Word that Barack Obama was looking into giving a speech in front of Berlin’s historic Brandenburg Gate caused a split in Germany’s governing coalition, with Chancellor Angela Merkel suggesting it would be an inappropriate venue for a candidate in the middle of the U.S. presidential race and Vice Chancellor Frank-Walter Steinmeier supporting the idea. (Politico)
What the commentators said
This flap “is awkward for both sides,” said The Economist’s Certain Ideas of Europe blog. It makes Obama look “naive and insensitive to German sensibilities” just as he’s trying to bolster his foreign policy credentials, but it has also “exposed political fissures” between Merkel’s Christian Democrats and Steinmeier’s Social Democrats, who will face off in 2009 elections.
You can’t really blame Merkel for wanting to avoid taking sides in the heated U.S. election, said Ulf Gartzke in The Weekly Standard’s The Blog. Allowing Obama to speak in a location previously limited to current or former presidents—Reagan’s 1987 “Tear Down This Wall” speech, for example—would create “a politically difficult precedent,” and antagonize John McCain.
If Merkel shouldn’t take sides, it “seems pretty ill-advised” for President Bush to wade in, said Ben Smith in Politico. Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper reports that a Bush adviser complained to Merkel’s foreign policy chief about Obama’s planned speech. If true, that would be a “remarkably ham-handed” way of “meddling on McCain’s behalf in Europe.”
Why is anybody surprised by the electoral politics of this? said Gregor Peter Schmitz in Germany’s Der Speigel. As Berlin’s mayor noted, “Merkel herself is well-known for staging her own grand political gestures abroad.” And Colombia’s government went out of its way to make McCain look very presidential on a recent trip there.
Obama's trip will be "a huge event," wherever he speaks, said Marc Ambinder in The Atlantic. He is hugely popular in Germany, and the rest of Europe, and the enormous cheering crowds and “ga-ga” coverage by the European press will resonate with U.S. voters interested in restoring America’s standing abroad—but any gaffe will be magnified, too.