Setting aside the political implications, whichever way they may point, isn’t it pretty strange for Barack Obama to make a big public speech in Berlin? Is he speaking as a Democratic candidate for president of the United States? If so, what sort of message could he deliver to a foreign audience that wouldn’t be inappropriate under the circumstances? Will he make “if I’m elected”-type commitments, to cheers from Germans who don’t vote in the election he’s running in? Will he just give a general speech on his views of America and Europe (mostly to similar cheers, presumably) meant to show voters that foreigners like his speeches too? What sort of campaign tactic is that? An attempt to seem presidential by playing pretend-president abroad before the American people have spoken?
Maybe the substance of the speech will address this, of course, but the very fact of it raises some questions about how Obama understands himself and his role at this point.
The case for going to Iraq and Afghanistan and learning about what’s really going on there from the commanders on the ground is certainly clear and sensible, and even the idea of meeting with some foreign officials during the campaign to hear their views makes sense. But a public speech to a foreign audience — an all-out campaign event that gives a European crowd a role in our election — is at best an odd move. Maybe it superficially bolsters his otherwise meager foreign policy credentials somehow, but what’s the message it sends, to American voters and to foreigners?