- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The early precincts are in, and it looks like a landslide. Unfortunately for Barack Obama, these are only the early precincts. America votes later.

The public-opinion polls show the American idol winning by extraordinary margins in the precincts of the fantasists: by 51 percent in France, 49 percent in Germany, and 30 percent even in Britain, where voters speak English and understand American politics a little better than in the rest of Europe or, for that matter, the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

Here at home, where there are early, tentative signs that Americans are beginning to come off a roaring drunk, he’s effectively tied with John McCain.

The American idol, who has been hanging out with generals and diplomats in Afghanistan and Iraq to practice his salute and indulge in a little make-believe as commander in chief, is itching for Thursday and his big speech in Berlin. He’ll arrive in the German capital with as many fake presidential trappings as he dares, stepping from an airliner called “Obama One,” to a frenzy not seen in Berlin since the Teutonic multitudes gave their hearts to Herr Hitler seven decades ago, and a crowd at least as big as the crowd that cheered John F. Kennedy’s reassurance that he, too, was a “Berliner,” local slang for “jelly doughnut.”

Such idolatry can be harmless enough in modern Europe - we’ve always enlivened the lives of Europeans - but it continues to bother the Americans who would have to deal with the fallout of smashed dreams and child-like fantasies. Life is more serious when you bear the responsibilities that come with being the last best hope of mankind. We’re not Canada or Lichtenstein. Now there’s evidence of serious thought in the heads of some Europeans.

“There is a sort of ‘Obamamania’ in Germany right now,” says an aide to Chancellor Angela Merkel, “but I think a lot of people will have their illusions shattered if he does become president.”

Another prominent German diplomat, Eckart von Klaeden, a parliamentarian and foreign-policy analyst for Frau Merkel, worries about the effects of shattered illusions, too. “One reason Obama is so popular [in Europe] is that people expect him to break radically with the politics of George W. Bush, without any understanding of what this would involve,” he tells Reuters. “Euphoria in politics is an invitation to disappointment.”

A Polish analyst echoes the theme. “The problem with Obama,” he says, “is that we still don’t know very much about what he thinks on foreign policy, so we write in what we want it to be.” Poles are particularly concerned that a President Obama would drop American plans to deploy a missile shield in Central Europe.

Official Europe has heard that Mr. Obama promises “change,” and they’re fretting that no one but the senator knows what kind of “change” he has in mind (or worse, that he doesn’t, either). They further worry about the change they already see. Over the past year, the senator has offered three different dates, at the end of 2008, of 2010 and of 2013, when he says all combat troops could or would be pulled out of Iraq.

Ten months ago, in a debate in New Hampshire, he made it sound ever so simple: “If there are still large troop presences in Iraq when I take office, then the first thing I will do is call together the Joint Chiefs of Staff and initiate a phased redeployment … military personnel indicate we can get one to two brigades out per month.” He didn’t say who these “military personnel” might be; perhaps a homesick GI in the chow line. The “military personnel” actually responsible for those brigades that Mr. Obama keeps moving in and out of Iraq have different ideas.

The American idol who promises to end partisan strife in Washington and make the world safe again for tea parties shows no appetite for standing up even to the red-hots in his own party. On a morning three weeks ago in Fargo, N.D., he appeared to back away from his loose-lips enthusiasm for a retreat from reality.

Later in the day, having heard from the hysterics, he contradicted himself again, retreating into the boilerplate denunciations of the war and George W. Bush that are the sugared mush on which his besotted cult feeds. Only last week he dished up still more mush: “I will give our military a new mission on my first day in office: ending this war.”

It’s “change” like this that frightens grownups, even in Europe.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Times.

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