July 13, 2008

Obama, The Cold War, Brandenburg Gate

After the American Century

At the end of this month Senator Obama will make a brief trip to Europe. No doubt the purpose of the journey is to bolster his international credentials, by standing in historic places and making historic looking handshakes. During the fall he can casually refer to his "good friends" Gorden and Angela. All outsider candidates do something similar, and apparently it does have some political value to the candidates.

The Germans have become a bit prickly about Obama's giving a speech at the Brandenburg Gate on July 24. Some rather prominent politicians there have said that the young Senator from Illinois did not do anything in particular for Germany during the Cold War. This will likely be true for all future US presidential candidates, however, because time is moving on. A candidate who is 50 in the next election (2012), for example, was born in 1962, and so was under 30 when the Berlin Wall came down. Candidates who were in power during the Cold War are going to disappear. Put another way, the Cold War is fading away, and the Germans might consider how to keep the memory of that confrontation alive. By asking to speak at the Brandenburg Gate, Obama is not only positioning himself in the current campaign, he is also proclaiming a valued historical relationship.

It may be that Angela Merkel's origins in former East Germany are inseparable from her reluctance to see Obama stand where Kennedy and Reagan stood before him. But for Obama, who wants Americans to find ways to reunite, to stop being Red States and Blue States, it is hard to think of a better symbol for transcending differences and for the power of dialogue instead of bullets. Merket might find it "odd", to use her word, that Obama speaks there, but what would be a more appropriate place?

The Cold War ended without a shot being fired as the Wall came down. Quite a contrast with the Bush strategy in Iraq. Senator Obama wants to emphasize that he has a different approach to foreign affairs. The German Government refused to support Bush's invasion of Iraq, as did Senator Obama.

Obama appears to be popular among the German people, moreover, and if this event comes off, it might not just look historic, it might become so.