Unless you are not politically attuned, you probably have heard of the speech that Barack Obama made today, 24 July 2008. You may have even heard some of the speech. Depending on your perspective, you might think it was brilliant, or you might think it was out of place.
Why might some think it was brilliant? let me see if I can look at this from the liberal perspective. If you are a liberal and know anything about history, you might think that a great man, going to Berlin and giving a speech is great in the tradition of John F. Kennedy in 1963, and maybe even as Ronald Reagan did in 1987. While the allusion to Reagan might not sit well with too many on the Left, both he and JFK spoke eloquently about a wall coming down. They addressed the issue of their day, and confronted it head-on, with clarity and courage. Barack Obama did the same thing, in the same way with today's issues. He alluded to many moments to tear down many walls, including those of racism, sexism, global warming, and equality of wealth. He said that this is the moment to tackle all these large issues, and they are in the opinion of many people, inarguably the most important things to be confronted.
Barack has the courage to mention them, the courage to challenge the world to join with us in a fight that is too large for any one country to win. Barack is the one, the savior, who will address the most important issues of our times. He will bring the war in Iraq to a close.
One must admit, he looked presidential as he stood at the podium, addressing hundreds of thousands of people. He also delivered the speech with eloquence and conviction, looking like a true statesman. Now that he has capped his world tour with this speech, Barack Obama can simply return home, bask in the glow of the media attention he well deserves for standing up to the forces of stagnation, for presenting bold new initiatives that will benefit the citizens of the world!
If you listened to this from another perspective, that of a Conservative, you heard a very different speech. Some key points stood out to those of this viewpoint, especially that of citizenship. Give the man his due, he did say he was a "Proud Citizen of America", but he also said he was a "Citizen of the World". That American pride was more of a fig leaf as he then blasted away at the country he says he is proud of. The speech entails a lot of things but two things are key to the issues at hand: First, a President must be first, last, and always a citizen to the United States of America. While we live in the world, our first concern must be the good of America, because America is not evil, and wishes no evil on those it shares the world with. Being a citizen of someplace implies that your loyalty is there, not in the contrasting or different place. For example, a French citizen is first concerned with and loyal to France. He may consider what is good for China as well, but his first concern is always with France and how what he does affects France. So it must be for Americans, especially the President. The second thing is that he is not yet the President of the Untied States of America. He may challenge the German people, and by extension, all of the European people, but if he loses his bid to become President, there is little chance he will be back over to take up the fight he is challenging them to today. This highlights the arrogance of addressing a people at a historic sight when you are not yet the victor in your own political battle. Both John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan were President when they made their historic speeches. They were positioned to speak for the American people, as they had been voted into leadership through the established process, and had been in office more than two years. Barack Obama has a lack of understanding of American Exceptionalism. Presidents Kennedy and Reagan had a proper view of America as great, a global contributor, and a positive force in the world. I'm not so sure Obama sees the United States that way, though he thinks he can turn America in the right direction again.
Aside from the assumption that he has the authority to challenge Europeans to fight with us for the things he has not yet been given a mandate to do, there is the issue of proving global warming. He mentioned the oceans rising, the ice melting as a result of the cars being driven and fuels being burned around the globe. It is not yet a proven fact that global warming is occurring, and it is even less sure that man-made processes are contributing to said warming. There is recent evidence that smoke from industrial power generation may have clouded the sky, contributing to global cooling. While violence in Darfur and other places is real, and proven, it is not simply because of people not getting along, it is a sort of war. There are political forces at work that drive all such bloodshed, and resolving those issues is not as easy as just talking to the affected parties. Palestinians and Israelites are not ready to just split the difference and settle down, no matter who proposes the idea. They are fighting for their homelands, from each other's perspective. Hamas is committed to the destruction of Israel, and there is no middle ground.
When he talks about tearing down borders, he is inviting non-Americans to share the wealth that Americans have worked hard to establish over the centuries, to take advantage of opportunities that they have not earned nor even truly understand. America is more than a job bank. It is more than a place to get government paid health care. There is a process by which a set number of immigrants, as decided by the people through their representative have the right to become Americans, and the chance to share in the American dream. The right to become citizens is not just to be given out carelessly, as those like Barack Obama would allow to cross our borders with the intent of getting as much benefit as they possibly can.
One final item Barack Obama threw into the speech that would infuriate those with a Conservative perspective is that the war in Iraq is to be "drawn to a close", with no mention of winning. Here Mr. Obama stands in the shadow of an obelisk made in tribute to Hitler and his war effort, with no acknowledgment that the peace in Germany came after we won World War II. There, in Berlin, the method of achieving lasting peace should have been foremost in Barack Obama's mind, yet he didn't even mention winning in Iraq. He seemed intent on scoring points by pledging to get us out of Iraq, as though getting out were the best thing for the citizens of the world. If he had only acknowledged that we are winning in Iraq, and that we can finish the job, then leave when a lasting peace, as there is now in Germany, he would have truly spoken momentous words. Yet the history of Germany, which he touched on but did not cover adequately, teaches us that if we win, as we did in WW I, and then leave the country without the ability to repair and support itself, it would end up in the hands of tyrannical dictators (Hitler?). If after the tactical victory in Iraq, as there was in Germany after the second World War, yet we allow a non-democratic rule to take hold of part or all of the recently vanquished foe, the part of the country under such influence would suffer as badly as before the war. Recall how the Russians ran, ruled and ruined East Germany, surrounded Berlin, and tried to strangle Democracy as it sprouted in the fertile soil of post WWII Germany. It took over 30 years to get that right, and Iran would like to do the same to Iraq after the second Gulf War. If Iraqi society has the infrastructure and freedom in place to support itself, the police and the military to defend itself, Iranian-influenced Muslim extremists would fight to rule part or all of Iraq, with dire consequences. The blood of the many brave soldiers, men and women, spilled in Iraq would have been made to be in vain. Countries do not just "bring a war to a close". It's not a sports season, or a retail shopping center that gives up and moves on. Wars are won or lost, no matter what people say. We won the Vietnam war, but then ultimately the South Vietnamese lost it when we withdrew and allowed the enemy poised across the border to come in and take over.
I was disappointed that Barack Obama did not visit the injured soldiers in Germany who had no doubt been prepared to see him. Democrats often say they support the troops, though they do not support the war. Here was a golden opportunity to do just that, and Mr. Obama turned it down. It is amazing to me when political figures fall into their own stereotypes, and prove there is a basis for them. I'm sure this did not win him many new supporters among the military in his quest to become the Commander in Chief, the President of these United States. No matter the reason, and they certainly will spin him one good one when they realize the impact of such a gaffe, a person who is in the area, and has a heart of concern for the troops would have made the visit. If he had such a desire, and it is his campaign, there is no reason they could not have done it. Schedules can be adjusted, less important people can be rescheduled, flights can be delayed. In my mind, this reveals the true nature of Barack Obama: concerned about political speeches, and not concerned about the troops.
One last point: if it was incumbent on Americans to teach their children a foreign language, why did Senator Obama not try to deliver the speech in German? And was it widely published that the crowd that heard Senator Obama's speech was lured to the venue by a free concert immediately preceding his speech?