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July 25, 2008 |  10 comments |  Print  Your Opinion  

Obama in Europe: Continuity We Can Believe In

E. Ben Heine: The majority of Germans support Barack Obama for the US presidency, not because they believe he will radically change US policy, but because he is expected to return it to the familiar pre-Bush trajectory.



Berlin's Strasse des 17. Juni, the stretch of road extending west of the Brandenburg Gate and the location of the victory column where Barack Obama gave a widely anticipated campaign speech on Thursday, is often used for mega-events such as public viewing of international football championships and the Love Parade. Conventional wisdom in the run-up to Obama's rally held that it would be a similar sort of love parade—a blanket celebration by Germans of their new idol, and nothing short of a cakewalk for the Illinois senator, who would have to do little more than deliver a few truisms catering to their widespread aversion to the Bush administration to gain the sort of exultations Pope John Paul II would normally receive during his international tours. Germans, many American observers presumed, would in essence not be cheering for Obama, but against Bush.

Yet conventional wisdom was proven wrong on both counts. Generally favorable towards Obama, many of the attendees we spoke to during the rally indicated they had come to hear the speech out of curiosity and interest in politics, rather than a specific desire to admire the presidential nominee. When asked about what changes in transatlantic relations they would expect under an Obama presidency, most people surveyed for our video gave a rather pragmatic assessment, suggesting a definite improvement in ties, but no radical deviation from the greater continuity of US foreign policy.

Atlantic-community.org interviews with attendees of the Obama speech in Berlin (15min):


Video in German:
Interview mit Klaus Staeck, Grafikdesigner, Karikaturist, Jurist und Präsident der Akademie der Künste (3min):


Video of Barack Obama's speech below (25min). Transcript here.

On the other hand, Obama also steered clear of potshots and pandering, and instead focused on setting out a broad vision for the transatlantic alliance that is both ambitious and challenging, calling on Europe, and Germany specifically, to take a greater initiative on issues of global governance and shared security. Well aware of the historic symbolism of the city, Obama used phrasing from the famous Berlin speeches by Ernst Reuter, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan, to connect the ideological clash of the cold war with the post-9/11 war on terror, and frame both within the greater historic struggle for liberty, thereby reappropriating one of the pet themes of conservatives.

Congruently, Barack Obama views American values as universal, and America as the quintessential global leader with a mission to uphold and defend democratic principles in the world. However, this ambition should no longer be singular to the United States, but needs to be shared by all its democratic allies, whom he calls common "heirs to a struggle for freedom."

Indeed, Germans firmly share a belief in these values, and it is precisely because Obama, through his charisma and sophistication, is able to restore some of the trust eroded during the last eight years, that he is able to generate so much enthusiasm. Obama's popularity in Germany is not based on him being the anti-Bush, but on his ability to reaffirm belief in ideals cheapened through the hypocrisy of the Bush administration. Germans favor Obama, not because he will set American foreign policy on a different course, but because they expect him to return it to its traditional path—a constellation they are comfortable with.

Obama, however, expects more from Germany than convenience.

Written by Ben Heine

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Tags: | US elections 2008 | Obama | Germany |
 
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David  Vickrey

July 25, 2008

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Excellent commentary and the videos are great! It is interesting that in the interviews nearly everyone had a positive reaction to the speech, but each seemed to pick up on different aspects.

I was especially interested in the comments by Klaus Staeck. He pointed out that it was not simply a love-fest, but rather that everyone was listening intently to the words of the speech. He also made the point that the idea that Germans are "anti-American" is mistaken. They were anti-Bush. The fact that a quarter of a million would come out to hear an American political leader speak - and hopefully bring change to transatlantic relations - proves the point.

Now it's up to us in America to get Barack Obama elected so that his next speech in Germany will be as president in front of the Brandenburg Gate.
Tags: | Barack Obama |
 
Unregistered User

July 25, 2008

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it's refreshing to hear the perspectives of German people on the Obama speech. i like the way the how Germans are both excited and *realistic* about geopolitical transatlantic relations.

thanks for posting the video interviews.

~C
 
Unregistered User

July 27, 2008

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It is odd that Senator McCain is also calling for a defensive 'alliance of democracies'. I think this shows that there is a wider consensus in the American establishment to rebuild trust with old allies, and I think in general we can expect that transatlantic relations will return to their normalcy disrupted in 2001.
 
Joerg  Wolf

July 27, 2008

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@ Antal,

Thanks for your comment!

I agree. Transatlantic relations will improve with a President McCain as well.

But: I don't think there will be a return to the pre-2001 time. Too much has changed on both sides of the Atlantic.

Moreover, I believe McCain's league of democracies will not improve transatlantic relations, but provide competition to the traditional alliance by reaching out to non-European democracies. Just my two cents of course.

P.S.: If you login, then your picture will be shown next to your comment. And there will be a link to your profile.

Tags: | League of democracies | McCain |
 
Donald  Stadler

July 27, 2008

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Joerg., when I read someone predict that relations will 'improve' I read that as meaning that things will become more polite - not necessarily closer. Such 'improvement' tend to last until the fist crisis which puts a wedge between the US and Europe - and no longer I think.

The lasting improvements which I see the US making are not with Germany, france, and Spain but rather with India, Brazil, and perhaps China. Obama will improve realtions with Africa massively if elected, and quite possibly improve public opinion about the US in the Muslim world.

Any improvement in Europe - US relationships will be more marginal, shallower, and less important. And probably fleeting, because I see powerful forces in Europe who seem to believe it's in their interest to alienate the US - and they are succeeding. Whether this is wise - that's another question.
 
Dániel  Antal

July 28, 2008

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I eventually managed to log in. I agree with your analysis and find your coverage excellent.
 
Leonie  Holthaus

July 28, 2008

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It is a pity that Obama is not as excited about Europe as the Europeans are about him.
His opponents criticize his lack of foreign policy experience. The speech in Berlin, the first one in Europe, would have been a great chance to prove that his critics are wrong and to show Europeans that he cares about Europe. However, he hardly responded to the European positions on e.g. Afghanistan nor did he address issues of the European integration process. If Europe is “the best partner for the US,” the presidential candidate should demonstrate that he knows of who he is talking. Otherwise the prediction made by earlier commentators are likely to become true: US-EU relations will not improve noticeably.
Tags: | Europe | US | US elections 2008 |
 
Dániel  Antal

July 29, 2008

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In a way I am happy that the American presidential candidates do not talk about the European integration. That is really not their business. I think that although this is a campaign speech targeted at American voters not Europeans, but still it opens up questions for Europe, both on Afghanistan and Iraq, it mentions the Balkans - I wonder if we have the answers for these questions. If President Obama or President McCain will visit Europe this issues will come up and it looks to me that we don't have the answer of a serious and trusted ally.
Tags: | US elections 2008 | Defence |
 
Member deleted

March 3, 2009

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Now that Obama is on his seat, people are looking forward to a great change that has promised by President Obama. He, together with his administration is working on the economic stimulus package to make it happen. He has picked a third nominee to head the Department of Commerce, which has been one of the most conflicted appointments thus far, as the previous two candidates have dropped out. The former governor of Washington State, Gary Locke, is expected to be the charm. The former governor, though not devoid of controversy, was by and large a popular governor, and pending any tax hassles may be a lock for Commerce Secretary. The post has been troubled, but since it is related to the economy, it is vital that a pick be found to head the Department of Commerce soon.
 
Unregistered User

March 19, 2012

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Obama looks to FDR and JFK as his Democratic Party role-models. Unfortunately FDR, today's more serious rsitohians and economists agree, prolonged the Great Depression with his Programs and tried to expand his power to such an extent that Bush's shredding of the Constitution looks like a folded crease.Obama's statement I'm not asking you to believe in my ability to bring about real change Washington I'm asking you to believe in yours is clearly a derivation of JFK's famous Ask not what your country can do for you ask what you can do for your country. The thinking behind JFK's statement is put into perspective best, imho, by economist Milton Friedman, who states:Neither half of the statement expresses a relation between the citizen and his government that is worthy of the ideals of free men in a free society. The paternalistic what your country can do for you implies that government is the patron, the citizen the ward, a view that is at odds with the free man's belief in his own responsibility for his own destiny. The organismic, what you can do for your country implies that government is the master or the deity, the citizen, the servant or the votary. Capitalism and Freedom, 1The policies of FDR, JFK and BHO all have this in common: government intrudes into citizens' lives to provide a means for the planners'/socialist politicians' end. This intrusion can come in the form of what your government can do for you e.g. social justice, or it can come in the form of what you can do for your country, such as Obama's plan to tax wind-fall profits.
Tags: | who states:Neither half of the statement expresses a relation between the citizen and his government that is worthy of the ideals of free men in a free society. The paternalistic what your country can do for you implies that government is the patron | prolonged the Great Depression with his Programs and tried to expand his power to such an extent that Bush's shredding of the Constitution looks like a folded crease.Obama's statement I'm not asking you to believe in my ability to bring about real change Washington I'm asking you to believe in yours is clearly a derivation of JFK's famous Ask not what your country can do for you ask what you can do for your country. The thinking behind JFK's statement is put into perspective best | today's more serious rsitohians and economists agree | Obama looks to FDR and JFK as his Democratic Party role-models. Unfortunately FDR | a view that is at odds with the free man's belief in his own responsibility for his own destiny. The organismic | the citizen the ward | such as Obama's plan to tax wind-fall profits. | or it can come in the form of what you can do for your country | JFK and BHO all have this in common: government intrudes into citizens' lives to provide a means for the planners'/socialist politicians' end. This intrusion can come in the form of what your government can do for you e.g. social justice | 1The policies of FDR | the servant or the votary. Capitalism and Freedom | the citizen | what you can do for your country implies that government is the master or the deity | by economist Milton Friedman | imho |
 

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