25 July 2008

Ja, wir können

So Bono gave his much anticipated speech last night. I'm sorry. Did I say Bono? I mean Obama. I find it's getting harder to tell the sanctimonious imperatives of celeb pop singers from the sanctimonious imperatives of celeb politicians.

I didn't hear Obama's speech even though it seemed as if ever satellite channel on earth was broadcasting it. However, I did read it this morning. Maybe you had to be listening; maybe you had to be there.

On paper - or, rather, on the computer screen - this is a speech devoid of political substance, lacking any policy prescriptions for the plethora of challenges that Obama apparently plans to fix if he is elected president.

Gregor Peter Schmitz, in Spiegel Online, commented on this lack of substance:
He also spoke of the demands people in Europe had been expecting in his speech:

  • More European aid in Afghanistan. "America can not do this alone," he said. "The Afghan people need our troops and your troops."

  • Additional European support in Iraq: "The whole world should support the millions of Iraqis who seek to rebuild their lives, even as we pass responsibility to the Iraqi government and finally bring this war to a close."

  • Greater European participation in the war on terror -- which won't end under a President Obama, either. "If we could create NATO to face down the Soviet Union, we can join in a new and global partnership to dismantle the networks that have struck in Madrid and Amman; in London and Bali; in Washington and New York."

But what, precisely, is that supposed to mean? How many troops in Afghanistan? What kind of support for Iraq? And what will his new strategy against terrorists entail?

So far Obama has provided scarce details - and he has generated criticism in the US for not being more forthcoming with his ideas. For days now, his advisors have been warning that Obama is still just a presidential candidate and not the president. As such, he can only speak generally about his vision, and he can't make any concrete policy proposals. But perhaps he also went too far in announcing that this was going to be a "keynote speech on trans-Atlantic" relations.

Of course Obama is not personally to blame for the rigorous excising of political substance from the contemporary practice of politics. Reading the reviews this morning, the most telling quote came from Eckart von Klaeden, the Christian Democrat's foreign policy spokesman. He said: "It was American in the best sense of the word. With the exception of a few personal nuances, John McCain also could have given a very similar speech."

With the exception of a few personal nuances and a few national nuances, so could Gordon Brown, Angela Merkel or Nicolas Sarkozy.

Von Klaeden also introduced a sensible note of caution into the increasing - and increasingly unjustified - conviction that a President Obama could transform relationships between the US and Europe.

Regardless whether it is a President McCain or a President Obama, people will quickly determine that the trans-Atlantic relationship will not be transformed to the degree that many are expecting.
In the end, despite any claims to the contrary, this was a speech for an American audience designed to make Mr Obama look presidential.

"Tonight, I speak to you not as a candidate for President," said Mr Obama, "but as a citizen - a proud citizen of the United States, and a fellow citizen of the world." But none of the proud American citizens I see every day visiting the English Garden get to meet Angela Merkel and give a speech in Berlin. And just where do I get one of those world citizen passports?

Spiegel Online also reported Obama's denials while in Tel Aviv that the performance in Berlin was a stump speech, since, Obama said, "The people in the crowd will not be voters." Schmitz had a different impression:
While Obama shouts the last few lines of his speech into the crowd, his handlers are already escorting the members of the press that travel with him away from the guest stands. The journalists are each going to be given a few moments to speak with Obama. They're all Americans, all 40 of them. CNN, the New York Times, Newsweek, the Chicago Sun-Times. Members of the foreign press were explicitly unwelcome. The target audience was America. Sorry, Berlin.
And finally, just for fun, here's a little quiz you can take.

No comments: