By Dan Balz and Shannon Smiley
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, July 25, 2008
BERLIN, July 24 -- Addressing a huge throng in the middle of this once-divided city, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Thursday implored Americans and Europeans to renew the partnership that once defeated communism to address 21st-century threats that he said put the security of all nations at risk.
Obama invoked the sweep of history over the last half of the 20th century, pointing to Berlin as a symbol of what cooperation in the transatlantic alliance can do. "People of the world: Look at Berlin, where a wall came down, a continent came together, and history proved that there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one," he said.
Declaring himself a "proud citizen of the United States and a fellow citizen of the world," Obama told the audience that the world can afford for neither America nor Europe to turn inward. "Partnership and cooperation among nations is not a choice," he said. "It is the one way, the only way, to protect our common security and advance our common humanity."
Obama spoke near the base of the Victory Column in Tiergarten Park before a crowd estimated at 200,000 -- the largest of his presidential campaign. This was the only big public event of his week-long overseas tour, and the scene and stagecraft were as much -- or more -- the story of the day as his words.
The Democratic candidate has generated enormous enthusiasm in Europe, in part because many here see him as an antidote to President Bush, during whose presidency America's image and reputation abroad have declined. Obama's implicit message to the audience back home was that he is the candidate of change and better positioned than rival John McCain to help restore American prestige around the globe.
McCain's campaign fired back at Obama, with an adviser declaring that the Democrat had taken a "premature victory lap" with his events in Europe. McCain, who made a campaign appearance at a German restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, said, "I'd love to give a speech in Germany . . . a political speech or a speech that maybe the German people would be interested in. But I would much prefer to do it as president of the United States rather than as a candidate for the office of the presidency."
Later, at an event with Lance Armstrong celebrating the Tour de France champion's Livestrong foundation, McCain again bashed what he has decried as the media's fawning treatment of Obama.
"You have billed this event as a presidential town hall, and I sincerely hope that the next president is here today," he said at the event in Columbus. "My opponent, of course, is traveling in Europe, and tomorrow his tour takes him to France. In a scene Lance would recognize, a throng of adoring fans awaits Senator Obama in Paris -- and that's just the American press."
In his speech, Obama summoned memories of the Berlin Airlift that saved this city 60 years ago and the crumbling of the Berlin Wall that signaled the end of Soviet tyranny and the Cold War to call for a reinvigorated alliance. The United States and Europe, he said, should lead the fight to "defeat terror and dry up the well of extremism that supports it," secure the world's loose nuclear weapons, confront the dangers of climate change and win the war of ideas with Islamic extremists.
"The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand," Obama said. "The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes, natives and immigrants, Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down."
Obama was introduced to a thunderous ovation at about 7:15 p.m. and strode around the Victory Column onto a long, blue walkway that led to a lectern at the edge of the crowd. He waved, smiled, returned the applause and immediately plunged into his speech, which was broadly thematic without producing any notable policy changes.
The speech was sober and serious, but the atmosphere in the park was festive in the hours leading up to Obama's arrival. Spectators were squeezed tightly together near the stage from which Obama spoke but the crowd stretched far down the park. In the distance, but well within the wide lens of the cameras, stood the Brandenburg Gate, one of the city's most recognizable landmarks.
The gigantic media horde accompanying Obama was stuffed onto risers overlooking the stage, along with television personalities and prominent journalists from countries around Europe. An army of technicians and their satellite trucks completed the media contingent.
Since the fall of communism, the United States and Europe have drifted apart, Obama said, offering criticism of both to encourage a renewed partnership. At times, he said, "our actions around the world have not always lived up to our best intentions." Europe, he said, mistakenly believes that America is a cause of what has gone wrong in the world rather than a force to make it right.
"No doubt there will be differences in the future," he said. "But the burdens of global citizenship continue to bind us together. A change of leadership in Washington will not lift this burden. In this new century, Americans and Europeans alike will be required to do more -- not less."
Obama touched only briefly on Iraq, the issue that has most separated Europe from the United States, saying, "This is the moment when the world should support the millions of Iraqis who seek to rebuild their lives, even as we pass responsibility to the Iraqi government and finally bring this war to a close."
He said Europe and the United States must stand together against Iran and its nuclear ambitions and he pleaded for help on Afghanistan, which earlier in his overseas tour he called the central front in the fight against terrorism.
"America cannot do this alone," he said. "The Afghan people need our troops and your troops; our support and your support to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda, to develop their economy, and to help them rebuild their nation."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who met with Obama shortly after his arrival on Thursday morning, is resisting sending more German troops to Afghanistan.
No country, Obama said, can escape the dangers of the 21st century, and no country can defeat them alone. "None of us can deny these threats, or escape responsibility in meeting them," he said. "Yet, in the absence of Soviet tanks and a terrible wall, it has become easy to forget this truth."
The fall of the Berlin Wall, he said, gave rise to new dangers that are not contained within borders or by oceans, noting that the Sept. 11 terrorists plotted in Hamburg and trained in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and Karachi, Pakistan. Cars in Boston and factories in Beijing are helping to melt the polar ice caps, he said.
Many of those who came to hear Obama, not surprisingly, expressed their enthusiasm for him and what he represents.
Claus and Silke Riedel came with their 2-year-old son, Daniel -- all wearing homemade red T-shirts that read: "Vote Obama."
"The United States' reputation has suffered greatly through Bush," Claus Riedel said. "That could change dramatically with Obama, and we hope it will."
But Francesco Consiacio, 33, a financial adviser from Italy who is spending a year in Berlin, wondered how Obama's speech would be received in the United States. "It was a very European speech. The way he spoke about Islam, atomic weapons -- especially about atomic weapons -- it played to a European mentality. I wonder if it will sound somewhat strange to the American audience."
Obama noted in his speech that he did not look like past U.S. political leaders who have spoken in Berlin, and some people there were struck by how different his style was from that of their own leaders.
"I thought it was very American in the sense that he spoke in such an emotional way," said Lisa Rogge, 19, a student. "No German would have spoken that way. But that's not criticism of Obama -- it was good that he was emotional."