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Obama tells world we must unite
Question of the Day
BERLIN | Sen. Barack Obama presented himself Thursday to Europeans as a “citizen” of both the U.S. and the world and spoke repeatedly of the things that “we” must do on terrorism, the environment and other global issues.
His speech in front of the historic Victory Column in Tiergarten was filled with references to politics, from acknowledging American shortcomings to urging Germany to recommit to NATO success in Afghanistan.
“I speak to you not as a candidate for president, but as … a proud citizen of the United States and a fellow citizen of the world,” the presumptive Democratic nominee told at least 200,000 people gathered not far from where the Berlin Wall once divided the city. Mr. Obama declared the importance of trans-Atlantic partnership in a setting that portrayed him as an American superstar.
“While the 20th century taught us that we share a common destiny, the 21st has revealed a world more intertwined than at any time in human history,” he said.
The thousands there - many waving American flags - cheered his call for people worldwide to “tear down” new walls dividing countries, religions and races.
Just like crowds at his American rallies, these fans erupted in chants of “Obama, Obama,” and “Yes, we can.” One person led the crowd in a chorus of the “Obamagirl” song, getting dozens to sing along that “I’ve got a crush on Obama.”
It was to be his only public event during a weeklong tour of the Middle East and Europe that has taken him to the war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan and to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Officials estimated that the crowd was one of the largest in Berlin’s history; the range was from 200,000 from the campaign to as many as a half-million from the German Embassy in the United States.
His campaign carefully crafted the event, which was helped by perfect weather, and said the footage might be seen in a political ad. Obama fans distributed a photo of the massive crowd next to a photo of a remarkably similar crowd at the 1963 March on Washington.
Mr. Obama told his own story and about his Kenyan father’s arrival on American shores because of the nation’s ideals “that speak to aspirations shared by all people: that we can live free from fear and free from want; that we can speak our minds and assemble with whomever we choose and worship as we please.”
“I know my country has not perfected itself,” he said. “We’ve made our share of mistakes, and there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions. … I know that for more than two centuries, we have strived, at great cost and great sacrifice, to form a more perfect union; to seek, with other nations, a more hopeful world.”
The campaign of Mr. Obama’s Republican rival, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, responded with a tersely worded e-mail to reporters deriding the Democrat’s visit to Germany and calling it a “premature victory lap.”
Meanwhile, “John McCain continued to make his case to the American citizens who will decide this election,” spokesman Tucker Bounds said, mocking Mr. Obama’s proclamation to be a citizen of the world.
“Barack Obama offered eloquent praise for this country, but the contrast is clear. John McCain has dedicated his life to serving, improving and protecting America. Barack Obama spent an afternoon talking about it,” Mr. Bounds said.
Mr. McCain stumped for votes at a German restaurant in Columbus, Ohio.
“I’d love to give a speech in Germany, but I’d much prefer to do it as president of the United States rather than as a candidate for president,” Mr. McCain told reporters after a meal of bratwurst with local business leaders at Schmidt’s Sausage Haus und Restaurant.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday that Mr. Obama’s trip and his remarks abroad will have no impact on the Bush administration’s foreign policy during its final months.
“Everybody knows that we are in a presidential campaign, so this a part of America’s democratic process,” she told reporters during a trip to Singapore and Australia. President Bush “has said, and we continue to act on the basis, as do our foreign partners, that this government remains in power until January 2009.”
Earlier Thursday, Mr. Obama met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, opposition leader Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and the mayor of Berlin in meetings closed to the press.
Obama senior strategist Robert Gibbs said the senator had a “warm and productive conversation” with Mrs. Merkel, a talk that ranged in topic from Afghanistan to climate change.
In his speech later, he made no new policy announcements, offering only broad plans for securing loose nuclear weapons and saying both the United States and Germany “have a stake in seeing that NATO’s first mission beyond Europe’s borders [in Afghanistan] is a success.”
He added, “America cannot do this alone.”
The reception from the Berlin crowd was as rapturous as the campaign could have hoped. During the speech, one fan held a sign reading, “Barack for Kanzler,” the German word for “chancellor,” and dozens of Europeans in the crowd said they cannot wait to see Mr. Bush leave office.
About 700 Berlin police officers reportedly were assigned to the event, which also needed a larger-than-usual force of Secret Service agents.
A German man was ejected for holding an umbrella adorned with signs reading “McCain,” telling people, “I am pro-America,” before being removed by security officials. In another security breach, some Obama supporters overwhelmed the police after one person created a distraction by leaping over a barrier. As officers ran after him, about 50 fans rushed closer to the stage.
Mr. Obama lauded Berlin for standing strong for freedom and for its rich history and said it’s a place that proves “there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one,” a line that inspired the speech’s title.
He worked to illustrate the global nature of problems anywhere, saying that the Sept. 11 terror attacks against the United States were plotted in several places and killed people “from all over the globe on American soil” and that carbon emissions from cars in Boston and Beijing are melting the Arctic ice cap, shrinking coastlines and creating droughts all over the world.
Even though Mr. Obama voted for a border wall between the United States and Mexico, he said there is a danger in allowing new walls “to divide us from one another.”
“The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand. The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand,” he said. “The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christians and Muslims and Jews cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down.”
Like he does in American campaign speeches, Mr. Obama said change in the form of “true partnership” and “true progress” will take both hard work and sacrifice.
“They require allies who will listen to each other, learn from each other and, most of all, trust each other,” he said. “That is why America cannot turn inward … Europe cannot turn inward.”
He received raucous applause for saying the future meant “finally bringing this war to a close” in Iraq, but the loudest cheers erupted when he talked about climate change and railed against genocide.
For hours before Mr. Obama arrived, attendees listened to live reggae, drank beer and munched on bratwurst and steak sandwiches. Many in the crowd sported black and white Obama T-shirts with the slogan, “I want you to stop climate change.”
Officials said the crowd was among the biggest ever assembled to hear a speaker in Berlin and certainly the biggest since a half-million Germans assembled to hear President Kennedy give his “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in 1963. The “tear down this wall” speech from President Reagan in 1987 attracted 40,000, one German newspaper estimated. About 350,000 people attended a 1948 speech by Berlin Mayor Ernst Reuter, whom Mr. Obama quoted Thursday.
Business student Timothy Cooper of Berlin waved an American flag and wore Obama badges.
“I’m for Obama because he grew up with difficult circumstances but still made it to the top, and if he is able to do it, he can inspire us to achieve the same,” he said. “He has a very international background, which gives him the ability to unite people and understand a lot of views that McCain cannot.”
cStaff writers Nicholas Kralev in Singapore, Joseph Curl and Barbara Slavin contributed to this report. Contributors Dave Baxter and Dominic Hinde reported from Berlin.
About the Author
Christina Bellantoni is a White House correspondent for The Washington Times in Washington, D.C., a post she took after covering the 2008 Democratic presidential campaigns. She has been with The Times since 2003, covering state and Congressional politics before moving to national political beat for the 2008 campaign. Bellantoni, a San Jose native, graduated from UC Berkeley with ...
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