The World from Berlin 'An Ad for the War on Terror'

Barack Obama conjured up Berlin's Cold War past in his speech on Thursday, urging Germany to strengthen the trans-Atlantic relationship. The German press on Friday regards the plea as a prelude to demands for more Bundeswehr soldiers in Afghanistan.
Barack Obama has taken Berlin by storm, but will Germany really want to hear what a President Obama has to say?

Barack Obama has taken Berlin by storm, but will Germany really want to hear what a President Obama has to say?

Foto: AFP

Barack Obama stood in central Berlin on Thursday and called on the spirit of the city's turbulent Cold War past to urge Germans to strengthen the trans-Atlantic alliance. The presumptive Democratic presidential candidate spoke for just under 30 minutes  at Berlin's historic Siegessäule, or Victory Column, touching upon a dizzying array of issues, including nuclear disarmament, climate change, globalization and trade.

At the heart of the speech, however, was Obama's insistence that the challenges of the 21st century -- and in particular that of terrorism -- require a strong alliance between the United States and Europe, an alliance that has been severely tested by the disagreements of recent years.

On Friday the German press sifts through the text and subtext of Obama's speech. Most hear one essential message loud and clear: If Obama ends up in the White House, then Europeans -- and Germans in particular -- will be called upon to play a greater role in the war on terror -- and that means contributing more troops to the war in Afghanistan.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"There is no doubt that Obama will demand more from the Europeans to ensure success in Afghanistan and Iraq. … And the Germans in particular should prepare themselves for those demands. Obama will be costly for Germany. The haggling over sending more troops to Afghanistan will continue. And a President Obama will demand help in winding up the Iraq adventure in the name of strengthened trans-Atlantic solidarity."

"However, one should not overestimate the Berlin speech. Obama has proved himself to be a crafty tactician in this election campaign. He is always aware of which public he is speaking to. In Berlin he may have captured the hearts of many enthusiastic German fans, but his real audience was the undecided white voters in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Virginia. He wants to convince them that the world will also listen to a black US president. Most Americans view the Germans as reliable partners, despite their opposition to the Iraq war -- not as stubborn as the French or as eager as the British."

Conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"To the joy of the Fan Mile in Berlin he played the empathetic multilateralist, while -- to reassure his compatriots -- he played the defensive multilateralist. As such, if he were to become president, he would demand that Germany and the EU play a much stronger role than they have been up to now in the war against terror and against the other evils in the world."

"Berlin is good; Berlin is everywhere. It sounded nice, but it was just a sleight of hand when he called for people to see the fight against all the evils of the world -- against terrorism, pollution, injustice -- as the simple continuation of 1948's Berlin Airlift. But Berlin is not everywhere. There have been so many attempts full of passion and in the spirit of solidarity to reshape the world. Many failed murderously, others were abandoned. Someone who dares to claim that now is the moment of great change should have very good arguments to back up that claim. And he should make it clear that he knows something about those tragedies where goodwill often creates nothing good. Unfortunately there was little trace of this in Barack Obama's otherwise pleasant speech."

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"Obama's speech in Berlin was an ad for the war on terror. He conjured up the spirit of the Berlin Airlift and used it to call for German solidarity. It is now finally clear to the German government that more involvement -- and particularly in Afghanistan -- will be expected from Berlin. The US doesn’t see why they should grind away at fighting the Taliban while the Germans play the nice reconstruction aid workers…. Obama will ask for more. He'll ask the Germans to deploy troops in the dangerous south."

"Althought this has long been clear to the German government, Obama was still treated like a teddy bear. Politicians from almost every party projected the feeling that the trans-Atlantic partnership would automatically blossom with the Democratic politician (as president)."

"While the government already knows what awaits it, the voters for the parties in Berlin's grand coalition could soon experience a rude awakening once they see that Obama's new America is pursuing the same old goals. Until now, the Germans have always been able to reject a more robust mandate for Afghanistan with the unspoken knowledge that there was no need to run after someone like George W. Bush. But it will be much tougher to reject any urgent requests from a President Obama, who has just been so widely celebrated here."

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:

"Obama's agenda seems to contradict George W. Bush's foreign policy on nearly every point. … His agenda is well thought through and could easily have been drafted by political thinkers in Europe. However, it is very abstract on many points. When he eventually gives them substance, then these differences with the Bush administration's policies fall away."

"For Obama, as for John McCain, a militarily strong America forms the basis of all their foreign policy concepts. However, unlike the Republicans, Obama has two competing principles: maintaining the US's leading role and increasingly interweaving states in the aftermath of the Cold War."

"Obama makes no mention of fewer troops, agents or weapons. On the contrary, Obama does not follow any new theories that might lead to the end of the US's as the hegemonic power. Instead, his views harken back to the liberal interventionists of the '90s."

"For the trans-Atlantic relationship, this means that Obama will listen if we talk to him. That in itself is a substantial improvement on the last few years. Nevertheless, it is still Washington that will make the important decisions -- just as it was with other Democratic presidents, like Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy. Even if Obama does become president, it won't be enough to depend on trans-Atlantic dialogue. The Europeans must renew their efforts to formulate their own common security and foreign policy, to work harder to strengthen the United Nations, and to further develop the civilian possibilities for international crisis prevention."

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"Barack Obama is a bit like the David Beckham of politicians. Somehow different, more glamorous. In Germany he has become a star, a counter-image to Georg W. Bush's aggressive provincialism."

"When you take away the Obama feel-good factor, what remains is a crystal clear demand: More European soldiers for Afghanistan. If he wins, Obama will also be a difficult US president for Germany. In the US Afghanistan is perceived as the 'good war.' Obama will push this war ahead -- even though Afghanistan cannot be pacified by military means alone."

"Obama is also a pop star because he is not yet US president. He embodies a promise and the open, multiethnic America. His charm is tied to the fact that he is not yet identified with power. Since yesterday a clearer picture has emerged of what kind of president he will be if he wins."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"Obama's world trip was perfectly staged for the domestic voters, allowing him to cover up one of his weaknesses -- his lack of international experience. Even Obama's repeated demands for Europeans to take a greater role in the war on terror, particularly in Afghanistan, didn’t dampen the mood of the German audience. No one really wants to know about this as long as he is still not the superpower's commander-in-chief. Perhaps Obama will really succeed in following Clinton's footsteps and hide toughness behind conciliatory words and gestures. Bush, at any rate, saw his popularity plummet not only because of his policies. It was his aggressive manner -- intellectually gruff and politically impolite -- that added such a negative aura to all his mistakes."

The business daily Handelsblatt writes:

"The war on terror in Afghanistan is of prime importance to (Obama) … He did not spare the Germans and the Europeans the bitter truth that a change of administration in Washington will not change anything in the difficult task that faces the alliance. That was a friendly way of saying that the Europeans should not be under the illusion that the departure of George W. Bush will mark the beginning of paradise."

"Obama's speech also contained political content that the German government will welcome and that would provide points for closer cooperation: nuclear disarmament, close cooperation with Russia, a strong EU, free trade and the fight against climate change. But all that has a clear price, and Obama named it: The Europeans have to show more responsibility and be prepared to make sacrifices."

"Perhaps his sober speech was a bit disappointing. But, from a political point of view, it is reassuring that Obama asked for so much and promised so little: It makes him more predictable."

-- Siobhán Dowling, 12:15 p.m. CET

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