Photo by: The White House
As Barack Obama begins to prepare to turn the White House over to Donald Trump in January, many Germans and Americans might go through a prolonged period of Obama nostalgia. Obama restored the sense in Germany and Europe that it’s possible to have an American president who looks at the world very much the way European leaders and publics do. After the tumultuous George W. Bush years, the American image in Germany was at a low point. Polls taken over the past summer show that Obama is more popular with the German public than Chancellor Angela Merkel, and that he has also raised the approval rating for the United States. While the revelations of NSA spying on and with Germany damaged trust, even now a majority of Germans believe the US government respects the personal freedoms of its people, if not necessarily of its allies.
All of this was unexpected at the beginning of Obama’s time in office. The two leaders got off on the wrong foot after Merkel denied Obama’s request to hold a speech at Berlin’s iconic Brandenburg gate. Merkel was unhappy and perhaps even envious about the enthusiastic welcome he received. But that awkward beginning didn’t last long, as these two similarly rational, realist, and serious leaders came to appreciate one other. Obama was unlike Russia’s Vladimir Putin, France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, and other macho leaders who Merkel could not stomach. Obama called Merkel his closest ally over his eight years in office during his last visit to Berlin in November 2016.
When your transatlantic flight starts descending over Normandy a week away from the 70th anniversary of D-Day, with World War II veterans on board, and your pilot tells you to look out the window, the moment resonates differently than it would otherwise.