I’ve largely ignored Obama’s European vacation because – like that fairly shoddy Chevy Chase vehicle – I couldn’t see the point of it.
But one thing from his much-analysed Berlin speech did stick out – and I’ve not seen it commented upon elsewhere (though if you do want a good range of analysis, try Kosmopolit, Federal Union, EU Referendum, Jan’s EU Blog and Mark Mardell).
Anyway, here’s the line: “I come to Berlin as so many of my countrymen have come before.”
The press, of course, have been comparing this visit to JFK’s famous June 1963 visit. But Kennedy’s just one man.
Who are the “many” Obama’s speaking of?
At first I thought about making a joke about the invading armies of 1944/5 – America threatening Europe with a big stick if we don’t step back into line over The War Against Terror.
But then I pondered further – and yes, he probably did mean the Americans who beat back the Nazis. But not just them. The American occupying forces of 1945-89. The troops still on military bases throughout both Germany and Europe, relics of the Cold War. The technicians still working on early warning systems and plotting out new missile defence shields. The financiers, stockbrokers, accountants and analysts found in all major European financial centres and countless cities throughout the continent. The workers in American multinationals Europe-wide. The tourists who come in their droves to see what real history looks like. And on, and on.
Without post-war American investment, Europe would never have bounced back so quickly from the most devastating conflict the world has ever seen. But the Marshall Plan was not the end of the matter – once the Yanks arrived in ’44, they never went away again. Hell, the EU itself evolved in part out of the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC) and behind-the-scenes postwar planning by first Roosevelt, then Truman and (more subtly) Eisenhower.
Many have asked why a US presidential candidate has wasted time travelling to Europe during the campaign, not least his Republican opponent. Considering how intimately tied up America has been with Europe for the last 60 years, the real question should be why haven’t we seen more presidential candidates take the trip? Sod European self-importance, sod Bush’s poor people-management skills. If you invest your money somewhere, you do so because you expect a return on that investment. If you invest a lot of money, you sure as hell make sure that you manage that investment. How can so many American leaders have been so blase about a region in which their country has invested so much? Yes, the American people couldn’t care less about us foreigners – but it’s surely irresponsible to pay so little attention to any area in which the US has so much tied up?