This is the edited version of a diary I wrote for dKos (some parts cut, others added). As precedent on ET, also see jandsm's diary Obama in Berlin. Most of the material integrated below is from the discussion in the SPECIAL FOCUS - Obama in Berlin section of Fran's 25 July Salon and two subthreads of the preceding OT. For a different take on the speech, see Captain Future's
Obama in Berlin: A President of Peace.
Ridiculous reaction from the McCain campaign
This is better to bring just in pictures. The McCain campaign had no better idea than find the nearest German Olde' Shoppe', and put Saint John in front... (photo via Berliner Morgenpost):
But, even more symbolic of McCain's campaign is this counter-protester at Obama's Berlin event (photo from SPIEGEL):
(Come on, this guy must have been paid by the Obama Campaign :-) Or, maybe he is a German Left Party member on a double-cross mission :-) )
Symbolism of the place
As jandsm explained in Obama in Berlin, by moving the site of the speech from the Brandenburg Gate to the Victory Column, Obama moved from a symbol of freedom to one of militarism. I won't recap that here in more detail. (Photo from SPIEGEL).
However, Obama himself (or his speechwriters) dealt with this problem by adding a nice rhetorical connection in his speech:
After centuries of strife, the people of Europe have formed a Union of promise and prosperity. Here, at the base of a column built to mark victory in war, we meet in the center of a Europe at peace.
The crowds and their reaction
The Obama campaign achieved its main goal: the media the world over is talking about cheering German crowds giving an enthusiastic welcome. On a closer look however, we get a more differentiated picture. It won't become a big problem for Obama, but it is worth to recognise for his supporters when thinking about international support.
According to German blogger Bernhard, who runs Moon of Alabama, a spinoff of Billmon's sadly defunct Whiskey Bar, and watched:
About 70,000 people max. A quarter of them U.S. folks.
Other estimates run up to 250,000. At any rate, the cheering was as much American fans abroad as foreign fans. About the reception on the spot, Bernhard writes:
Started with good touch on the Berlin wall and the 1948 air lift to walls in the rest of the world.
Said 9/11 terrorists trained in Hamburg, Kandahar and Karachi?
Karachi??? Pakistan, watch out! And what about the flight training they got in the U.S.?
Obama had to say that, or else the Republoscum will spin him as weak with the pussy European allies. However, adopting certain Bushista talking points, especially one that made an issue with which Europeans have decades of experience as police matter one for the military, was not received well:
That and other "war of terror" talk by Obama did get sparse applause.
Other talk about "U.S. bases" in Germany and around the world also.
Talk about Afghanistan - applause also very low.
Obama called for a "world without nuclear weapons" - BIG applause.
Common effort against climate change - BIG applause.
(Photo from SPIEGEL)
Another German who attended wrote up his reaction in acomment to the article Obama urges global fight against terror of Britain's The Independent, reporting similar sentiments.
I just came back from hearing Obama speak near the Victory column here in Berlin. The german crowd was polite, but not enthusiastic. Obama indirectly asked for more german involvment in Afganistan which met with silence.
I can cite this particular observer also as a good example for the not necessarily positive reception of the historical allusions in Germany:
Also his going on about the airlift during the cold-war was a bit much seeing as the cold-war was as much a american made problem as it was a soviet one. This going on about the wall was also a bit much as he was not critical about the newest wall of exclusion namely the walls that the isreallis are builiding about which he said nothing.
He ends on a negative tone:
He mentioned getting rid of all atomic weapons - this after the US government is supporting a deal leading to increased Indian access to nuclear fuel could accelerate the atomic arms race with Pakistan. What the people in Berlin came to hear and expect was an apology from a high US official for the last years of the stupid and criminal Bush gang. What it got instead was a milk-toast speach saying nothing.
Complain about this comment
Posted by Wim from Berlin | 24.07.08, 20:57 GMT
Bernhard also ends with a dissonant note; but there'll be some explanation in the next section:
Some phrases that sound wired for Germans:
"struggle for freedom"
"remake the world"
These are empty phrases for Germans. Unlike in the U.S. there is no positive associations with these.
I close this part by noting that at least one pro-American German politician predicted such reactions in advance. Karl-Theodor Freiherr, foreign policy expert of the conservative CSU (the Bavarian sister party of Merkel's CDU) said (here speaking in party-political terms):
|Die "neue Begeisterung" der SPD für die USA sei an sich "begrüßenswert", sagte er. Allerdings bleibe abzuwarten, ob sich der "Enthusiasmus erschöpft, wenn Senator Obama in dieser oder einer künftigen Rede einen höheren deutschen Beitrag in internationalen Operationen einfordert".||The "new enthusiasm" of the SPD [Social Democrats] for the USA was "welcome" in itself, he said. However, it remains to be seen whether the "enthusiasm will exhausted, should Senator Obama demand a higher German contribution to international operations in this or any future speech".|
An analysis in German media
Now the reception of the speech was definitely positive in the German MSM (which cheerleads Obamamania in Germany). But the differential reception of Obama's different lines was noted even there:
|Er findet neue Töne zum Klimawandel, den die aktuelle US-Regierung bis vor kurzem noch geleugnet hat. "Wir müssen sicherstellen, dass alle Nationen der Welt - einschließlich meiner eigenen - den Ausstoß an Treibhausgasen mit jener Ernsthaftigkeit reduzieren, wie es Ihr Land tut." Da gibt es mit den meisten Applaus während der gesamten Rede.||He finds a new tone on climate change, which was denied by the current U.S. government until recently. "We must ensure that all nations of the world - including my own - reduce the emission of greenhouse gases with the seriousness with which your country is doing it." There is the most applause throughout the speech.|
| Doch dann spricht er sie aus, die erwarteten Forderungen...||But then he spells them out, the expected demands...|
|...Wie angespannt die Beziehungen geworden sind, zeigt sich daran, dass eigentlich ganz selbstverständliche Sätze am meisten Beifall bekommen. Sätze wie: "Die Mauern zwischen armen und reichen Ländern müssen fallen. Die Mauern zwischen Christen, Muslimen und Juden müssen fallen." Oder ganz schlicht: "Wir Amerikaner lehnen Folter ab." Da gibt es viel Applaus.||... How tense relations have become, is demonstrated by the fact that sentences that should actually be quite self-evident receive the most applause. Sentences like: "The walls between poor and rich countries must fall. The walls between Christians, Muslims and Jews must fall." Or, quite simply: "We Americans are opposed to torture." For that there is much applause.|
The above quote is from an op-ed by Gregor Peter Schmitz for SPIEGEL ONLINE (DER SPIEGEL is Germany's prime weekly political magazine, and its website is the most-frequented German news site) titled Völker der Welt, schaut auf mich ( = People of the World, Look At Me). Analysing the speech, Schmitz recognises Obama taking four successive poses:
- The restrained Obama: some words of modesty, also in defense against accusations during the pre-speech controversy, and words about Berlin.
- The Transatlantic Bridge-Builder: words about re-starting the alliance between the USA and Europe, with heavy praise for the hosts.
- The crafty US campaigner: his advisors feared that Obama would be perceived as 'too European' (speak: a weakling) at home if he gives too many concessions, so Obama "mixes in passages which could have easily been spoken by the current US President George W. Bush, too" - and even while he mentions European themes like nuclear weapons and climate change, he them makes demands towards the allies (see above).
- The Save-The-World Rhetorician: the speaker of great words, the Redeemer.
What all this boils down is that Obama's big Berlin speech was more for the home (US) consumption than for his European audience. Schmitz ends his article with a symbolic moment that shows this:
|Während Obama die letzten Sätze seines Manuskriptes in die Menge ruft, holen seine Mitarbeiter schon den mitreisenden Pressetross von der Gästetribüne. Die Journalisten sollen noch kurz mit Obama sprechen dürfen. Es sind nur Reporter aus den USA, 40 an der Zahl. CNN, "New York Times", "Newsweek", "Chicago Sun-Times". Ausländische Presse ist ausdrücklich nicht erwünscht. Die USA waren die Zielgruppe.||While Obama shouts the last sentences of his manuscript into the crowd, his staff is already getting the accompanying press corps off the guest tribune. The journalists are to be allowed to speak briefly with Obama. They are only reporters from the USA, numbering 40. CNN, New York Times, Newsweek, Chicago Sun-Times. Foreign press is explicitly not welcome. The USA was the target group.|
| Sorry, Berlin.||Sorry, Berlin.|
War on Terra and Europe
From Obama's speech as reproduced on AMERICAblog, with my own comments this time:
In Europe, the view that America is part of what has gone wrong in our world, rather than a force to help make it right, has become all too common.
I don't share Obama's faith in America's justness, greatness and ultimate goodness, so count me in the group who thinks America is part of the problem not the solution. Today. And potentially in 2009, too. I would need real strong signs of intent to dismantle the military-industrial complex, to think independently from the foreign policy consensus, and to tackle the real big problems of today (of which terrorism is not one) to believe that an Obama presidency would reverse - reverse NOT simply its precursors' bad choices, but the institutional dynamic -, rather than just temporarily stop it from going deeper.
In America, there are voices that deride and deny the importance of Europe’s role in our security and our future. Both views miss the truth – that Europeans today are bearing new burdens and taking more responsibility in critical parts of the world; and that just as American bases built in the last century still help to defend the security of this continent, so does our country still sacrifice greatly for freedom around the globe.
I don't see in what way those bases defend European security. (They may eve undermine it, if missile defense comes to Poland and the Czech Republic.) There you have it, the institutional dynamic of the foreign policy consensus and the military-industrial complex. And it continues in this section:
This is the moment when we must defeat terror and dry up the well of extremism that supports it. This threat is real and we cannot shrink from our responsibility to combat it. If we could create NATO to face down the Soviet Union, we can join in a new and global partnership to dismantle the networks that have struck in Madrid and Amman; in London and Bali; in Washington and New York. If we could win a battle of ideas against the communists, we can stand with the vast majority of Muslims who reject the extremism that leads to hate instead of hope.
There you have Obama adopting the War on Terra rhetoric, turning a police issue into a military one. The first sentence is a clear allure to the thinking that winning the war in Afghanistan (the explicit issue of the next paragraph) is the key to ending al Qaida style terrorism. On one hand, I don't share his optimism even for Afghanistan (both about a winnable the war, and about the tactic and networks of terrorism disappearing even locally). On the other hand, Iraq and Pakistan will remain as potential bases for al Qaida terrorism, and could metastase elsewhere too.
For the people of Afghanistan, and for our shared security, the work must be done.
As above, I question whether the "work" can be done.
A final quote, a self-criticism for America:
I know my country has not perfected itself. At times, we’ve struggled to keep the promise of liberty and equality for all of our people. We’ve made our share of mistakes, and there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions.
He must say that for the home crowd, but what I don't like about it is the self-referentialism. Liberty and equality for all of our people, not all men. Actions that have not lived up to our best intentions, as opposed to international law or the expectations/wants/choices of those who suffered these actions abroad.
European blacks watching
Much has been written about Obama's importance for the black community in the USA. But what about blacks in Europe? Who are immigrants or descendants of immigrants rather than descendants of locally held slaves (and don't form a community)?
On this, I paraphrase poemless (though I was thinking along the same lines) and Metatone. For non-Americans with a different skin colour, Obama has a special significance: the chance that the head of the strongest white-mens'-country that is lording over the world with all the weak states of coloured people may get a non-white leader. Some believe this will directly impact US policy, others see the primacy of a strong symbolism. There is also the circumstance that Obama's background as son of an immigrant from Kenya may make European blacks think that by his life's experience, Obama is even closer to them than US blacks. Of course, views aren't necessarily positive, Obama may also be identified more with the US beltway elite than his background.
At any rate, I noticed lots of blacks on the photos and TV images of the crowds at Obama's speech, and though it is hard to tell on clothing alone, it seemed to me that not just Americans but German blacks and immigrants were among them.
Meeting Merkel, the wily tactician
I won't recap here on ET what I wrote in two comments on the conflict over the Obama speech in Berlin.
The crux is: Merkel may have chosen to complain about the intention to have Obama speak at the Brandenburg Gate for tactical reasons, but by meeting Obama before his speech, I think Merkel showed her true colours. (Photo from SPIEGEL)
Meeting the gay mayor
Again I won't recap my profile of Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit on ET. But I wonder if it will play any role in the US campaign, if some McCain surrogates would want to use this meeting for some negative campaigning aimed at evangelical voters. (Photo again from SPIEGEL)