Thursday, July 24, 2008
Obama in Berlin
Perhaps, in such an atmosphere, the speech itself was always likely to be something of an anti-climax.
Diplomatic and campaigning conventions (and political prudence) meant that the critique of the Bush Presidency was rather a muted one, though commitments to oppose and end the war in Iraq (in the right way) won some of the largest cheers. So the candidate was never going to do what the Berlin crowd wanted, and lead them in a chorus of 'yes, we can' (though they did their best without him).
But if it was largely a speech of platitudes, they were always the right platitudes.
Being against torture, in favour of working with allies, aware of global interdependence, concerned about global warming, and committed to a fair peace for Israelis and Palestinians should hardly be earth shattering statements.
But, after the Bush era, they are statements which are needed, and which are even capable of generating great enthusiasm.
That may be more important than Obama's rock star status in explaining why a speech aimed at Americans can play so well with a European audience.
The challenge to Europeans, over Afghanistan in particular, might have been stronger than it was, not least to help allay fears that Obama's popularity abroad was a sign of weakness in international affairs. But the US mood has changed since 2004, and there are less takers for isolation as a badge of pride.
One of the ironies of Bush's polarising Presidency is that it has made it relatively easy for Obama to give a speech which has narrowed the Atlantic.
As the Washington clocks strike twelve on 20th January 2009, listen carefully and you might just hear a swooshing sigh of relief travel around the world. The Bush Presidency will not leave the legacy its architects intended. But a critique of what should have been done differently since 2001 is not enough. This blog is about the new ideas which can create a 'new multilateralism' to tackle the global challenges we face.