Paul Greenberg

For lovers of freedom the world over and Americans in particular, there can be no doubt about what was the signal event of the week just past: the safe arrival in this land of the free of a champion of freedom.

As in the last decades of the grandly styled Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the ironically titled People's Republic of China -- each word is a lie -- has become so uncertain of its ideological, political and moral moorings by now that it was unable to suppress one lone voice for freedom.

Chen Guangcheng's dramatic escape, first from house arrest and then from a vast police state, came complete with a succession of miscues and misunderstandings and misconnections. But his daring venture and adventure had a happy ending. He set foot on American soil last Saturday.

. .

Welcome, Mr. Chen. You've always been part of us, as every voice of freedom is. Much as our bureaucrats high and low balk at that realization. Theirs is a mistake that goes back at least to Henry Kissinger's wanting to snub a troublemaker named Alexander Solzhenitsyn -- lest he complicate Dr. Kissinger's practice of realpolitik, specifically his plan for a grand detente with that era's Evil Empire.

Like so many of his fellow sophisticates, Henry Kissinger was appalled by the simple, naive and scandalously candid approach of the president who would undo all his carefully laid plans: a B-movie actor named Ronald Reagan, that cowboy. Or as one of the Democratic Party's gray eminences, Clark Clifford, famously called him, that "amiable dunce."

Yet somehow that clumsy amateur would end the Cold War, the nuclear arms race, and the Soviet Union itself. All of the above. All by blind chance, no doubt. Talk about a bull in a china shop.

This latest escapee to go stumbling around today's vast, real-life China shop is a blind man who can see all too well. He saw right through a vast tyranny and all those in the West who would enable it. In the end, with just a little help from his friends, he somehow managed to confound two great world powers. For he didn't have to climb only physical walls to make his escape, but political ones.

. .

Having defied the oppression of a still formally Communist but mainly just fearful regime, this lone protester had to deal with the bumbling bureaucracy of a system supposedly dedicated to freedom. By last week, he had clearly become an embarrassment to both governments. Beijing just wanted him out -- as it became clear just who was at the mercy of whom as this crisis unfolded -- and by then Washington had little choice but to welcome him here.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.