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Obama Chooses a Symbol of War as Berlin Backdrop

Author: Amity Shlaes, Former Hayek Senior Fellow for Political Economy
July 23, 2008


July 23 (Bloomberg)—Sometimes it is the words that get the politicians in trouble. Sometimes it is the images. In Berlin, a single picture of Barack Obama is likely to paint a thousand words about the limits of his foreign policy.

Consider the Obama plan. The likely Democratic presidential nominee will arrive in Berlin after a tour of the Middle East. Tomorrow, he’s scheduled to speak to Berliners and the rest of the world in a televised address at the Victory Column, in the center of the German capital. The euphoria will emanate to every living room. Berliners can be matched in the intensity of their Obama-mania only by Wesleyan undergraduates.

So far, so much good news for Barack. Berlin, after all, is the world’s greatest foreign-policy success story, a divided city now united, peaceably, as one.

You can understand, too, why Obama campaigners settled on the Victory Column venue. Neither the U.S. State Department nor German leaders were pleased with earlier ideas that they deemed too presidential for a man not even officially nominated. One was to have Obama make like President John F. Kennedy and give an “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech.

Another was to have the Illinois senator speak at the Brandenburg Gate, where Ronald Reagan looked east to the city’s communist half and cried “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

The Victory Column, a gold-edged pillar topped by a winged figure, seemed the next best thing for 2008. Photographers can tell themselves the column is the German version of our obelisks, recalling the Washington Monument.

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