Obama’s Berlin Speech

The full text of the speech is here.

My general sense is that it was a (somewhat) interesting failure. I’m not really sure why he gave it–nor am I sure if he knew why he was doing it. But it was a sort of different try. I’m all for failed experiments in that mold.

The right of course is going ballistic over his use of the “world citizen” trope, which philosophically I’m basically in agreement with Poulos. However, the tired right-wing politicization of everything and its historical amnesia, again rears its ugly head deconstructing their own critique because St. Ronald of Reagan actually used the hated phrase (“citizens of the world”) in a SOTU speech. (h/t KB via Yglesias). Oops.

Obviously the Obama paeans to ending global warming, curing all poverty, never again allowing genocide, played well to the crowd and are largely some hot air.

That stuff aside for the moment (bc like i said I still think it was overall a failure), Obama correctly warned that the globalized world we have created can not last so long as the gains are so disproportionately dispersed. The system can only maintain itself in that fashion by systematic, massive violence which undercuts everything the better angels of the West stand for–opportunity, freedom, rule of law/justice, and the like.

But this part actually I found quite sharp

The terrorists of September 11th plotted in Hamburg and trained in Kandahar and Karachi before killing thousands from all over the globe on American soil…

Poorly secured nuclear material in the former Soviet Union, or secrets from a scientist in Pakistan could help build a bomb that detonates in Paris. The poppies in Afghanistan become the heroin in Berlin.

It was a very intelligent frame (imo) to place the struggle against terrorism as a parallel to the battle of ideas against Communism (against the backdrop of the site/anniversary of the Berlin Air Lift). Bush and the neocons mythic belief in democracy (if you assume for the moment it was sincere) already held that people all the time, in every place and age want freedom (hint: they don’t, at least not in the way the West defines freedom). Hence there was no need to argue on a idea-plane for rule of law. Nor was there any worry that committing crimes (e.g. torture) that undercut that standing would reduce the desire for freedom in the rest of the world.

Obama is going back to a road opened up after 9/11 that Bush never took–a united front against terrorism.  Rather than and out and out attempt to unilaterally impose an American century via imperial trouncing around the Middle  East.

Obama posits a view that learned the lessons of the Cold War (containment, the priority of values, and the need for the US to employ its power through institutions/alliances) without actually living in the dark mindset of the Cold War–the paranoia, realizing that the terrorists are not the Soviets, not within reach/have the capacity take over the world. Its post-Cold War in that its not seeing for example, the primary lens (a la Bush-Cheney-Wolfowitz) as nation states but rather the seams/gaps in globalization that trans-national groups can exploit.

Obama is still too enamored I think of the notion that poverty breeds terrorism. Therefore his references to ending it. I understand it’s a selling point, but it doesn’t really add up at least relative to al-Qaeda. Their beef is US foreign policy plain and simple.  I think you could make the point that such poverty is a blight and must be engaged simply on a moral level not vis a vis terrorism.  Otherwise it can back door “national” Islamist movements into al-Qaeda.

Still at the very least Obama understands that the fight against these groups involves thinking about actual objective realities and learning to live with less-than-ideal scenarios, versus McCain who is lost in Cosmic Good/Evil Land as well as the notion that the fight depend simply on emotional constructs like “no surrender” and strategies based on “victory”–and therefore (falsely and in a pathetic manner) accusing your opponent of seeking to lose wars. [The war was won “my friend”, the peace was lost].


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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. i’m not sure what you mean by “failure”. are you talking specifically about his campaign or geopolitical posturing?

    that said, the Obama campaign is using the photo ops and videos to rally their supporters. this is good for funding, and obviously for PR.

    one perspective i want to add here is the perspective of the Germans. see Atlantic Community on how Germans are taking this.

    and i quote: “The majority of Germans support Barrack Obama for the US presidency, not because they believe he will radically change US policy, but because he is expected to return it to the familiar pre-Bush trajectory.”

    can we say the same for McCain? i doubt it.

    another angle: a Black “awakening” is sort of happening in European countries. inspired by the Obama story.

    from that broader perspective this is not a failure. it’s actually good PR not only for Obama but moreso for America.

    btw, here are more perspectives on the Obama trip.

    Analysis of Senator Obama’s overseas trip – Charlie Rose

    that said, Obama better get back real quick and focus his campaign in the U.S. because McCain is catching up slightly in the polls.


  2. More hot air than usual, I thought. I don’t see how the site of the speech isn’t generating more controversy, it’s amazing how firmly the media is behind him.

  3. “Obama is still too enamored I think of the notion that poverty breeds terrorism.”

    This is what I’ve been trying to figure out. This is the million dollar question (for me anyway): How much does Obama believe in exterior-causation thinking? There is some hope and indication that he believes in some integration of the two; for example, the way he has urged African Americans to take more responsibility for their behavior recently and taken some criticism for it–to which he responded that he is going to continue to ask people to take more responsibility, which I think is great.

    In his speech in Philadelphia he also showed that he knew the difference between interior- and exterior-causation thinking, but in the end he said something to the effect of “but in the end it is the exterior that determines the interior” (systemic,lower-right quadrant conditions that determine the culture, lower-left quadrant). That’s not a particularly good sign, but what else could he do? One can hardly, in this political atmosphere, say otherwise. At least it’s difficult politically for a Democrat to say otherwise.

    So a part of me–perhaps the wishful-thinking, naively optimistic part–wants to think that he is just being extremely shrewd politically when he talks about poverty breeding terrorism (though of course there is some validity to exterior-causation thinking). Shrewd in the same way he was perhaps shrewd when he spoke of a world without nuclear weapons in his Berlin speech, which is something that plays well in Europe apparently, which is a nice context to set nonproliferation talks with Iran in, and which he could easily talk his way out of as president if anyone tried to hold him to it.

    I suppose we won’t really know until he begins to govern. There is lots of evidence that he is perhaps a little exterior-causation inclined–and a politician who integrates the two would be extremely rare–but perhaps just enough evidence that he sees interior causation well enough to keep hope alive.


  4. C4,

    I think it didn’t really succeed in terms of the US election. Not sure it could though.

    For anyone who already is turned on by how much the Europeans/rest of the world love Obama (and God knows they do–a Colombian guy who works at my school living in Canada asked me today “Is he really going to win?”) that person is already gonna check the Obama column anyway.

    For anyone who thinks its wrong for him to talk to “ferigners” then obviously they are already in the McCain bag.

    As to undecideds, I don’t think it hurts him. I think it will mostly be forgotten but I don’t think it really helps him either.

    The election is (minus an Israeli strike on Iran/black swan event) going to come down to the economy.

    While the speech itself I think was kinda take it or leave it, the trip overall I think has been hugely successful.

    He first dealt with the whole flag pin/Jeremiah Wright patriotism thing. So that’s off the table for McCain.

    Now he I think has taken this idea that he’s incapable of being president/looking effective in the role, esp. on foreign policy off the table.

    He is still building his massive on the ground grassroots organizing campaign.

    All he needs to do to seal the deal is a kind of Bill Clinton “I feel your pain” moment on the economy. Watch him shift to that immediately upon his return. In that light, I hope he picks Sebelius as his VP.

  5. DM,

    If we are using some Spiral-ese for a second Obama is somewhere in the green-yellow boundary. The question is whether he is more GREEN/yellow or YELLOW/Green. The more it’s the former, the more exterior-only causation creeps in, the more the latter, more personal responsibility. My sense is that it depends on the context. In policy areas he has more direct experience with (i.e. community organizing, poverty, development, Afrc.Amr. Community) the more he is trending towards the latter. When it comes to the poor around the world, probably falls back into tropes/cliches, some lazy thinking.

    Just some thoughts.

    peace. cj

  6. Chris, I agree with that completely! The question is whether he is more Green than Yellow or vica versa. I think you are right when you say the difference is whether he has had direct experience in the field. After being a community organizer, he can’t ignore the interior on those issues. White liberals in the suburbs may be able to, but he can’t.

    And he’s probably not applying the same integral thinking to foreign affairs, perhaps because he is probably “intuiting” integral rather than applying it consciously. That’s one reason I think it would have been really good to have the Clintons around in one capacity or another: as Wilber fans and people who apply integral consciously (whether they do it successfuly is another question) they could have really sped up Obama’s progress on that line.

    Either that or he’s being really, really shrewd and pandering to European liberals. 🙂


  7. David, Chris,

    because i’m not a SD expert, i’m not comfortable talking about Spiralese colors because it’s too subjective and clouded by our own projections.

    that said, i’ll play along with my limited understanding.

    my own take is that, Obama is more Yellow than Green. we have to read between the lines here. Obama is highly intelligent, flexible (people see this as flip-flopping), and could rally people from all walks of life, not to mention his charisma on the world stage. i see him as having a high dose of Green values but is also comfortable of moving into the Orange and Blue zones. e.g. his religious faith (or at least the one he projects in public). one example i think Obama is more Yellow than Green is because he (and his team) could hold multiple perspectives and channel it (through Obama) in a single coherent node. case in point: in foreign policy alone, Obama has 300 advisers. he’s like a walking U.N.!

    so yeah, i think Obama is more yellow, but shifts to green, orange, blue, because *he has to* in order to win the election. flexibility is one of the hallmarks of being yellow. and he’s still a politician, anyway.

    my two cents, and projection.


  8. If you’re interested in the perception of Obama in Germany, the open think-tank atlantic-community.org offers an analysis as well as an interesting 15-minute video compilation of person-on-the-street impressions of his speech:

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