Suzanne Fields

BERLIN -- The righteous rage in the streets of Tehran is familiar to Berliners. They recall their own demonstrations that doomed the hated Berlin Wall two decades ago. Berliners, hopeful and sympathetic, see lessons in their past for the demonstrators in the Iranian capital.

Films and photographs at exhibitions throughout the city document how "power to the people" can sometimes beat extraordinary odds. The exhibitions were planned long before the protests in Iran were a gleam in the eye of candle-carrying Iranians. Nobody here discounts the odds against the Iranian masses -- the turmoil can lead to the results of November 1989 in Berlin or to the tragedy of Tiananmen Square.

History in the making lacks the clarity of history recalled, but similarities of circumstance are nevertheless striking. Visitors to the Sony Center in Potsdamer Platz, for example, watch with widened eyes at a videotape of John F. Kennedy's speech on June 26, 1963, poignant in painful remembrance, expressing solidarity with the residents of a divided city.

His dramatic assertion, "Ich bein ein Berliner" -- "I am a Berliner" -- rings in the ears of Berliners today. So, too, Ronald Reagan's exhortation at the celebration of the 750th anniversary of the founding of Berlin: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."

Several of his closest advisers argued against making such a dramatic declaration, for fear of antagonizing Mikhail Gorbachev. But the Gipper knew that his words would tell people far beyond Berlin that America stood with them, and would take heart.

President Obama heard similar appeals to timidity this week in Washington -- he shouldn't risk antagonizing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the mullahs in Tehran if he wants to parley with them. Like Reagan, the new president showed a little spunk at last, finally asserting solidarity with the demonstrators. There was none of the Kennedy bravado or Reagan dramatics, but it was nevertheless welcome.

The debate now focuses on the nature of Barack Obama's leadership as he faces his first crucial foreign policy crisis. Germans, like Americans, argue over whether his measured approach will actually work, or whether his caution will be taken in Tehran for weakness and irresolution. They compare the Obama approach with Angela Merkel's mettle in demanding from the first a recount of the votes.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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