Seventeen years ago this week, the Berlin Wall "fell." Images of the celebration -- people dancing on top, chipping pieces off for souvenirs, spray-painting "Freedom" on it, singing songs of liberation -- became the defining symbols for the end of the Cold War, which had consumed the U.S. and the Soviet Union for nearly four decades.
It seemed an almost surreal event to those of us who'd spent our entire lives under the shadow of "duck and cover" drills, bomb shelters, nuclear missile crises, the bluster of Khruschev, etc. It was either the biggest fake-out of all time or the Cold War was really over. But we'd won.
And win we did. You could get a taxi to East Berlin within two days of the wall-fall. You could buy a piece of said wall at major American department stores two weeks later. We'd won the most dangerous standoff in world history -- against an implacable and often paranoid foe with hundreds of nuclear warheads and allies all around the globe.
And we didn't fire a shot.
We won with diplomacy, certainly. But we also won with Coca-Cola and Levi's and Bruce Springsteen. For years, those behind the Iron Curtain had been bombarded with images of our consumerist society -- our music, our clothes, our freedom to express ourselves. In the end, there was no defense against all those images that made it clear the grass was greener on our side. The communists couldn't keep us out or their captive populations in.
This is a simplification of events, to be sure, but those in Congress and in this hardheaded administration would do well to reflect on the lessons of the Cold War. By invading and destroying Iraq, we have presented an image of America to the world as one of death, destruction, and conquest -- not freedom. It's stupid foreign policy, but it's also just bad marketing.
But now we've poured hundreds of billions of dollars into this Iraq folly and there's no end in sight. Iraq was a threat to our freedom? Please. Now the Soviet Union -- that was a threat. And everyone knew we were the good guys.
George Bush is right about one thing: People do want freedom. But Iraq should disabuse him and any future president of the notion that America's job is to go around the world invading countries to "give" them freedom. Our job is to show the world how freedom works. They'll do the rest, when they're ready -- if history's any indication.