Why Obama Couldn’t Rescue U.S.-German Relations
Tensions between the two countries aren’t about who holds the presidency. They’re about what Germans see as deep divisions on fundamental values.
We know at least one thing about how U.S. President Barack Obama’s arrival in Germany will unfold this coming Sunday: He will not be greeted by 200,000 enthusiastic and emotional citizens screaming his name on the street, as he was when he visited Berlin as a candidate in July 2008.
When Obama took office in 2009, expectations in Germany were sky high. Obama, Germans hoped, would make America a better partner. He would bring new energy to climate negotiations and nonproliferation efforts, solve the evolving financial crisis in a coordinated way, strengthen international organizations and multilateral cooperation, and approach the fight against terrorism in a less aggressive and unilateral manner, together with his European partners. “Historic Shift: Obama Awakens the New America,” a Der Spiegel story from Nov. 5, 2008, proclaimed jubilantly.
But it wasn’t just about improving cooperation between the two countries. Germans were also buoyed by Obama’s plans to change domestic, health care, and economic policies in the United States and his commitment to human rights, evidenced by his announcement of plans to close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. At some level, there was hope that the election of Obama would, in fact, reshape the United States into a country with values more in line with German ones. This has not happened, to the disappointment of many in Germany.
Photo credit (REUTERS/Peter Parks/Pool)