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Sobering Speech

July 25, 2008

DW's Daniel Scheschkewitz says that US presidential hopeful Barack Obama gave a rhetorically impressive speech in Berlin on Thursday. But he adds that it might help him little in the race for the White House.


Berlin welcomed Barack Obama like a superstar. The capital city press -- always hungry for events -- and the tens of thousands, who had come to see the potential next US president, projected their own desires and hopes on the charismatic contender for the world's most powerful position.

It's a desire for an anti-Bush, who will do everything differently and better than the incumbent president, who has long fallen out of favor in Europe. And it's a hope for a different kind of politician, who will make people here forget the dull and largely powerless squad of politicians at home.

Daniel Scheschkewitz
Daniel Scheschkewitz

Obama gave a rhetorically impressive speech in the tradition of great US presidents such as Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy -- but this address, which was mainly aimed at his audience at home, makes it almost impossible to draw conclusions as far as his policies as president are concerned.

He praised Berlin as a place of freedom and hope -- words that every American president would use at the same spot. He reminded people of the Berlin air lift 60 years ago and, since the Cold War is over, he built a bridge to the new religious and economic rifts of the 21st century.

His pleasant rejection of any kind of isolationism is forward-looking, no matter whether he's trying to score politically in America or Europe.

The call for a new responsible trans-Atlantic society, which will do even more in the fight against terrorism, had been expected. The German audience is bound to find this a little less appetizing if this were to require more soldiers and money -- and Obama left little doubt about that.

Accordingly, the applause for this part of his speech was more restrained. This could have also come from Bush. Keeping in mind that more and more regimes -- from Pakistan to Iran -- are striving for nuclear weapons outside of international control mechanisms, it also remains to be seen how realistic his demands for a world free of nuclear weapons will be.

Obama's plea for a new global environment policy, by the way, doesn't only bring him in line with his German supporters, but also his Republican rival, John McCain.

Obama was strongest in that part of his speech that was meant to return to his German audience a belief in a free America that's striving for justice. The fact that he acknowledged American's fallibility is what separates him from Bush. It lets his promise of a new, trustful partnership among trans-Atlantic rivals seem like more than just a phrase.

Obama has probably already won the competition to win Europeans' favor. But Americans will choose the next American president in November. By then, the pictures from Berlin might have been forgotten on the other side of the Atlantic.

Daniel Scheschkewitz is a reporter for DW-RADIO and Deutsche Welle's former Washington correspondent. (win)