This is a guest post by the US journalist David Francis:
As a journalist who covers U.S-European relations and as a U.S. citizen who hopes for better relations with Europe in the next administration, it was quite gratifying to see so many Berliners waving American flags to greet U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in Tiergarten yesterday.
Too often in the last eight years, Germany has greeted American politicians with disinterest, disdain or worse. The images of Obama standing in front of hundreds of thousands of cheering Germans are spectacular and a reminder that an American politician is still welcome on foreign shores. Many believe Obama's German reception is a harbinger of things to come.
There is a general sense in the media and among Obama campaign volunteers I've spoken with that if Obama were to win the presidency there would be a sea change in European-U.S. relations. One volunteer I met with recently said the feeling inside the campaign was that an Obama presidency would start a new age of cooperation between the United States and countries like Germany and that many of the disagreements of the past eight years would be set aside. A new course would be charted with both sides agreeing on the way forward.
It is easy to understand why this volunteer believes in this cooperation after seeing the reception Obama received in Berlin. However, this reception needs to be put into context. Obama's message of change is one that is embraced by Germans, who vehemently opposed the large majority, if not all, of George W. Bush¹s policies. Therefore, any change is a welcome change, especially if it comes in the form of a charismatic figure like Obama.
However, Obama's popularity should not be interpreted as a shift in German policy towards the United States. Many officials I spoke with while reporting from Berlin earlier this year said Germany will continue to act in its own interests no matter who is in the White House. Any debt owed to the United States for its role in ending the Cold War has been paid in full, they said. It is doubtful that Germany, if Obama is elected, would send more troops to Afghanistan, as this idea is wildly unpopular with the German public. Nor would the German government decide to scuttle the Baltic Sea pipeline. Both of these moves would be more in line with U.S. policy. Obama might be as popular as Elvis, but even the King couldn¹t wean Germany off of Russian energy.
Two more things to consider:
First, an Obama victory is not guaranteed. It is obvious that he is the popular choice among the chattering classes and the foreign policy community in the United States. But so was John Kerry four years ago. Obama might be popular on U.S. coasts, but U.S. elections are won along the Rust Belt in the Midwest, the steel factory workers in Pennsylvania and Ohio, and the rural South. This part of the country is still undecided on Obama.
Second, the Republicans could use this speech as a way to portray Obama as out-of-touch with working class Americans. Kerry answered one question in French during the 2004 campaign, and within weeks, the Republican public relations machine had many voters convinced that the democratic nominee was actually from France. There is always a danger in a modern-day presidential candidate appearing as "too European." By giving a speech in Berlin, Obama is playing with fire.
There is little doubt that the next U.S. president will be more welcome than George W. Bush has been in Europe and around the world. However, it is important to remember that any U.S. president not named Bush would receive a hero's welcome abroad. My hope for the next U.S. president, whether it is Republican nominee John McCain or Obama, is that they can repair the relationships that have been battered over the last eight years. A more friendly dialogue would lead to a more honest policy discussion and allow the United States to better understand its European allies and discover areas where the two sides can once again move forward together.
David Francis received a John C. McCloy Journalism Fellowship to report on the European Union's growing dependence on Russian energy and its effect on transatlantic relations. Learn more about him at his homepage.
Previously, David has written this post for Atlantic Review in March 2008: In Berlin, Outrage Over Nord Stream Deal Seems to Have Died