In our most watched video, Atlantic Community’s editor-in-chief Joerg Wolf and head of outreach Ben Heine interviewed attendees of the Obama speech in Berlin:
The video offers us a reexamination of people's expectations. Since 2008, much has changed. One of the original interviewees in our video, Casey Butterfield from Austin, Texas, weighed in now four years later:
In 2008 I said that I did not think Obama would be able to please everyone in office, and what has happened in the interim has certainly borne out that statement. I also mentioned a mass belief in that things could not get much worse than they were already, which turned out to be just two months before Lehman Brothers was allowed to collapse and the dominoes of the global financial crisis began to fall.
Now the only way out of the aftermath of this crisis seems to be to suffer through, and some countries are having to suffer much more than others. I wish there were an opportunity for another address of this sort today: a speech that we could all project our optimism onto, an event that would bring people together in the name of hope. We could use it!
In general, the Germans in attendance did not support Obama's candidacy because he promised change, the main narrative in the US, but rather because he was expected to return the United States to the familiar pre-Bush trajectory. As stated in our original article at the time:
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.
This more realistic picture of Obama is reflected in what Ben Heine and interviewee Christopher Paun from Berlin have to say now. Looking back at the speech and the past four years, Ben commented:
It was clear to me, that realistically Obama wouldn't be able to meet all the expectations that people had of him, so there were no big surprises.
Interviewing the people who came out to listen to Obama speak, you could really feel a sense of excitement, and it seemed as if people were projecting their own personal hopes and wishes onto Obama. I think the atmosphere would be much less euphoric if Obama came to Berlin now.
I still believe the transatlantic partnership is the most important element in US foreign policy, however Europe is becoming less important for America – not so much because of a realignment of US policy but more due to Europe's lack of leadership.
Overall I think it's been a good presidency. I mostly agree with his foreign policy decisions, health care reform and legislation on social issues. Unfortunately for him, he has not been able to create greater incentives for job creation, and this is his major weakness going into the next election.
More critically, Christopher wrote:
When Barack Obama came to Berlin to give his speech in 2008, I decided to protest the fact that he changed his position on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). In the primaries he promised to filibuster the FISA Amendments Act, but then he supported it. Looking back, I think it was only one of several examples where Barack Obama showed that he is willing to sacrifice liberty for security.
Now, as the first term of his presidency comes to an end, a closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp is not in sight, although Barack Obama promised to do exactly that even after he was elected. He also approved drone strikes killing German and American citizens, instead of bringing them to justice in a due process. All this is very disappointing for freedom-lovers, but I do not see how other potential presidents (e.g. John McCain or Mitt Romney) would pursue a more reasonable strategy against terrorism.
Although the risk for Americans of dying in a terrorist attack is much lower than dying in a car accident, the United States spends an unreasonable amount of resources on the fight against terrorism and is willing to sacrifice civil liberties in an unreasonable way. This was true about the anti-terrorism policy of George W. Bush and it still is true about the anti-terrorism policy of Barack Obama.
In light of these statements and the past four years, many questions come to mind: Do we find ourselves on better footing today? Did Obama return the United States to its traditional path and, by extension, to policies that Germans and others could be comfortable with? Or has he followed more in Bush's footsteps? Tell us what you think in the comments.