George Will misunderstood Obama in Berlin

June 24, 2013

Regarding George F. Will’s June 21 op-ed column, “Obama hits a wall in Berlin”:

With only a couple of minor exceptions, I can find almost no support for Mr. Will’s derisive description of the president’s speech as “soggy with banalities and bromides.” On the contrary, the leading German media (as well as the British and French) make clear that the president scored a stunning success — in a decidedly difficult situation. His visit took place in the wake of revelations about the National Security Agency’s PRISM surveillance program, which caused a great deal of bitter criticism in Europe and which top figures, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, understandably raised, including publicly, but without dwelling on it.

Der Spiegel, the oft-acerbic German newsmagazine, wrote, “Barack Obama unleashed a full charm offensive in Berlin . . . and he did a great job. It’s high time for people to appreciate this U.S. president a bit more again.” The generally conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine was redolent with praise for the president. To their credit, the top German papers — from the independent Die Welt to the liberal Süddeutsche Zeitung — published the full text of the speech, with balanced, reasonably critical commentaries, as one would hope for from a free and independent press.

The “wall” that Mr. Will saw in Berlin was a mirror reflecting his own prejudices — not the reality seen by 2 million Berliners.

Bruce van Voorst, Arlington

● 

George F. Will wrote, “Arms control is impossible until it is unimportant.”But arms control is never “unimportant.” Nuclear weapons have the capability to destroy life as we know it, several times over. There are thousands of nuclear weapons in the world, 2,000 of which are kept on high-operational alert, ready to be launched within minutes’ notice. To call arms control, which means limiting these weapons to prevent them from destroying us, unimportant is dangerous and exhibits a deluded sense of what President Obama proposed in Berlin. 

It is in the best interest of every nation and individual to negotiate limits on nuclear weapons. What legacy do we want to leave to future generations? If we do not negotiate with people like Russian President Vladimir Putin now, we risk leaving our grandchildren a world still poised on the edge of an eternal abyss. And it’s only a matter of time before we fall off.

Rachel Kent, Washington

The writer is program assistant for nuclear disarmament at the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

George F. Will quoted Napoleon as saying, “If you start to take Vienna — take Vienna .”

Substitute Moscow for Vienna.

How well did that work?

Stanley Kober, Falls Church

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