Monday, July 14, 2008

BHO in Europe -- Innocents Abroad

Presidential politics on a European stage can be tricky business. Nouri Lumendifi, one of the smartest young people on my blogroll, takes a jaundiced view of Barack Obama's planned trip to Europe.

I for one am of the opinion that hollow symbolism should be reserved for a politician’s own country, before he is elected. I don’t seem to be the only one who catches a wondrous whiff of arrogance from Barack Obama’s attempt to give a speech at the Brandenburg Gate?

Quite so. But Obama is not your everyday politician. Arrogant? Maybe so. But if he aims to win friends and influence people who don't vote for him, he is still planning how best to be effective as US president. All heads of state are equal on paper, but the one from Washington is for many first among equals.

Speigel On Line spells out a controversy:

Barack Obama wants to hold a speech at the Brandenburg Gate when he comes to Berlin later this month. The city's mayor wants to grant him his wish, but the German chancellor has misgivings.

The warning from the Chancellery was clear: The Brandenburg Gate is the "most famous and history-rich location in Germany," a Chancellery source said on Monday. In the past, it has only been used on very special occasions for addresses by politicians, and when, then only by elected American presidents. More clearly stated: Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama would be better off looking for another location in the German capital to hold a speech.

But Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit appeared unimpressed by the warning from Chancellor Angela Merkel's office and said during a press conference on Tuesday that he would be pleased if Obama were to address the public at the Brandenburg Gate.

"We are not ruling anything out," a spokesman for the Berlin city council told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "The Brandenburg Gate would certainly be a nice place." The local government also pointed out that the decision over where Obama should make his appearance was in the hands of the city council of Berlin and not the chancellor's office or the federal government.

This is a story with a good many twists that will escape Americans. But at some level it is a litmus test for how a future President Obama might manage international relations. For the folks back home, the big picture is all that matters. Speigel On Line continues...

Presidential campaign strategists take nothing more seriously than the backdrops that appear behind a candidate. If Obama just wanted a pretty background, he could give the speech in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. But the Brandenburg Gate is a far more powerful image -- it's a symbol of how the West overcame the Cold War and would lend greater gravitas to a keynote speech on trans-Atlantic relations than any other location in Berlin possibly could.
Ultimately, the bickering over Obama's Berlin speech is a setback for his team. A perfectly oiled campaign machine helped drive Obama to triumph over Hillary Clinton. But trips abroad are new territory for his political strategists -- and journeys abroad are both difficult to plan and fraught with opportunities for missteps. But his team is hoping to avoid pitfalls through good planning and to be able to present the candidate in a presidential manner, and they could still succeed in that mission with triumphant Berlin appearance by Obama.

But the tumult in Berlin also underscores a bit of foreign policy naivité on the part of Obama's travel planners. Merkel's clear choice of words may be surprising, but it wouldn't have been difficult to imagine that the German government would give a tepid response to his plan to hold a speech at such a highly symbolic historical location.

...The government is also acting out of respect for Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who has long enjoyed strong ties to Germany and good personal relationships with a number of high-level government officials in Berlin. And it is in no way a given that McCain will lose the election.

Many in Berlin are calling on the government to extend an invitation to McCain as well. But it would be little more than a symbolic gesture because the Republican presidential candidate has little time for a visit to Germany. The Republican National Convention is just weeks away and afterwards the tight campaign schedule will preclude him from any further trips abroad.

Note that line "it is in no way a given that McCain will lose the election." Reality check from abroad, folks. These people have no dog in this fight. They may see US Presidential elections more objectively than we.

In any case, we can conclude that Obama's coat tails are very long indeed.

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