Obama in Berlin — and Paris


It wasn’t one of his best speeches, but of course it was a good event. Big crowds look great anywhere, and the McCain camp’s reaction seems a little short on oomph. But I want to give you most of today’s Le Monde editorial, just to show that not everyone is wowed by the guy. Le Monde isn’t definitive these days, even in France, if it ever was. This is just one slice from a spectrum of reaction in a bushel of countries whose citizens don’t vote in U.S. elections. And if people listened to editorialists… well, they don’t, is all. And finally, the editorial’s final paragraph makes an argument I really find unfortunate. But I was struck by the brusque, skeptical tone in a newspaper that would, in general, be expected to support Obama over his opponent. This is just a reminder to those who believe the election of an African-American president would change everything: as a rule, not everything changes. My translation:

If Europe knows Barack Obama well, the opposite isn’t true. The Democratic candidate for the U.S. presidency, who begins on Thursday 24 July a short European tour — Berlin, Paris and London — indicated, at the end of 2007, that he had travelled in Europe before, but in the four years he has been a member of the Senate, he has made only one trip to London on the way to Russia. He is frequently criticized for not having convened a meeting of the Senate subcommittee on Europe, which he presides. A few months ago, he had not yet asked to meet the European Union representative in Washington.

According to the polls, the European populations are overwhelmingly pro-Obama, but governments have reason to be more circumspect. On trade the candidate has been protectionist. He nuanced his position after the primaries but Europeans can fear that a majority Democratic Congress might exert more pressure. “Obama may be a ‘global’ candidate, but his positions aren’t at all,’ say many experts, including Reginald Dale, of the Centre for Strategic International Studies….
Finally Europeans can fear the Mr. Obama’s calls for help, especially in Afghanistan. As in 2004, during the Bush-Kerry confrontation, some analysts calculate that John McCain, the Republican candidate, will ask for less war effort from Europeans.


Obama in Berlin — and Paris

  1. I find the Canadian liberals (party and peoples) support of Obama a little naive. I don’t think he will be quite the anti-war candidate they suppose him to be. An example being his repeated referral to the Berlin Airlift, inferring it was an example of a great thing that was done, as it indeed was. Those liberals might recall that the Canadian Liberal Prime Minister of the day, Mackenzie King, refused to participate in that wonderful effort, in part because the potential outcome “terrified” him. They might also pray that Obama will not call upon them to help him in any future such effort to keep democracy alive – or he might find that using him as a prop for their electoral ambitions is one thing, stepping up to the plate to actually help is something else entirely.

  2. I found his speech a little underwhelming as well. But it must of been nice for Americans(some of course) to see one of their political leaders giving a speech in a foreign country and being cheered, instead of booed by thousands. And BarryW, many Liberal party and peoples, as you say, are well aware of Obama’s naunces and it has nothing to do with naivety.

  3. Speech was too long.

  4. “I don’t think he will be quite the anti-war candidate they suppose him to be.”

    Perhaps not, but how will he compare on the anti-war front to John McCain? You can’t seriously believe John McCain is more anti-war than Obama, can you?

    Blues Chair makes a good (and perhaps important) point too. As Jon Stewart commented last night in response to all the stars and stripes waving Germans “There appears to be something wrong with your flags. They’re not one fire. When was the last time you saw THAT overseas?”

  5. John McCain is more anti war, in the sense that he can present an image of don’t mess with me. Remember that the US was attacked immediately after Clinton treated terrorism like a criminal investigation, and GWB was originally known as an isolationist, who couldn’t tell you the capital of Germany, let alone Afganistan. I think the terrorists were shocked by his response and declaration of war. Obama represents a return to the CLinton philosophy, which will inevitably result in new attacks, and a new war.

  6. I agree with Greg’s analysis. Weak leaders invite others to attack them. So Obama might be more anti-war but he is also more likely to attract the nutters who want to take him/U.S. on.

    On a more general note, I think the ‘cult’ of Obama is astonishing. He has been a junior U.S. senator for three years but is probably the most well-known/liked politician in the world at the moment.

    I also think McCain campaign is amateur hour and he needs to step up his game soon. Having lunch at Schmidt’s Restaurant und Sausage Haus while Obama is doing his speech, or running anti-Obama ads in Berlin, N.H.; Berlin, Wis.; and Berlin, Pa., is distinctly ‘B’ team stuff.

  7. I wonder if there will be a lot of comparisons between the meteoric rise and fall of Sarko and Obama’s current trajectory.

    There certainly are interesting parallels…

  8. Greg:

    I am a moderate who believes that wars should be avoided, but must be considered a foreign policy option; however, I have a problem with your assessment of the nature of terrorist attacks. You suggest that warhawks somehow prevent terrorist attacks, but I’d like to see some real evidence (the fact that the U.S. hasn’t been attacked in the past few years doesn’t count, seeing as the planning that goes into something like 9/11 takes a long, long time).
    The terrorists were shocked by Bush’s response? I don’t believe that for a second; they got the exact response they desired. Think of the recruiting possibilities that arise while the United States has its troops on foreign soil.
    Canada’s leadership (in the past) hasn’t been hawkish (although Chretien used the military a lot more than people generally believe he did) and there haven’t been a whole lot of attacks here that I can recall. I think that there is this assumption that the hawks are the ones that prevent the attacks. In my opinion they’re the ones that lay the groundwork for the attacks. That said, Obama’s not a complete fool. He will quite likely be the next president; he’ll become comfortable with using the military soon enough.

  9. If Obama will be more militaristic than Clinton was, all the better for US militarism! It was Clinton’s spinelessness that let Afghanistan turn into Al Qaeda Central, that let Rwanda happen, that left Bosnia to the wolves, etc.

    The “cult” of Obama, in the US & abroad, is a reaction to Bush’s massive unpopularity. It’s not just that he’s not Bush (McCain too is not Bush), it’s that he’s the anti-Bush. All the criticism of Obama (by sensible people) boils down to, “Uh, he’s not a GOD, you know,” to which the only answer is “Duh.” But imagine if he had not appeared and it was McCain vs. Clinton. Where’s the anti-Bush there? Where’s the chance to like America again?

  10. BTW, it’s unreasonable of us as Canadians (i.e. people keen on trade) to simultaneously remark that Obama is crafty (!) AND that he’s shown signs of protectionism. He IS crafty and his protectionism happened quite suddenly around the time of the Michigan primary; and hasn’t been heard from since. It is now far too late for any American president to repeal NAFTA; they can’t even restrict illegal immigration without encountering huge opposition from US business. And we’re worried Obama might cross swords with the US capitalists! He might as well cross swords with the tide.

  11. Jack, your comments reflect the fallacy of most Obama-watchers – with this belief that, on the one hand, Obama will bring in great sweeping changes, just not the specific changes he supports that would negatively impact you. Obama’s Berlin speech, like his Reverend Wright speech was effective in part because it was both entertaining and empty.

    Reagan used his rhetorical gifts to sell Americans on return to market-oriented economics. Roosevelt used his to sell the New Deal. What great vision or calling is Obama selling – beyond mere rhetoric and “I’m not Bush”?

    As to which candidate is the better “global” candidate, the answer seems obvious to me. McCain is consistent in his support for free trade. McCain has genuinely interesting proposals for a league of democracies, and seating India and Brazil in the G-8 (G-10 minus Russia?), though not really fleshed out. On Iraq, McCain and Obama effectively have the same position – Obama supports a “clear timetable” which may leave residual troops (which could be as many as 60-80,000), depending upon conditions. McCain also supports withdrawal, but is more cautious about the conditions of that withdrawal, or declaring “mission accomplished” (Obama’s argument presumes that the surge worked, and that on this issue, Obama was not “right on day one”, to use his counter to Clinton).

    Paul Wells doesn’t think much of Le Monde’s statement about McCain asking less of Nato on Afghanistan, but McCain has expressed a desire to expand America’s military, something that would (eventually) provide relief for soldiers in Afghanistan. Moreover, if McCain’s “league of democracies” is more than still-born, it would surely trade concessions in terms of American influence for a greater EU effort. Economically, American hegemony ended in the 1970’s, when the G-8 (it wasn’t 8 yet) was formed in response to the oil crisis, and America’s inability to go it alone. The war in the middle east signals the second phase of that decline – in the form of America’s relative military decline vis-a-vis other peer competitors like China.

  12. Hosertohoosier, I have to disagree in extenso –

    Re: expectations of Obama from me and many a fellow cultist, I’m sure everybody has a different idea of what Change is going to mean. In my case I’m in favour of Change for Change’s sake, for the optics of it. America’s reputation is so incredibly low right now – it has literally never been lower – that we foreign Americanophiles first and last want someone who will not stay this course.

    On Iraq, McCain and Obama may not differ in substance, but what are their instincts? McCain’s has always been for dropping more bombs; Obama’s for peace. In fighting wars, where developments are unpredictable, judgement is the criterion. What if, say, the Sunni tribes, so successfully bribed thusfar, started chafing? McCain would surely go for Fallujah Redux; Obama might be more creative. To have blindly embraced the “Surge” for its pro-troops optics is not a claim to foresight or wisdom. Anyway, either way it comes down to declaring victory; but which candidate has learned his lesson about invading helpless little countries? Not McCain. Something of a factor for us citizens of helpless little countries.

    As to the Surge having worked, violence is exactly where it was in 2005, the last time the media was covering Iraq & blowing apocalyptic trumpets. I mean, 500+ attacks per day! Still, you’re probably right that it provides a convenient rationale for cutting and running.

  13. You know that being an American is more than a matter of where your parents came from. It is a belief that all men are created free and equal and that everyone deserves an even break.HarryS.TrumanHarry S. Truman

  14. The US presidential election will be decide based on the comfort levels of voters. Obama is the coffee candidate; McCain is the beer candidate. Which candidate would voters invite into their homes for a drink? Obama for coffee or McCain for a beer?

  15. Jack, depends on what step your on the AA program… Lucky for me I drink enormous amounts of coffee and beer, I’ll vote for both of them.

  16. He who lives by fighting with an enemy has an interest in the preservation of the enemy’s life.FriedrichWilhelmNietzscheFriedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

  17. Executives are like joggers. If you stop a jogger, he goes on running on the spot. If you drag an executive away from his business, he goes on running on the spot, pawing the ground, talking business. He never stops hurtling onwards, making decisions and executing them.JeanBaudrillardJean Baudrillard

  18. There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written.OscarWildeOscar Wilde

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