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].