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.

 
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  • Comment number 79.

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

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 78.

    Phffft @76

    That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever Phffft. Or it is so incredibly deep that a Trident submarine would have trouble reaching it.

    Certainly it is beyond my meager powers of interpretation.

    Well done!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 77.

    "He loves conjuring the power of the people but hesitates before describing the limits on the power of politicians".
    It seems history has stopped. When the dream stops, the ideas stop.
    The post WW2 mentality is waning.
    The west has to rethink a new dream for a new future. This takes time.
    A fairly empty speech given by a president with an empty congress.
    Others should not perceive weakness though.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 76.

    68. Curt

    Irony,whilst accusing one with the latter,it described succinctly the mind set, the writer of the former


    31. Curt Carpenter
    "It is characteristic of American conservatives that they imagine every issue to be either black or white,every action either good or evil

    78. Curt Carpenter to Phffft
    that you're easily confused by any perspective that incorporates more than one dimension"

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 75.

    67 ‘It may be a Republican, it may be a Democrat, it may be an Independent, but it will not be Obama’

    Well spotted...

    ‘His time has came (sic) and in three years it will have went (sic)’

    Words fail...

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 74.

    73.Demerara
    How dare Obama and the US lecture when they have one of the worst human rights records in history?"
    **
    In context of Berlin??

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 73.

    How dare Obama and the US lecture when they have one of the worst human rights records in history?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 72.

    @69.sieuarlu
    I'm more concerned about these kind of lines from Rev Wright:
    "Them Jews ain't going to let him talk to me," Wright said. "I told my baby daughter that he'll talk to me in five years when he's a lame duck, or in eight years when he's out of office..."
    http://www.dailypress.com/news/dp-local_wright_0610jun10,0,7603283.story

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 71.

    While anything can happen, the apparent trajectory for the US is closer to energy independence, a nicely growing economy, returning manufacturing in robotic plants, more new technology of every type, and more military adventures abroad.The outlook for much of the rest of the world including Europe and the BRICS isn't nearly so bright. They and Turkey all have serious problems with no clear answers

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 70.

    67. LucyJ
    "Of course a lot can happen in three years but three years is not forever"

    Yes..But it may be like China, Russia and other one party nations (EU?)!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 69.

    Lucy, I'm not saying this will change your mind but I think if you listen to Reverend Wright's entire speech it will put it in an entirely different context. The media has taken one or two lines of it out of context to create anger that is not necessarily justified in light of the darker side of our history.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYahF-ClGzw

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 68.

    Phffft@65"Is Irony peculiar only to the British?"

    No more than a conservative's inability to form a complete thought and hold onto it for over ten minutes is peculiar only to Americans it would seem. Perhaps if you gave me an EXAMPLE of "irony" as you understand it, I'd be able to appreciate your thought -- assuming there was one?

    LucyJ @66

    We all know God is a Republican Lucy. Relax.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 67.

    Although I do not support Obama because I do not feel he deserves it,
    I support America

    In three years time we will get a new President and we can start again

    It may be a Republican, it may be a Democrat, it may be an Independent,
    but it will not be Obama

    His time has came and in three years it will have went

    Of course a lot can happen in three years
    but three years is not forever

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 66.

    Curt: What's the difference between a minister being "openly hostile to the government" and the American right (T.E.A. party) being that way?

    Obama's former preacher is pro-Obama but anti-America
    The Tea Party is anti-Obama but pro-America

    Like the great writer Mark Twain once wrote
    "Support your country all the time
    but only support your leader when he or she deserves it"

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 65.

    63. Curt Carpenter
    "American conservatives can't be accused of consistency".


    31 Curt Carpenter on the Bradley Manning thread,
    "It is characteristic of American conservatives that they imagine every issue to be either black or white, every action either good or evil


    Curt,seemingly they are not the only ones with consistency issues:).

    Is Irony peculiar only to the British?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 64.

    Marg: If you wrote that here in Europe you would be laughed out of town

    Martin Luther King Jr's preaching was all about love

    Obama's former preacher is all about hate

    Scott: minister was so outspokenly hostile to the government

    How could any American, especially one wanting to be President, sit through that?

    I know for this American hearing such would make me cry

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 63.

    Scott0962@60
    What's the difference between a =minister= being "openly hostile to the government" and the whole of the American right (T.E.A. party shills for a standout example) being that way? Does being a minister confer some sort of special political status?

    Does THIS minister's hot line to God ring in a different office than LucyJ's?

    American conservatives can't be accused of consistency.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 62.

    In nearly every war since WWII the US has always had the means to win but not the will.Sometimes I've wondered who is stupider, our civilian leaders who control the military or our leaders in uniform who carry out the orders.They've wasted one opportunity after another.They won the cold war with money alone by bankrupting the enemy.They lost in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.Won in Serbia?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 61.

    59. sieuarlu "Here's a hard truth for BO....The US did not fight to win and has now turned over the job to an ill prepared military that's likely to lose.What will BO say to families of US casualties?"

    :-) He'll blame it on Bush!

    Now that he has Kerry on board, with the experience of surrendering to an enemy, Karzai's days are numbered just like the South Vietnamese where..He'll like California!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 60.

    re. 56.margaret howard:
    "In a secular state people can follow any religion (or no religion) and say what they like."

    Quite right. It was the fact that a presidential candidate regularly attended services where the minister was so outspokenly hostile to the government that was newsworthy, not his choice of religion.

 

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