Mardell: No hard truths in Berlin

Composite photo of Barack Obama in Berlin 2008 and 2013 Times change: Barack Obama near Brandenburg Gate in 2008 (left) and 2013 (right)

It's a sweltering hot day in Berlin. Barack Obama got a cheer for taking off his jacket and urging others to do the same. It wasn't the last of his exhortations, by any means.

As for John Kennedy and later Ronald Reagan, this great city and its tortured history were his backdrop and his chosen symbol.

But theirs were times of danger and hope. Part of his point was that the West must not stop striving - nor think history has stopped.

He said Berlin stood for peace and for justice, for those who wanted to tear down walls of all types.

His hopes and aspirations ranged far and wide across a liberal wish list, from democracy to climate change, to a reduction in nuclear weapons to an end to Aids, from gay rights to girls' education.

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The news conference with Angela Merkel seemed to deal with more realistic themes than the speech”

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In fact it wasn't that different from the speech he gave here in 2008, as a candidate.

But the context has changed: then thousands packed into the streets. Today he was behind bulletproof glass and the streets were empty, the crowds at home, put off by the security that emptied the centre of a city. The audience was small and invited.

Mr Obama makes an intriguing contrast with Kennedy, who made his famous speech here 50 years ago. They were both icons for a generation who wanted change and demanded something different.

Kennedy was an icon of promise, his promise cruelly cut short by murder. But Mr Obama, equally a repository for the world's optimism, is into his second term now.

Yearning for freedom

The news conference with Angela Merkel seemed to deal with more realistic themes than the speech. He was asked tough questions about the Taliban and Afghanistan, about spying on foreigners and arming the Syrian rebels.

His answers were considered and fairly full. He also dealt with the issue of spying in his speech but in general there seemed to be a disconnect between his high-flown rhetoric and the difficult world in which he leads a superpower.

Yes, people yearn for freedom. He maintains they deserve the West's help. But he does not go on to explain or explore the limits of what can and should be done.

That is all the more frustrating because it is not a vague academic thing to mull over - it has been the question he has confronted ever since the Arab Spring began and the one he faces now in Syria.

He loves conjuring the power of the people but hesitates before describing the limits on the power of politicians.

Mark Mardell Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell Presenter, The World This Weekend

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  • rate this

    Comment number 39.


    Stop lying, your words are here for all to see - just follow the post nos through....

    Sally claimed Taliban kill Americans

    I pointed out they only did so because Americans invaded their country

    You claimed that I was saying Islamist Fundamentalists do kill Americans on US soil

    I pointed out I was talking about the Taliban, not Al Quida......

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    #36: mostly right, but AQ is actually older than the Taliban. AQ developed from Arab fighters that went to Afghanistan to fight the Russians.

    The Taliban was (originally) a Pakistan-backed force that took over Afghanistan during the civil war after the Russians were driven out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    And so far no chance of inter-Afghan talks:

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.


    I did not misrepresent your views. Taliban was a regime closely associated with al-Qaida who invited al-Qaida to Afghanistan, allowed it to create bases, training camps and R&R facilities there and despite US giving it a choice staunchly refused to give away Osama bin Laden.

    Pray, tell what's a difference between those two outfits?

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    29.powermeerkat - "............Islamist terrorists killed them long before an invasion of Afghanistan......"

    Once again in order to try & make a point PM has to completely misrepresent someone's views....!!!!

    The point was NOT about Islamist terrorists per se, but the Taliban specifically.....


  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    "Tough questions", on foreign policy, & "arming the Syrian rebels"
    Reflecting tough questions at home

    Our 'modern democracy', a dysfunctional sham, has naturally proved 'widely resistible', & when in good faith aped it has proved everywhere vulnerable to corruption & instability. Elites fear own displacement, the people fear loss of sectional 'protectors'

    No model our divided West

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    14 ‘Obama could have been one of the best Presidents that ever lived/Instead he chose to go against God/and that is where he went wrong’

    Presumably yet another reference to your interminable obsession with legalising gay marriage?

    If there is a Supreme Being I hope he has bigger things to obsess about. And if he hated gays so much, why did he make so many?

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Obama may be more popular in Berlin than in Washington after the news that the FBI has been using surveillance drones in the US.

    Hardly likely, esp. since FBI uses drones only for border patrolling and specific, narrow searches (e.g. during kidnappings).

    Although Obama's decision to nominate G.W. Bush's official as the next FBI director may not be popular with some.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    13 Lucy ‘Obama also wants to reduce America's nukes to zero’

    You repeat this ad nauseam. Can you provide a link to where Obama says he wishes to unilaterally scrap all US nukes? AFAIK he just announced he wishes to negotiate significant reductions with Russia, which is entirely different. For a believer you seem to have a sketchy relationship with truth

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    14 Lucy

    "Instead he chose to go against God
    and that is where he went wrong"

    I thought you were a secular state, not a theocracy.
    Are you implying there is little difference between you and other theocracies in the Middle East?

    And how do you know he 'chose to go against god'? Do you have a direct line?

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    #18: "Snowdon didn't do anything wrong
    as he only told us what was happening on internet
    no secrets were given away"

    Tell that to his own father who appealed to him not to betray any more and instead turn himself in.

    And re Americans being killed 'only because they invaded Afghanistan'.

    Islamist terrorists killed them long before an invasion of Afghanistan and also of Iraq.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    “You appear very blinkered with your response of sound bytes (sic). i suggest you read a little more widely and while your (sic) at it also improve your understanding of the American culture.

    Spouting with your level of ignorance is imature (sic) and unhelpfull (sic).”

    Comment is superfluous

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Karazai's government has already rejected an idea of its participation in talks with Taliban.

    Russia is unwilling to cut its nuclear arsenal any further while US Congress will not permit a unilateral weakening of US's strategic deterrent.

    Hundreds of uninvited Germans held signs: "Yes, we SCAN!".

    While "Berliner" is a fattening pastry.

    He can talk the talk, but can he walk the walk?

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    "do we just let people be persecuted in every form?"

    Right question, in faith: our existence is real, all "people"; our care is worthwhile, demanding more than "rhetoric"; our promises are to be taken seriously, not simply in competition between leader-puppets but at least in education for democracy, against rule of fear & greed, necessarily for equal partnership, however 'strange'

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Obama the showman plays the crowd like a cheap violin. However there is little in the detail only rhetoric. So much promised very little delivered.

    As far as being in their country goes, well I fear that just turning your back is inhumane. However I do feel that it should be up to the UN to take the lead but that is never going to happen. So do we just let people be persecuted in every form?

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    13.LucyJ - "......How can America 'negociate' with a terrorist organization who enslaves females and whose extremist religious vow is to kill us+ our loved ones every day?...."

    A/. Because you can't beat them.....I'd have thought that was obvious by now!

    B/. They only kill Americans because you invaded their country - leave theory country & they'll stop killing you....

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    22 View_Germany

    Long time to hold a grudge. Better to move on.

  • Comment number 22.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    9. Curt Carpenter
    "Speaks volumes about the state of the American electorate."

    Past and present!

    Mark correctly addressed the reality of Obama!
    "He loves conjuring the power of the people but hesitates before describing the limits on the power of politicians."

    Catering to the gullible disenfranchised to support him!

    Now for the support from the Taliban!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    'Checks and balances'.... from a congress that daily lays prostrate to special interests.... a court that declares 'money is speech' and 'corporations are people'.... and a current administration whose agency heads perjure themselves with the "least untruthful" lies.......

    Just wait until the next Bush/Cheney get in --- and who needs a warrant when you don't use a court...


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