Behind the Scenes on the World Stage

When crises happen on the international stage, a lot often happens behind the scenes that we know nothing about.

The Daily Beast has a superb article about George H. W. Bush (that’s the father, for those of you who are initial-challenged). It’s called “A Wimp He Wasn’t.”

The article tells about a somewhat hair-raising secret mission the then-vice president took to El Salvador, which was then in the midst of a nasty civil war. He read the riot act to the national leaders, especially about their widespread use of death squads, and reforms soon came. That was very interesting to read.

But I was most intrigued by a story which occurred as the Berlin Wall was crumbling in East Germany.

Bush, now president, received an urgent cable from Soviet President Gorbachev. Gorbachev asked Bush to avoid taking a provocative action that might instigate a Tiananmen Square-like crackdown in East Germany. He, likewise, would mute the Soviet response. The goal was to avoid provoking confrontations that might get out of control.

Bush was criticized for not cheering what was happening in East Germany. He seemed unenthused about this historic happening. And he never talked about his behind-the-scenes agreement with Gorbachev. But the result was a peaceful transition of power. He didn’t go on national TV to posture about democracy. He got it right.

Now we hear numerous critics griping about how President Obama is handling Libya (as they gripe about anything he does). But all kinds of dynamics are at work behind the scenes, balancing relationships with our European allies and with the Arab League, and with various other interests. It’s complicated stuff, and we may never hear some of the things that happens in secret. Just as it took 20 years for that crucial agreement between Bush and Gorbachev to become public.

It’s easy to engage in simplistic posturing that plays well to American audiences (as Rush and the folks at Fox News know all too well). It’s harder to get it right.

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