Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ich bin ein Berliner Redux

Ich bin ein Berliner Redux
By Susenjit Guha

With the Cold War threatening towards a WWIII in the early sixties, John F Kennedy got rock star status in Berlin in 1962 with his famous one-liner, Ich bin ein Berliner or I am a Berliner.Teutonic-ally tuned under the watchful former Chancellor Willy Brandt who was then the Mayor of Berlin, John Kennedy spoke to a deafening applause.

That was when communist Russia had divided Berlin with the wall to stop the flow of East Germans rushing towards freedom in the western part of the city. West Berliners, trapped inside the Iron Curtain, feared an invasion from East Germany.

Another much trumpeted Democrat nominee for the White House, Barack Obama drew crowds over 200000 in Berlin's Tiergarten park recently during a PR exercise tour to test the soil across the Atlantic and perhaps rubbish claims by Republicans about being a foreign policy greenhorn.

Berlin is the hub where the post WWII US-Europe relations kick started with the famous airlift in 1948 and where in 1989 the wall fell.

Pollsters cited over 70% support for Obama in Germany and 80 in France % just before his visit. John McCain trailed far behind at a paltry 10% deciding to shore up support in a German restaurant in the US.

Chancellor Merkel may have veered towards Bush unlike predecessor Gerhardt Schroeder, but German anger is best summed up by Berlin's foreign policy think-tank DGAP's Jan Techau who said "many Germans see Mr Bush's stance on a range of issues almost as an insult, and therefore see Mr Obama as something of a saviour".

Bloomberg's Margaret Carlson's wondered how it could be bad if the earth's 6.7 billion inhabitants liked Obama while cowboy diplomacy was at odds and voters in Kansas distrusted him as his popularity swelled in Middle East and Europe.

But times are different. Germany like Western Europe had looked up to the US for defense against a common communist enemy. Now Old Europe may still be looking for US protection despite absence of a threat from communist invasion, but, they are highly critical of the unilateral and interventionist American foreign policy of George W Bush and his Iraq invasion.
Now the enemy to some extent has multiplied, is untraceable and perhaps has become more belligerent due to an imperial US presidency.

The threat has become common for nations allied with Bush in his unilateral surge.
Obama may have highlighted the common enemy of terrorists and the need for more German troops for Afghanistan, but critics are apprehensive whether European nations will be game for greater involvement financially and militarily in Middle-East, for counter-terrorism and climate change.

Loud applauses greeted him when he spoke about climate change, pullout from Iraq, humanitarian issues and multi-literalism, but fell silent when he urged for more German troops in Afghanistan.

Although Germany had sent troops to Afghanistan in NATO's first involvement outside Europe, but like others in old Europe except the UK, consider Iraq invasion interventionist. New nations carved out of a disintegrated USSR are the only safest bets for the US.

German energy resources are dependent on Russia still viewed by US conservatives through the prism of the Cold War and Wall Street baulks at anti-US Schroeder for heading Gazprom.
Is Europe capable of remaining at a distant remove from the US financially and militarily?
Both the US and Europe can really compliment each other.

Although increasingly multi-cultural, it is still hard to find a non-European in their parliaments. Even Germany does not have a Turk despite their large presence and fairer skin. Americans are bracing up for a path-breaking change not only with Barack Obama's vision, but also societally, defined by sharp dividing lines only 40 years ago.

Americans are most religious and the Judeo-Christian lobby impacts US foreign policy---it virtually led from the front during the early Bush II years--- while Europeans are least god fearing having kept church and state poles apart.

Still, all religious groups are free to practice and dress according to their customs in the US. Despite large scale immigration from their former colonies, Europeans, being the least religious themselves, find strict adherence to non-Christian faiths disconcerting and rabid. They wonder why other faiths too cannot go under the scalpel.

Free market leaps and bounces freely in a government wary US, but European humane, social capitalism acts as a bulwark against corporate predatory deluges.

A cohesive Europe needs to get both the old and new nations together in a continent known till the early years of the last century as not made up of individual countries, but identified more by world famous cities.

Getting Europeans on board for a common enemy will depend how the US reacts to future provocations in West Asia from where sizable immigrants have long made Europe their home. Europeans are still not at ease with multiple cultures like the US.

Obama's formula for de-addiction to Middle Eastern oil to lessen dependence on an anti-American region---which would lessen chances of conflict and NATO's involvement--, may also impact future US-Europe relations.

Till then the rock star status of nominee Obama in Europe will hang in limbo even if he wins the nomination.

This article is also published by Eurasia Research Center, USA

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