Between 1804 (during the fight against the Barbary Pirates) and 2004 (during Iraq), the United States held nine presidential elections in wartime. Only two of these elections — 1952 and 1968 — produced a change in party control. Both times, the winner was a Republican who ran on national-security experience, and the loser was a Democrat who seemed more dovish.
Obama can claim no executive or military experience. The last president to have neither was Warren G. Harding. By a two-to-one margin, Americans think that McCain would do better as commander in chief.
And so Obama came to Berlin to build up his image on national security. If only appearances matter, then he did himself some good. The substance of his remarks was different. He credited the 1948 Berlin Airlift to international cooperation. “It was this spirit that led airlift planes to appear in the sky above our heads,” he said, as if some global vibe called aircraft from the vasty deep. Actually, it was Harry Truman. As Elizabeth Spalding recounts in The First Cold Warrior, “At first, Truman was almost alone in thinking that an airlift would work as an effective response to the Soviets.”
Truman made a tough, risky decision. That’s what presidents do. Obama did not acknowledge this point. He didn’t even mention Truman’s name.