Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Ruth Marcus on Candy Bombers


This is a name-droppers dream: my law school friend Ruth Marcus (now an opinion writer at the Washington Post) has a column tdoay about Candy Bombers, a book written by my friend Andrei Cherny. (Really, they are both my friends--you can check out my Facebook page for proof. Grin).

In any event, Ruth's op-ed and Andrei's book are both worth reading. Here are some highlights from Ruth's column:


The city is in dire straits -- its economy shattered, its citizens desperately hungry. Random violence is rising, electricity is sporadic. Three years after the invasion, hope for a brief occupation has faded. The mission is to build democracy from the ruins of dictatorship, but sober analysts question whether a flaw in the national character makes freedom unattainable.

This is not Baghdad 2008 but Berlin 1948, which makes the reunified German capital a particularly fitting venue for Barack Obama's speech tomorrow. The lush Tiergarten where Obama will speak was then a wasteland where Berliners struggled to grow vegetables in the shadow of the bombed-out Reichstag.

. . .

The story of the Berlin Airlift and Halvorsen's mission is told in "The Candy Bombers," a new book by Democratic strategist Andrei Cherny. If the plural of anecdotes is not data, the stacking of historical analogies is not sound policy. Yet, as Cherny writes, "Their story has powerful resonance for our own time. In confronting the Berlin blockade, America went to battle against a destructive ideology that threatened free people around the world. In a country we invaded and occupied that had never had a stable democracy, we brought freedom and turned their people's hatred of America into love for this country, its people, and its ideals."

The lessons of the Berlin Airlift are anything but simple, which is what makes it such a useful historical moment. Cherny's book is something of a Rorschach test on Iraq: The message readers receive may depend on the mindset with which they arrived.

Thus, Obama can rightly point to the airlift as evidence that maintaining America's moral voice is an essential component of its foreign policy. The United States stands to gain as much from a modern-day Candy Bomber as it risks losing from Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Those who doubt the capacity of government, in the aftermath of Katrina, to mobilize quickly and implement deftly can take heart from the example of organizational whiz Bill Tunner, who turned a slapdash operation incapable of supplying Berlin into a precision drill that kept the beleaguered city going through a long winter.

Harry Truman's steadfastness in the face of contrary advisers -- some argued for yielding Berlin to the Soviets, others advocated a collision course on the ground -- demonstrated how a determined president, having unleashed the atomic bomb, could then find the narrow path between foolish appeasement and full-scale war. Obama can safely argue that Truman's restrained course was wiser than George W. Bush's rush to war.

But there are lessons from the airlift that should be more unsettling for those, like Obama, who want to be done with Iraq. The impulse of many Americans then, just as now, was to be finished with the entire project. " 'Get Germany off the American taxpayer's back' was the call of conservatives in Congress," Cherny writes.

An occupation that looked irretrievably lost by spring 1948 turned paradoxically into success as the blockade continued. Berliners' misery deepened, but so, too, did their faith in America and democracy. Berliners who had told pollsters since the war's end that they would choose "economic security" over "freedom" changed their attitudes in the face of American kindnesses.



Read it all here.

(For the record, I think the Berlin as Baghdad analogy faulty).

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