CAL THOMAS: JFK, Reagan and Biden | Opinion
President Biden’s speech in Warsaw on Saturday night reminded me of two previous presidents who gave speeches in the face of the autocracy that was then the Soviet Union and now is Russia, led by Vladimir Putin, a man Biden has rightly labeled a war criminal.
On June 26, 1963, Kennedy spoke at the Berlin Wall that the Soviets had erected to stem the flow of Berliners from the communist “paradise” to the West. In his remarks, Kennedy said, “Freedom is indivisible, and where one man is enslaved, not all are free” and “… look up beyond the dangers of today, to the hopes of tomorrow… towards the advancement of freedom everywhere…” these remarks became known as the “I am a Berliner” speech.
Biden echoed Kennedy’s optimism when he quoted a phrase Pope John Paul II often used: “Do not be afraid.”
In 1987, Ronald Reagan traveled to Berlin and gave his “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” speech. Like Biden, Reagan contrasted systems of government that preserve freedom with those run by autocrats that nullify freedom. Reagan said, “Freedom leads to prosperity. Freedom replaces the old hatreds between nations with courtesy and peace. Freedom is the winner. … We believe that freedom and security go hand in hand, that the advancement of human freedom can only strengthen the cause of world peace.
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In his speech, Biden went further than Kennedy and Reagan, calling Vladimir Putin a “butcher.” Addressing the Russian people directly (“if they can hear me”), he tacitly called on them to remove Putin from office, saying “This man cannot stay in power”. A White House statement backtracked on his clear reference to regime change, but what he said remains in the official transcript. Biden later denied he was calling for Putin’s ouster, but the damage was done.
Biden also said the war would be a long one. Did he mean Putin’s war on Ukraine, or something bigger, like the cold war that lasted for decades? He did not specify and that is part of the problem. What is the endgame and what is the American strategy to reach it? Biden still won’t supply Ukraine with old Soviet MiG planes to ‘shut down the skies’, fearing it could trigger Putin’s use of nuclear weapons.
Biden again spoke about the need to end the West’s reliance on fossil fuels and create more renewable energy. It’s a goal that can’t be achieved anytime soon, like the war between autocracies and democracy, which the president says won’t be won in days or months (or decades?). Autocracies predated the global need for oil and will likely continue if renewables eventually replace them.
Conservatives should praise Biden for what might be the best and strongest speech of his presidency while wondering why he and NATO won’t provide more of what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says he needs to defeat the invasion. The situation with Ukraine is different from what Kennedy and Reagan faced. Then there was only a wall erected on the orders of an occupying force that did not bomb East Germany, even though the guards shot anyone who tried to escape. These presidents used powerful words and Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative to wear down the Soviet Union and bring about its collapse.
Today Ukraine faces predatory forces that have been ordered by another Russian dictator to do whatever is necessary to achieve his goals, including the murder of men, women and babies. civilians.
The BBC reports that around 200,000 Russians have left their country since the start of the war, a major “brain drain”. Those who remained should heed President Biden’s call to oust Putin from power by any means necessary. I think Kennedy and Reagan could have endorsed such a goal.