Louisa and I went to hear Mikhail Gorbachev speak down at the Flint Center. Unlike most politicians I am aware of, he does not attempt to speak English himself, but had an excellent translator with him. However, simultaneous translation makes the interview style very difficult, as interruptions don’t usually happen in the right place. He was interviewed by Michael Reagan, adopted son of Ronald Reagan and his first wife. Michael apparently runs a conservative talk show, and was not very impressive, but it didn’t matter – Gorbachev ran his own agenda.
Gorbachev was also unusual among politicians in that he wasn’t afraid to speak his mind – maybe he has nothing to lose. The topic was supposed to be a simple reminiscing about how great it was to work with Ronald Reagan to stop nuclear proliferation, and tear down the Berlin Wall. However, Gorby made a few veiled references to current events, and the result was that the entire question and answer period was about what’s going on in the world today.
Gorbachev pulled no punches. He said that “Americans are simple,” and then qualified it to mean that he meant more “equal”, i.e. that he admires that an American citizen can ask the President a question as an equal. He related a joke – Ronald Reagan asked him about human rights, and gave the example that anyone could go to the White House and yell “Ronald Reagan is a jerk.” Gorbachev responed that it was the same – anyone could go to the Kremlin and yell “Ronald Reagan is a jerk!”
In response to current event questions, he made some telling comments. He said the world has new problems, and we must face them together. America cannot be an empire, and particularly cannot be judge, prosecutor, and policeman for the world. Last time he checked, the rest of the world did not ask America to lead it.
When asked about Iraq, he said Iraq was a mistake, that he said that on first day, and he continues to believe it. Now it is a lesson, and we must recover frm it.
One more telling comment was that today more Russians view America as a threat than before we invaded Iraq. We are now considered a hostile country, instead of a land of opportuntity. Russia shares a border with Iraq, and they are starting to feel surrounded. America must work to unite not divide.
He was very clear that America has squandered a great deal of good will, and made no bones about his opinion that this election was an opportunity to try to find the road to regain it.