Karl Marx, Meet Whoopi Goldberg

RICHARD REEVES

July 27, 1993|By RICHARD REEVES

BERLIN. — Berlin -- At dinnertime a few nights ago, my wife and I stopped by the Moscau Restaurant, the place on Karl Marx Allee where East Berlin's communist elite would meet for a treat. The giant Sputnik was still on the roof and, in fact, the restaurant looked better than it used to -- candles, crisp linens and gleaming samovars made the main room more inviting than it ever was in the bad old days.

But no one was there. A lone waitress looked across the room at us, longingly. We shook our heads. Upstairs, the old nightclub and bar looked abandoned. Looking along the Allee, actually an eight-lane boulevard, I saw a giant Coca-Cola sign. Across the street in front of the Kino International Theater was a 40-foot-high poster of Whoopi Goldberg and Ted Danson, a come-on for their movie ''Made in America,'' and a slightly smaller poster for ''Bambi.''

I mention this in case anyone doubts that we really did win the Cold War. Most East Berliners and other Eastern Europeans say jTC they are living better now, though it could take decades to bring overall living standards up to those of, say, Spain or even Portugal. But there are cars now on the potholed streets of East Berlin, and you can even have trouble finding a parking place.

I felt a patriotic swelling standing again at Checkpoint Charlie, now only an indentation on the street where the Allied guard station stood steadfastly all those years on ''our'' side of the divided city.

We preached and stood behind democracy and free-market economics as if they were heaven-sent, and now East Berlin and almost all of the rest of Eastern Europe have been drawn into our universe. They will be better for it, I'm sure, but along with stars like Whoopi and Ted, they have to accept a good deal of self-serving, made-in-America self-righteousness -- particularly over such questions as who gets to sell what to whom around the world.

''The Americans preached to us to drink water while they themselves were drinking wine,'' said Vladimir Dlouhy, the minister of industry and trade in the Czech Republic. He was talking about U.S. pressure on the Czechs to stop manufacturing and selling weapons and ammunition -- one of the country's biggest businesses before the fall of communism. Two weeks ago, emphasizing that the United States itself is selling weapons almost everywhere, Dlouhy announced that the Czechs were going back into the business, saying, ''Armaments are a commodity, and Czech weapons have a good reputation worldwide.''

American weapons, of course, have an even better reputation. We went into the arms sales business in a very big way when President John F. Kennedy and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara decided that selling arms was the easiest way to deal with trade balance problems, creating sales bureaus in the Department of Defense in 1961.

Business has boomed for 30 years. It still is. With production crippled in what used to be the Soviet Union, two-thirds of the arms being sold to Third World countries are made in America -- $13.6 billion worth last year. We do business at the same time we pressure the Czechs not to, warn the Chinese to stop, and threaten Malaysia for having the audacity to buy Russian MiGs rather than U.S. jet fighters.

To be fair, sort of, we are also generous in giving away weapons. At the moment, more than 2,000 U.S. tanks -- surplus in Western Europe after 100,000 U.S. troops were shipped from Germany to the gulf war and then sent home to the United States -- have been sent to Turkey and Greece under a NATO program called ''Cascade.'' Those tanks will be firing made-in-America ammunition at each other if fighting in the Balkans spreads from former Yugoslavia south to Kosovo and Macedonia -- which many Europeans believe is inevitable.

Like our arms sales, the American performance on Bosnia has convinced many Europeans that for all the rhetoric of freedom, democracy and friendship, the United States is a shortsighted, narrow-minded giant tromping down paths of self-interest, stepping on its friends every now and then.

Andres Sajo, an adviser to the president of Hungary, put it this way: ''The United States totally undermined all concepts of democracy by talking without doing anything in Bosnia. The message is still whoever has the guns can do whatever they want . . . You put in an embargo and Hungary pays -- we lose trade and get refugees in return. We are paying your bills.''

The figure for lost Hungarian trade with Yugoslavia because of the world embargo is $800 million at the moment and is expected to reach $1.1 billion by the end of the year. Both the United Nations and United States have declared that Hungary should be compensated for that loss. But neither has offered a penny, or even a forint.

''As always,'' said Mr. Sajo, ''that is the way it looks to many of the United States' newest friends.'' When it comes to movies or guns, they are saying, the bottom line is pretty much anything goes -- as long as it's made in America.

Richard Reeves is a syndicated columnist.

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