR in a bad position.  It might be that Gorbachev was given a situation that couldn’t be saved.  If that is true, he did something masterful in allowing the union to implode without civil war erupting.  I’ve often marveled at how little violence accompanied the collapse of this powerful police state.

Also, had the collapse been followed by true democratic and economic reforms, his standing might have been much better.  Instead of fixing what was wrong, the new political elite chose to institute sham democracies and allowed criminal elements to grab the lion’s share of the economic pie.  This has created disasters across the former Soviet Union and feeds the nostalgia for the former USSR.  Probably not the outcome Gorbachev envisioned when this all started 20 years ago.

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By Folktruther, November 11, 2009 at 2:50 am Link to this comment

Gorbachev has the unique distinction of being a worse political leader than Bush 2.  Bush 2 merely damaged severely the political system he led; Gorbachev destroyed his.  for this of course he is enormously praised in the US media and by the right wing leaders that Scheer quotes.  The people of Russia have nothing but contempt for him.

the destruction of Russia in a world historical perspective helped to destroy the power of the White Man in the history of the world. The chief world beneficary was not the US; it was China.  China had fifty divisions in its West to defend itself from the Soviets, which it could liquidate and concentrate on economic develoopment. russia was turned into a Chinese dependant ally, like Canada for the US.

The massacre in T square was partially motivated by the attempt to prevent China from going the was of the Soviets, both occurring in 1989.

This is the worst truthdig piece by Scheer since he congratuated the FBI for hounding an innocdent man to death to cover up the anthrax public relations homicides.

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By drbhelthi, November 11, 2009 at 2:20 am Link to this comment

As an American, it grieves me to say it.
Too bad Mr. Gorbachev cannot assist Americans in a similar manner.  We need “outside assistance” to be free of the WWII NAZIs and “fase zionists” who began to overtake the USofA with “Operation Paper-Clip,” 1945-1947. 

Assisting to collapse part of the USSR, colonizing the western world, misusing American troops to seize and manipulate the illegal drug industry, massively covering up other-worldly visitors to our planet, destroying the western world economy, and planning to collapse the USofA are strictly NAZI & “false zionist” goals.  Americans have had no voice in this hateful monstrosity.

In remembrance of the heavenly event, 2,000 yrs ago.

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By Dalmazio, November 11, 2009 at 2:00 am Link to this comment

Great article.

I only hope that Obama and friends will take the great statesman’s advice to heart.
Though, somehow I don’t think it will happen. Unfortunately, I fear the United
States of America is ultimately headed towards the same fate as the United Soviet
Socialist Republics.

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