Democratic Underground  

Ich Bin Ein Embarrassment
May 28, 2002
By birdman

Years ago, 39 years to be exact, America had a President who was idolized throughout the world. He was young and very handsome. He had a strikingly beautiful wife and a stunning command of the English language. When he spoke the world listened; when he led the world followed. The America of John F. Kennedy was the envy of the world. On June 23, 1963 just a few months before he died John F. Kennedy gave a stirring speech at the Berlin Wall in front of tens of thousands of adoring Germans. Kennedy's visit was such an event that the schools and shops in Berlin were closed so that students and employees could go to see the American President. The speech is still replayed today and is memorable for a single phrase that Kennedy repeated during his speech. Ich in ein Berliner (I am a Berliner).

That summer may have been the high water mark of Americas time on the world stage for Kennedy's America was not to last. He was murdered that November and within two years America was engulfed in war and social turmoil.

This week the current resident of the White House visited the no-longer-divided city of Berlin. The purpose of his trip was to build support for his war policy, particularly an invasion of Iraq, that has met with angry international opposition. Instead of cheering masses the city fathers marshaled ten thousand security officers to keep the German citizens away from Bush because instead of admiration he inspires potentially violent protesters. For Bush's speech to the Reichstag the German government had to order the security staff to lock the windows and keep the air space above the building clear. It was the biggest police deployment in the city since a little guy with a toothbrush mustache was running the show.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder issued the obligatory "we have many common interests" statement last week and made it clear that violence would not be tolerated but has made it well-known already that he opposes Bush's unilateral war for oil in Iraq.

We don't often see it mentioned in the American presses but Bushes reckless unilateralism following the events of September 11 has alienated much of the world. There is no image of an American that so repulses Europeans (among others) as the pushy know-nothing bully who understands little but demands much. Bush is the absolute poster boy for that characterization and his open-ended war in search of an enemy has reinforced and burnished that image.

"Peace for the World - Pretzels for Bush" read a large banner draped from a Berlin church. The banner sported a large image of a pretzel to remind Germans of one of Bush's near fatal bout with a pretzel while watching a football game. The banner, and the demonstrations are, in reality, a snicker, the knowing giggle behind the back of the strutting, preening fool. The man who wanted to be John Wayne bringing in the bad guys "Dead or Alive" inspires contempt and laughter even from those who are ostensibly on his side.

The President who visited Berlin this week has so little stature on the world stage that he spent weeks demanding that the Prime Minister of Israel, an ally that receives an enormous amount of U.S. aid, withdraw his troops from the West Bank. Ariel Sharon effectively told him to pound sand in front of the world. Can anyone imagine this happening to Kennedy, to Eisenhower, to Harry Truman?

Following that the little man entertained Crown Prince Abdullah at his Texas ranch. After a weekend in which he practically adopted Abdullah's peace plan as U.S. policy and virtually needed his lips surgically removed from the princes posterior the prince showed his gratitude by publicly calling him a dimwit. Would this have happened to Kennedy? How about Jerry Ford? Uh, Calvin Coolidge?

Bush's speech to the Reichstag was predictable and went dismally right from the start. The head of the German Parliament, Wolfgang Thierse, spent his introduction of Bush slapping him around over his rejection of the Kyoto Treaty and the International Criminal Court and warning him that "the pursuit of unilateral interests proves shortsighted". (Welcome to Berlin Mr. President - can anyone imagine this happening to Millard Fillmore?). As the speech began three legislators unfurled a banner urging Bush to "stop Your Wars" and a shouting ensued. But the speech went on. He tried comparing Osama Bin Laden to Hitler and Stalin, dragged out the old "axis of evil" phrase that's already alienated Europeans and finally tried a good old terror-alert mentioning that the evildoers are "familiar with the map of Europe." It all bombed badly.

A young man of, say, 20, who might have stood in the streets in June of 1963 to hear Kennedy would be almost sixty today and in his lifetime would have seen the most profound changes in his own country. He would have been born into the Nazi period, grown up during the occupation, and seen the emergence of a new, albeit divided Germany in his adulthood. He would have seen the reunification as he neared fifty and finally Germany's place in the new European Union. During that time the United States probably appeared to remain relatively stable. But if he watched Bushes speech he saw devastating evidence of the precipitous descent from the golden couple of the age of Camelot to the barren era of the Crawford pseudo-cowboy.

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