Difference between Popularity and Leadership

From a July 25 WSJ Editorial about Sen Obama’s remarks in Germany:

For our money, the best line in Barack Obama’s speech yesterday in Berlin came in the form of a quote from Ernst Reuter, the city’s mayor during the period of the Soviet blockade and the American airlift, in 1948:

“But in the darkest hour,” said Sen. Obama, “the people of Berlin kept the flame of hope burning. The people of Berlin refused to give up. And on one fall day, hundreds of thousands of Berliners came here, to the Tiergarten, and heard the city’s mayor implore the world not to give up on freedom. ‘There is only one possibility,’ he said. ‘For us to stand together united until this battle is won…. The people of Berlin have spoken. We have done our duty, and we will keep on doing our duty’.” This, from a U.S. Senator whose consistent message to the people of Baghdad, a similarly besieged city, also dependent on America’s protection, has been, in effect, to give up.

What Mr. Obama “knows now” is that the surge he opposed has saved Iraq, much as Harry Truman’s airlift saved Berlin and underlined America’s intention to defend Europe throughout the Cold War. The surge has also saved American lives in Iraq, with combat-related deaths (so far, there have been seven this month) at an all time low.

Mr. Obama also knows that Gen. Petraeus opposes setting a fixed timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq. This military judgment ought to count for something, particularly since Congressional Democrats have long scolded President Bush for failing to pay sufficient heed to the advice of generals such as former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki. Yet Mr. Obama, who has always been careful to cite the views of military commanders to justify his 16 month withdrawal schedule, now says that heeding less congenial military advice would mean an abdication of his responsibilities as a prospective commander in chief.

But the significant debate is not over whether and when the U.S. will withdraw. It’s over whether the U.S. will win. In his Berlin speech, Mr. Obama was at his most forceful when he insisted that “this is the moment when we must defeat terror,” adding that “the threat is real and we cannot shrink from our responsibility to combat it.” This is well-said and true. But it squares oddly with a political campaign whose central premise is that losing in Iraq — and whatever calamities may follow — is a matter of little consequence to U.S. or European interests. It squares oddly, too, with Mr. Obama’s broader promise to “stand for the human rights of the dissident in Burma, the blogger in Iran, the voter in Zimbabwe” and virtually every other global cause.

* * *

It is hard not to be moved by the sight during the speech of hundreds of American flags being waved, rather than burned. Then again, the last time a major American political figure delivered an open-air speech in Berlin, 10,000 riot police had to use tear gas and water cannons to repel violent demonstrators. It was June 1987, the speaker was Ronald Reagan, his message was: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Press accounts characterized the line as “provocative”; the Soviets called it “war-mongering”; 100,000 protesters marched against Reagan in the old German capital of Bonn. Two years later, the Berlin Wall fell.

Reagan’s speech is a lesson in the difference between popularity and statesmanship. Watching Mr. Obama yesterday in Berlin, and throughout his foreign tour, was a reminder of how far the presumptive Democratic nominee has to go to reassure people he is capable of the latter — “people,” that is, who will actually get to cast a ballot in November.

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About Jorge Costales

- Cuban Exile [veni] - Raised in Miami [vidi] - American Citizen [vici]
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