Obama’s Berlin Speech: Mixed Metaphors And Soggy Logic

July 25th, 2008 at 12:00 pm David Frum | No Comments |

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An American presidential candidate travels to the very center of Europe and draws a huge cheering crowd. George W. Bush obviously could never do that. Nor could John McCain.

For the many Americans sick to death of eight years of confrontation and quarrelling with friends and allies, Barack Obama’s visit to Berlin presented an exciting and hopeful picture. This is how things should be!

It was a great moment — so long as you viewed it with the sound off.

But if you listened to the speech, you heard an ominous and disturbing statement, one that raises the same unsettling question Hillary Clinton raised: Is this man really capable of meeting the responsibilities of commander-in-chief?

Many commentators have observed that the speech was an unusually poorly written one, filled with weak language and mangled metaphors. Obama at one point announced: “This is the moment when we must defeat terror and dry up the well of extremism that supports it.” In my experience, when you try to use a well to support something, that thing tumbles 30 or 40 feet below ground and lands with a splash.

But it’s not just Obama’s language that is soggy. The Berlin speech revealed more starkly than ever the most dangerous weaknesses in Obama’s thinking about the world.

Here he is talking about the early days of the Cold War: “The Soviet shadow had swept across Eastern Europe ….” Here he is discussing current threats to security: “Poorly secured nuclear material in the former Soviet Union, or secrets from a scientist in Pakistan could help build a bomb that detonates in Paris.” Here is his summons to combat terrorism: “If we could create NATO to face down the Soviet Union, we can join in a new and global partnership to dismantle the networks that have struck in Madrid and Amman; in London and Bali; in Washington and New York.”

In all these phrases — and many more — there is always something missing: human beings. It was not a “shadow” that spread across Eastern Europe in 1945. It was an army. Nor is it “materials” and “secrets” that build bombs — it is bomb-makers. It was not “networks” that struck in Madrid and London and the rest. It was terrorists acting in the name of Islam.

Listen now to this:

“If we could win a battle of ideas against the communists, we can stand with the vast majority of Muslims who reject the extremism that leads to hate instead of hope.”

It is alas tragically untrue that the “vast majority” of Muslims reject extremism. By every measure, extremism is accepted by very large numbers within the Muslim-majority world — and by even larger numbers of the Muslim minority in Europe.

Now this:

“In this century — in this city of all cities — we must reject the Cold War mindset of the past, and resolve to work with Russia when we can, to stand up for our values when we must, and to seek a partnership that extends across this entire continent.”

Russia has reverted to authoritarian rule. It uses its oil and gas to muscle its neighbors. The rulers of Russia are almost certainly responsible for the assassination of one of their most effective critics on British soil — and for the murder of dozens of journalists at home. These are facts, not delusions born of some “Cold War mindset.”

Next: “We must support the … Israelis and Palestinians who seek a secure and lasting peace.” Which Palestinians would those be? And what if Israel elects a government that does not believe a “secure and lasting peace” is achievable anytime soon? Does Israel forfeit “support” if it recognizes reality?

Last, consider this: “And despite past differences, this is the moment when the world should support the millions of Iraqis who seek to rebuild their lives, even as we pass responsibility to the Iraqi government and finally bring this war to a close.”

The insurgency in Iraq was launched not by the United States, but by Baathists and al-Qaeda. If that war is coming to an end, it is because the atrocities of the terrorists alienated former supporters — and because the surge of American military power inside Iraq has hunted and harried the terrorists almost to extinction.

Obama’s vague language is the product of an unrealistic mind. He denies the reality of conflict — and flinches from the obligations of self-defense. Obama has risen to power by using a soothing cloud of meaningless words to conceal displeasing truths and avoid difficult choices. His more worldly supporters will quietly whisper that Obama thinks more incisively than his speeches suggest. Let’s hope so. Yet the speech in Berlin should cause us all to wonder: Maybe Obama’s mind really is as foggy as his language.

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