In the end, not much

Barack Obama’s speech in Berlin was a coherent, articulate, but hardly memorable expression of the liberal internationalism that, I take it, will govern his foreign policy if he is elected president. This approach to foreign policy wisely recognizes the need for the U.S. to be heavily engaged in the world, but fails fully to recognize the need for this engagement to be backed up by force and the credible threat of force.

In this regard, perhaps the most telling passage of the speech was this one:

Sixty years ago, the planes that flew over Berlin did not drop bombs; instead they delivered food, and coal, and candy to grateful children. And in that show of solidarity, those pilots won more than a military victory. They won hearts and minds; love and loyalty and trust – not just from the people in this city, but from all those who heard the story of what they did here.

Here, Obama reduces our triumph in Berlin to a humanitarian mission. But it was our willingness to station large quantities of troops in German for decades and our willingness to develop nuclear weapons and aim them at the Soviet Union, along with the Soviet Union’s belief that we would use these weapons if push came to shove, that was decisive. Obama, very much a “soft power” man, ignores the role of “hard power.”

What will be the political impact of the speech? Very little, I think. People already know Obama can turn a phrase, and the fact that he turned some on foreign soil is unlikely to cause skeptics to conclude that he has “gravitas” and foreign policy expertise. Perhaps some will conclude from the speech that Obama connects with mass audiences in Europe, and that this is a reason to vote for him. I suspect, however, that most voters looking for someone who can stir a European crowd are already on Obama’s side. In any case, as I watched the speech on C-SPAN, the crowd didn’t seem massively stirred. I don’t doubt that it was, but the way the speech was televised didn’t make the crowd reaction seem extraordinary. It wasn’t memorable television.

Against whatever Obama gained from the speech must be weighed the negatives that Scott mentioned, including disgust at the arrogance and pretentiousness of a presidential candidate, as opposed to a president, delivering such a speech in such a place. When you weigh the positives and the negatives I think you get just about zero.

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