Maybe you have heard, or maybe you have not, or maybe you just do not care, but presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama paid my little corner of the world a visit last week. I am not sure what the coverage was like in the U.S., but the news was difficult to escape here. I was pretty bummed that I could not travel to Berlin to see Obama speak in person, but the German was kind enough to put the Dude to bed so that I could watch his speech live on TV.
What did I think? Well, the speech was pretty much what I predicted to a friend mine earlier in the day: a lot of rhetoric and lofty phrases in an attempt to reach out to the European community. Although the speech took place in Berlin, I told my friend, make no mistake that this is a man who wants to be president of the United States.
Overall I liked the speech. It spoke to those things that are important to me, as well as signalling a possible change in U.S. foreign policy towards more cooperation.
I have read some criticism of the speech, including that it was inappropriate to hold a "campaign stop," in a foreign country. "Hmm . . . I wonder . . .," I thought, and then I went to the books. Did you know that according to the Statistisches Bundesamt 99,891 Americans live in Germany? An estimated 4 to 10 million Americans live abroad. Wow. And I bet some of us even vote. It is okay for me if presidential candidates decide to reach out to us.
Another criticism I have read is that Obama is too popular abroad. That is, if he is too friendly with other countries then he will not put American interests first. Oddly, no one made this criticism of Bush when he claimed to know Putin's soul. None of these criticisms acknowledges that it might be a good thing to repair America's image abroad. Also, don't think that Obama's speech in Berlin was a slam dunk. There may have been many cheers, but when Obama indicated that Europe needs to play a larger role in Afghanistan, he was met mostly with silence.
Welt am Sonntag, the Sunday paper that the German and I read, had an article today about the trip. One German reporter took to the streets of Brooklyn to see what some New Yorkers thought of the speech. One woman said, "Wow. 200,000 people. Is Berlin that big?" When I read this to the German he actually stopped eating his breakfast and stared at me with his mouth hanging open. (Berlin has a population of about 3.4 million people.) Also quoted was a very eloquent, conservative by the name of Ezra. He said,"An ass hole candidate spoke in an ass hole city to 200,000 ass holes." Gee, Ezra, tell us how you really feel.
While I have to admit to E. that not visiting the troops in Germany was a mistake, I am not sure that McCain's team is exempt from "rookie mistakes."
Tucker Bounds, McCain spokesman, went on Fox News and said that, "It really speaks to the experience that Barack Obama lacks. He prioritizes throngs of fawning Germans over meeting with wounded combat troops in Germany." I think that this speaks to the experience that Bounds lacks. This comment was the front page story of my German paper this morning and also listed on Spiegel.com. Insulting a coalition partner that you want to convince to take a larger part in military affairs is . . . not such a good idea.
After a little bit of reading I also discovered that McCain thought Putin was the president of Germany, Czechoslovakia was still a country and Iraq and Pakistan share a boarder. Hmm. That must be all that new geography they teach these days.