Obama Berlin Speech After Action
Barack Obama’s speech to the throngs gathered at the Berlin Tiergarten Park was a solid effort, saying most of the right things about the Transatlantic relationship along with some unfortunate banalities.
The allusions to our shared history with Western Europe in general and Germany in particular were well done. The reminder of our efforts in the Berlin Airlift and helping rebuild a defeated foe, turning an enemy into one of our most reliable Allies, was important. This is speechmaking at its finest:
[I]n the darkest hours, the people of Berlin kept the flame of hope burning. The people of Berlin refused to give up. And on one fall day, hundreds of thousands of Berliners came here, to the Tiergarten, and heard the city’s mayor implore the world not to give up on freedom. “There is only one possibility,” he said. “For us to stand together united until this battle is won…The people of Berlin have spoken. We have done our duty, and we will keep on doing our duty. People of the world: now do your duty…People of the world, look at Berlin!”
It simultaneously butters up the audience and reminds them that sacrifice and hardship are necessary to achieve important goals. And “duty” is a word not heard enough these days.
Steven Erlanger calls it “a tone poem” but laments that it “was vague on crucial issues of trade, defense and foreign policy that currently divide Washington from Europe and are likely to continue to do so even if he becomes president — issues ranging from Russia, Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan to new refueling tankers and chlorinated chickens, the focus of an 11-year European ban on American poultry imports.” That’s a ridiculous criticism, however. The 200,000-odd assembled Germans were not there to hear about such mundane details. This was a rally to introduce Obama to Europe, not a summit meeting. And Steve Benen is right to point out how much ground was covered, at least at the ephemeral level: “Climate change, loose nukes, counter-terrorism, AIDS, poverty, free speech, religious liberty, Darfur, drug trafficking, rule of law — it was all in there.”
Tom Maguire rightly takes exception to Obama’s early applause line, “I know that I don’t look like the Americans who’ve previously spoken in this great city.” He lists several notable black Americans who have spoken in Berlin, ranging from Paul Robeson to Martin Luther King to Jesse Jackson to Colin Powell and Condi Rice. It’s decades past being remarkable that a black man can get his voice heard.
Nor can I disagree with TigerHawk in wishing obama had gone beyond “The Afghan people need our troops and your troops; our support and your support to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda, to develop their economy, and to help them rebuild their nation” and pointedly called on the Germans to loosen their rules of engagement so that the relatively small force they’re contributing to the NATO effort could actually do some good. Then again, I’m not sure a feel good stump rally is the place for that sort of thing.
On the other hand, I find Nora McAlvanah‘s criticism of the “This is our time” line rather baffling. He’s campaigning about the next four years, not the instant of the speech. And, surely, it’s Germans’ time, too. While an American president’s job, first and foremost, is to see to American interests, there’s nothing wrong — and much good — in taling about “our” shared interests with our Allies.
Ed Morrissey and it would be inappropriate to make a stop to visit troops at a U.S. military facility as part of a trip funded by the campaign Tonight, I speak to you not as a candidate for President, but as a citizen — a proud citizen of the United States, and a fellow citizen of the world. A bizarre choice in what was mostly a brilliantly executed tour. [UPDATE: All indications now are that it wasn’t Obama’s choice but the Pentagon’s. ]
That line about “citizen of the world” is catching the most flak. Daniel Larison calls it “just the most prominent example of how Obama blundered in this speech.”
Obama misjudges the public mood here in the U.S. quite badly if he thinks that “this is the moment” when Americans are interested in tearing down walls and embracing globalisation.
Maybe so. But tear down the walls and embrace globalization we must. And, fortunately, since John McCain is four-square in favor of doing those things, too, that’s going to stay on the agenda regardless of the outcome in November.
Perhaps the silliest thing I’ve seen come out of this overseas tour so far is a Rasmussen poll (taken before the rally) published under the title “63% Say Trip Does Not Make Obama More Fit to be President.”
While Barack Obama has touted his travel to Afghanistan and Iraq as a “fact-finding” trip, 63% of Americans do not believe it makes the Democratic candidate any more qualified to be president.
A new Rasmussen Reports national survey, taken Monday night, also finds that less than a third (32%) think Obama will learn from his trip to Iraq. Forty percent (40%) say his mind is already made up about policies to deal with the war there. The Democrat has been accused by liberals in his party of softening his long-standing opposition to the war in Iraq in an effort to appeal to more moderate voters.
Now, I happen to believe all those things to be true (i.e., that going on a week long campaign trip didn’t increase his foreign policy competence, that he didn’t learn much, that his mind is made up, and that he’s trying to appeal to moderates). But the purpose of the trip wasn’t to inject Obama with instant foreign policy credentials but rather to make it easier for Americans to envision him as their president. We’ll see if it accomplishes that goal but it’s hard to see how spending this much time in the spotlight and carrying it off well can hurt.
Update (Alex Knapp): I agree with a lot of what James said above about Obama’s speech. But one thing I did want to point out is that this flak over Obama’s “citizen of the world” line shows a remarkable ignorance of Presidential parlance. Obama has been compared more than once to Reagan, and Reagan used the line frequently in his speeches. Here’s Obama’s use of the line in context:
Thank you to the citizens of Berlin and to the people of Germany. Let me thank Chancellor Merkel and Foreign Minister Steinmeier for welcoming me earlier today. Thank you Mayor Wowereit, the Berlin Senate, the police, and most of all thank you for this welcome.
I come to Berlin as so many of my countrymen have come before. Tonight, I speak to you not as a candidate for President, but as a citizen — a proud citizen of the United States, and a fellow citizen of the world.
Now here’s Ronald Reagan, speaking before the United Nations in 1982.
Mr. Secretary-General, Mr. President, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen:
I speak today as both a citizen of the United States and of the world. I come with the heartfelt wishes of my people for peace, bearing honest proposals and looking for genuine progress.
I now await the blogosphere to posthumously eviscerate Reagan for his use of the line.
Update (Dave Schuler)
I have no particular opinion on the speech. I’m sure it was a fine speech—Sen. Obama is a good public speaker and quite charismatic. What I’d mightily like to know is how President Obama plans to encourage the Germans to do things that I don’t believe they have the slightest interest in doing and which would throw their domestic policy and their foreign policy into a cocked hat.