Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Berliners welcome Obama as they did JFK

The Democratic presidential nominee, who delivers the sole public foreign policy speech of his overseas tour here Thursday, was dubbed 'president of the world' by Der Spiegel.

(Page 2 of 2)

Obama is expected to stress that an America under his leadership would not act unilaterally, will close Guantánamo, be newly cooperative with Europe on climate change and energy. But the presumptive nominee is also expected to add a note of realism, saying that a productive new relationship will require more of Europe – in Afghanistan, and even in Iraq.

Skip to next paragraph

Dr. Hamilton, a former deputy assistant secretary of State, anticipates something like, "If Europe and the US stick together, they represent a core group that can get things done in this world. If we don't work together, things don't get done. Iraq and [the] Kyoto [Protocol] are examples."

"The guy needs to demonstrate a willingness to move toward a multilateral approach," says François Heisbourg, head of the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research. "I don't think the Europeans expect a detailed foreign policy speech. They want to know if he's a quick learner, does he understand how serious security policy is?"

His audience isn't likely to be hard to win over. Obama may be taking political heat at home, and he's run into a local spat over the location of the Berlin speech. But Germans on both the left and right don't seem to care: 76 percent of Berliners would vote for him, and he's been dubbed by influential news magazine Der Spiegel as "the president of the world." He could "stand on his head" and it wouldn't matter, said one media critic.

Obama originally sought to speak at the historic Brandenburg Gate, but Chancellor Angela Merkel disapproved. "No German candidate for high office would even think of using the National Mall [in Washington] ... for a rally because it would not be seen as appropriate," said spokesman Thomas Steg.

The alternative venue, a famous winged victory column not far away – the Siegessäule featured in the hauntingly beautiful Wim Wenders film "Wings of Desire" – will allow cameras to still frame Obama with the Gate behind.

Obama will, however, meet with Mrs. Merkel. Born and raised in East Germany and fluent in Russian, she is expected to brief him on why Europe has a different take on Moscow. The next US president will have to deal with the thorny question of NATO expansion into Georgia and Ukraine next year – opposed by Germany, but broadly supported by both US parties.

Karen Donfried, vice president of the German Marshall Fund in Washington, argues that Obama's upside in Europe is his ability to inspire. "He's an inspirational individual and that may be important when it comes to offering a vision that asks Europeans to do more. Currently there's a disconnect between policy elites and the public in Europe."

Obama's post-cynical style "makes it possible to have faith in politics," agrees Norbert Rottgen, of Merkel's conservative CDU party.

The potential downside, Dr. Donfried says, would take place if Senator McCain defeats Obama. "The Europeans all think Obama is already elected, they think he will win. If he doesn't, it's going to be a huge letdown in Europe."