MUNICH, GERMANY. Barack Obama’s recent trip to Europe was like an episode from the television series “Fantasy Island.” There was “de plane” rented by Obama’s campaign to fly to Europe, his hosts played by Europe’s political chieftains, and the guest (Obama) who came to get his wish. The tv series always was plotted around the idea of helping the “guests” learn something about themselves or the host taught his guests the error of their ways. This was not the case for presidential wannabe Obama. Neither did he learn, nor did his hosts try to teach.
Senator Obama’s fantasy was to burnish his foreign policy credentials in the eyes of American voters because his rapid rise to the pinnacle of American politics revealed important national security gaps in his resume. A recent USA Today/Gallup poll found that 80 percent of Americans say Senator John McCain, the presumed Republican candidate for president, could handle the responsibilities of commander in chief; only 55 percent said that of Obama.
Each stop on Obama’s three country European fantasy trip served a different purpose. Germany was the main actor while France and Great Britain played supporting roles.
Germany’s media set the stage for Obama by billing him as a superstar. One German newspaper anointed the senator “Der Schwarze JFK” — the black John F. Kennedy. The German news magazine Der Spiegel splashed the leadline “Germany Meets the Superstar” over a photo of Obama on its cover. German television offered uninterrupted broadcasts of “Obama in Berlin” during his day-long visit.
Obama’s media profile was matched by his mass appeal. A recent poll showed that 72 percent of Germans say Obama would be a better president than McCain. Such “Obamamania” explained Josef Braml, an America expert with the German Council on Foreign Relations, exists because “He’s not Bush.”
The Germans gave Obama a presidential-like welcome. He was met at Berlin’s Tegel airport and ferried by a column of black BMW and Mercedes-Benz cars to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office. Merkel and Obama reportedly discussed heady issues like climate change, economic issues, and Iran’s nuclear program. The chancellor’s spokesman said the talks were “…very open and deep discussion in a very good atmosphere.”
Hours later, Obama appeared at a rally in Berlin’s Tiergarten park where he was enthusiastically welcomed to the stage by 200,000 fans chanting “Obama, Obama, Obama” and waving banners that read “Obama for Kanzler [chancellor].” Andrea Loehr, an American in the crowd, attributed the enthusiasm to “A lot of Germans think he can save us.”
The senator spoke in vague terms like “remake the world” free of nuclear weapons and war, and together fighting global warming. He called on Europeans to tear down “…the walls between old allies” and “…the walls between races and tribes, natives and immigrants, Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand.” Clearly, Obama was trying to capture the popularity President Kennedy earned from his 1963 “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech.
Obama drew applause when he admitted that America “…made our share of mistakes, and there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions.” Loannis Loannidis, a 27-year-old Swede who was in the crowd, explained that Obama is appealing because he is “…different from other politicians. He represents minorities and he’s down to earth and smart.”
The most substantive part of his speech came when he called on Europe to “take more responsibility” for solving global problems. He urged them to take more of the financial and military burden in combating terrorism in the Middle East. But Merkel said there were clear “limits” to German troop numbers which stand at 3,500 in Afghanistan.
Even the best planned “fantasy” can sour. Some of the fawning media turned critical after Obama’s speech. The daily Handelsblatt editorialized that Obama’s message was “cooler than expected” and Die Welt called Obama’s speech a “trick” because the candidate linked the 1948 Berlin airlift with “…the battle against all evil in the world – terrorism, pollution and inequality.” The Suedeeutsche Zeitung carried a cartoon of a beaming Obama at the Tiergarten speech surrounded by a sea of blind-folded people chanting “O-bam-ma!”
Episodes of “Fantasy Island” always end by identifying lessons learned or errors made.
Obama’s choice of Germany as a foreign policy litmus was an understandable choice because Germans tend to favor the senator’s socialist views and widely dislike President Bush and McCain by association. But, it was a mistake.
American voters should skeptically view the German reaction to Obama because that country has a history of embracing socialists who promise change but deliver disaster.
Then there was the snub. Obama’s campaign scrapped a side trip to visit wounded Americans at Landstuhl Medical Center, Germany. An Obama aid said the campaign thought the senator could visit the hospital without involving them in the campaign controversy but said the stop was cancelled after the Pentagon raised concerns.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Obama was cleared to visit Landstuhl but was told he would have to conform to Defense Department guidelines that restrict political activity on military installations. That meant campaign staff and reporters would have been barred from accompanying him.
Visiting wounded American soldiers is always an appropriate act for a presidential candidate. However, it appears that Obama cancelled that visit because he couldn’t take his campaign cameras into hospital wards. If true — and by most reports it is — Obama’s conduct was disgraceful.
Obama’s European foreign credentials-seeking trip may have little consequence for the election because Americans don’t listen to what foreigners say before voting anyway. They can also see the phoniness of Obama’s Berlin speech and the utter emptiness of his words. Worst, they should be offended that a man aspiring to be commander in chief would shun wounded Americans so he could spend more time with fawning socialists and their media.
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