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James McGrath and Arthur Milnes: As the wall fell, Mulroney and Bush manoeuvred

[James McGrath of Houston, Texas, is George H.W. Bush's veteran spokesperson, and Arthur Milnes of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at Queen's University was research assistant on Brian Mulroney's book, Memoirs. They are co-editors of Age of the Offered Hand: The Cross Border Leadership Between President George H.W. Bush and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, A Documentary History, published this year by McGill-Queen's University Press.]

As Germany and the world celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Canadians and Americans can themselves be proud of the role their own nations jointly played in the historic events that are being marked across the Atlantic.

Through a unique and trusting partnership between a Canadian prime minister, Brian Mulroney, and an American president, George H.W. Bush, our nations had a quiet role in this crucial chapter in the Cold War's end. With skill and sensitivity these two men navigated through a maze of tensions and passions that could have plunged the world into crisis at any minute as the crumbling U.S.S.R. looked on in fear of a Germany reunited.

Some at the time even wondered why these two North Americans wanted any role at all as the new Europe came into being. Mulroney, for example, would have none of that kind of talk.

"We are not renting our seat in Europe," Mulroney told Bush in one telephone conversation at the time. "If people want to know how Canada paid for its seat in Europe (along with the U.S.) they should check out the graves in Belgium and France."

As for Bush, his leadership talents were best displayed exactly 20 years ago today as he watched the wall fall from the White House. Rather than strut and pour verbal salt into wounded Soviet pride as the world celebrated, he did something rare for a politician: He kept his rhetorical powder dry. In that most political of nations, the United States, Bush came under harsh criticism for not proclaiming a triumphant American and western victory.

Hardliners in his own party fumed. Today Bush is honoured before history for his actions in November of 1989.

"While his (Bush's) choice to speak only ceremonially on the German question raised objections from some," Professor William Forrest Harlow wrote in The Rhetorical Presidency of George H.W. Bush, a book that is often critical of the former president, "Bush's lack of a policy-making speech ultimately helped to make sure that Germany was not pulled from the path of democracy. This deliberate silence helped co-ordinate the efforts of U.S. allies and foes alike, and ultimately proved the correct choice in Bush's rhetorical management of the fall of the Berlin Wall and eventual German reunification. The Cold War ended without its final battle having to be fought."...
Read entire article at Ottawa Citizen