Last week, the two erstwhile communist superpowers were in the spotlight. Starting on Aug. 8, China staged the Olympics -- an event on the schedule for years. Also on Aug. 8, Russia invaded the independent republic of Georgia -- which apparently caught our government flatfooted. George W. Bush remained in Beijing watching the Olympians, while Vladimir Putin, making no secret of who is in charge, went to the Russian borderland with Georgia to supervise.
There are echoes of history in all this. Echoes that remind us in one way or the other of Berlin. China's Olympic extravaganza -- and its suppression of dissent -- inevitably remind us of Adolf Hitler's Berlin Olympics in 1936. Russia's torrent of lies -- its claims that democratic Georgia has been engaged in ethnic cleansing, its claims that it is acting in the interest of Russian citizens, its claims that it has accepted a ceasefire when its tanks continue to enter Georgian cities -- remind us of Hitler's claims that Czechoslovakia was oppressing the Sudeten Germans and his claims that Poland was committing atrocities before he invaded.
Belatedly, on Aug. 13, George W. Bush reminded us once again of Berlin, when he announced that the United States would airlift supplies and send Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Georgia. The United States has no capacity to join Georgia in arms and does not want a direct military confrontation with Russia. But in effect we are putting feet on the ground in Tbilisi and its airport, which should make it plain to Putin that an assault on them is an attack on the United States.
There's a parallel here to the situation in Berlin in June 1948, when the Soviets cut off land access to West Berlin. Harry Truman's top civilian and military advisers told him there was no way to supply the city by air and that we could not win a land war with the Soviets. But Truman said, "We're staying in Berlin," and the American military made the airlift work. The Soviets could have wiped out the Allied garrison, but they dared not do so. For the full story of the airlift, read Andrei Cherny's riveting "The Candy Bombers."
John McCain has taken a strong stand from the start. His statement, "We are all Georgians," echoes John F. Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner." Barack Obama, after a weak opening statement, has also condemned the Russian actions. But his own speech before the Prussian Victory Column in Berlin showed an incomplete appreciation of history.