Bin Ein Embarrassment
May 28, 2002
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
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.