Alex Massie

Hello to Berlin

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So, Barack Obama travels to the middle east and europe next week on a trip designed to burnish his statesman credentials. Among the events planned: a major open-air speech in Berlin, possibly at the Brandenburg Gate. The good folks at The Corner see this as an own goal. To wit, Peter Kirsanow:

Here in flyover country the reaction to Obama's trip (except for the understandable stops in Iraq) is just as likely to be " What country does he want to be president of?"

It's true some Americans like to be liked. But lots of Americans also are skeptical of candidates who look like they're trying to pass John Kerry's "global test."

And Yuval Levin:

That he will get good coverage is of course a given with Obama, and that many Europeans (and surely many Americans) will like it seems right to me too. The question is what does it tell us about Obama, and to me it seems like another indication of an extraordinary arrogance. The Germans should ask themselves what they would make of a candidate for Chancellor holding a rally on the National Mall in Washington.

There's some merit to these criticisms. If I were advising Obama I would suggest he find a less aggrandising venue for his Berlin speech than the Brandenburg Gate, hitherto generally considered the preserve of actual heads of state such as Kennedy and Reagan. It does seem a little presumptious for him to so obviously suggest he's their natural heir. There's a guacheness, even a mild vulgarity to the notion.

Yet though it's clear that Obama's primary audience is the American electorate, there's something to be said for him coming to europe too. In the first place, Merkel, Sarkozy, Brown et al want to get to know the man who might be the next President and get some indication as to how he thinks the west may address common challenges (McCain is a rather better known quantity). But it's also the case that though (obviously) it's only Americans who vote in November, the rest of the world has a pretty keen interest in the outcome. It doesnt seem terribly reprehensible that the candidates acknowledge that. After all, in their own minds they are running, not just to be President of the United States, but, in at least some respects, to be President of the World too.

Furthermore, this kind of grand tour sends another signal, one that the more nationalist type of American conservatives might welcome: touring the middle east and europe is more than just a courtesy to friends and allies, it's a statement of intent that says a President Obama is not going to withdraw from the rest of the world; on the contrary, as I've suggested before, he's likely to increase American involvement overseas (though with, perhaps, a different emphasis). In other words, his presence overseas next week reinforces his commitment to American global leadership or, if you like, hegemony. Some paleo-conservatives may think this unfortunate, but it's hardly out of the traditional - ie, post 1945 - mainstream of American foreign policy.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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