Obama in Berlin

I thought his speech was disappointing. He played it very safe. What he said was insubstantial even by his standards, and sometimes painfully banal. And it seemed to me to lack the flair in delivery that usually makes up the deficit. There were no memorable lines. All that stuff about tearing down (metaphorical) walls was predictable and lame. It was a mistake to evoke memories of “Tear down this wall,” an unrepeatably dramatic stroke. And who thought it was a good idea to recycle “This is the moment”? Old hat by now in the US and entirely without resonance in Germany. He seemed subdued and a little nervous, too, which would be understandable, since it is difficult to please two such different audiences–the one in Berlin, and the one back home–at the same time.

Speaking at home, a favourite device is to challenge his listeners a little (as recently, when he reminded a teachers’ union that he supports merit pay and charter schools). There was a smidgen of that in Berlin–he called on Europe to increase its support for US efforts in Afghanistan–but no more, most likely because he did not know the audience well enough to be confident about getting the balance right.

For what it’s worth, Der Spiegel was none too impressed.

The images of the cheering crowd–200,000 was a decent turn-out, I’d say–are a great plus of course. And he avoided the main mistake he might have made, so far as American voters are concerned: there was no pandering to anti-American sentiment, and almost none to anti-Bush sentiment. At one point, the reference to Iraq, the crowd was about to get behind that feeling and he stifled it. This denied him the roars of adulation which were there for the taking, but which would have dealt him a serious and possibly lethal blow back home. So it was steady, but dull.

How long, one wonders, will Germany stay in love with Obama if he is elected? My guess is not long. The real question, once America’s and Europe’s diverging interests start to be asserted, is whether his Euro-fans will feel mildly let down or outrageously betrayed. See this piece by David Aaronovitch, “Eventually, we will all hate Obama too“.

So Barack Obama, en fête around the world, will one day learn that there is no magical cure for the envy of others. What makes America the indispensable power (and even more indispensable in the era of the new China), is precisely what makes anti-Americanism inevitable.

Unfortunately, I think Aaronovitch is right.

Clive Crook’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

I have been the FT's Washington columnist since April 2007. I moved from Britain to the US in 2005 to write for the Atlantic Monthly and the National Journal after 20 years working at the Economist, most recently as deputy editor. I write mainly about the intersection of politics and economics.

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