Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The President's cringe-making absence and video

The other day I posted on Twitter that I was "embarrassed by President Obama" while I watched the celebrations from Berlin.

During the period 2001-2009 I heard lot of Americans living here say that they were "embarrassed" by the President. They were embarrassed by his religion, by his accent and manner, by his administration's policies. To be embarrassed by the man's religion, accent or manner is simply snobbishness or insecurity, which afflicts many Americans in Europe. They worried that their 'sophisticated' European friends, colleagues and neighbors would think less of them if they failed to denounce President Bush (even though many European leaders were guilty of the sort of corruption the scale of which is unimaginable in America.)

As for President Bush's policies, well I don't expect any American to support every policy pursued by an administration. As in any democracy, you disagree and you say so. You can even get angry. You want to be embarrassed by policies that's your choice, but policy is not something that embarrasses me although it can enrage me.

No, as far as I'm concerned nothing President Bush did was as stupidly embarrassing as what President Obama did this week. His failure to turn up in Berlin was a calculated snub of an ally - Germany - and really all of eastern Europe. The President's behavior was on a par with Donald Rumsfeld's ridiculous characterization of France and Germany as "old Europe" back in 2003.

But it was more than a snub to an ally. It was also a snub to America's own past and the efforts of the country over 45 years to confront the threat from the Soviet Union. That's what made his decision so embarrassing. His failure to show wasn't just saying to Germany, "We don't really care that much about your reunited country" or to eastern Europe, "Your struggles weren't all that important," although those were two messages from his absence. No, it was also saying, "I don't care much for that piece of American history" (our stand against Communism).

A snub for every President who stood fast against the Soviets from Truman through to Bush. A snub of the airmen who died bringing supplies to West Berlin in 1948-49 and all the sacrifices the people of America made to protect western Europe.

It was cringe-making watching President Sarkozy take the podium as the lead speaker knowing that the President of the United States should have been there. If in 1989 you'd asked anyone in E. Europe what country more than any other was responsible for the collapse of the Soviet system they'd have said the United States. If you had asked any Berliner in 1989 what foreign leader should speak first at the 20th anniversary celebrations they'd have said the President of the United States.

The President should have been there to represent the country and honor the efforts made during the Cold War. And any European or American would have realized how ridiculous it was that the President of the United States wasn't there. Instead we had the Secretary of State trying her best to sound enthusiastic when she introduced the cringe-making video. It was like a scene out of some science fiction movie where the leader is only ever seen on a video screen.

It was bad enough that the President didn't show, but the video - Uggh. Embarrassing.