When candidate Barack Obama visited Germany during the 2008 campaign, he attracted an adoring audience of 200,000 people to a speech in Berlin. His reception in Germany this week was much less enthusiastic.
An estimated 4,500 people showed up for the President’s speech at the Brandenburg Gate. Some protesters expressed their disapproval of Mr. Obama’s failure to carry out his 2008 campaign promise to close the prison at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
And Germans who are mindful of Nazi oppression and the former East Germany’s Stasi secret police seemed wary of revelations of the surveillance systems that the President has maintained and expanded from previous administrations, targeting foreigners and Americans.
Still, there was little overt hostility to Mr. Obama. The United States maintains 52,000 troops and 12 military bases in Germany, 68 years after the end of World War II and 23 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Mr. Obama’s talks this week with German Chancellor Angela Merkel were important, given the critical role Germany plays in keeping other parts of the European economy from falling into ruin. Ms. Merkel faces elections in September. Many Germams say they see themselves working hard and paying taxes, while counterparts in Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and Spain expect Germany to pick up their shortfalls. Such discontent is a threat to Ms. Merkel’s political prospects.
Mr. Obama said he wants to reduce U.S. nuclear weapons holdings by one-third, if Russia is willing to reciprocate. That makes sense in military and financial terms, and must have sounded good to many Germans.
But Russian leaders do not appear to be enthusiastic about the idea. They cite America’s efforts to build up its missile defenses as inconsistent with the trust that would be necessary to achieve mutual nuclear force reduction.
And Germans and Russians are aware of the gridlock that prevails in the U.S. Senate, inviting skepticism about whether the President could get an arms treaty ratified.