It was embarrassing: Barack Obama visits Berlin twice, but his second visit happens just when Germans are learning that the US president is a snoop on a colossal scale. It was evidently hard for Germans elite to ignore the damage caused by the ''Prism scandal''. German leaders have seemed eager to ensure that their concerns about the digital spying operation be taken seriously. Several have blasted both Obama and the National Security Agency.
Angela Merkel too voiced careful criticism of the program during the pair's joint press conference at the Chancellery. She made sure to emphasize that Germany had received important intelligence from the US which played a role in thwarting planned terrorist activity in Germany. But, she added: "I made clear that, despite the necessity, the issue of balance is an important one."
Obama was ready for questions about the Prism program, which has been likened in both the US and German press to George Orwell's "Big Brother," made famous in his novel "1984." Rather than trying to dodge reporters' queries, he took time to defend the program and explain its importance for US security. At the press conference, Obama also fielded difficult questions about some additional elements of US foreign and domestic policy that many in Germany and in Europe find problematic, including Washington's policy of using drones to hunt down suspected terrorist leaders in Afghanistan and the border regions of Pakistan, and the on-going existence of the Guantanamo detention camp.
What, exactly, is the purpose of the National Security Agency? Security, as its name might suggest? No matter in what system or to what purpose: A monitored human being is not a free human being. And every state that systematically contravenes human rights, even in the alleged service of security, is acting criminally.
Those who believed that drone attacks in Pakistan or the camp at Guantanamo were merely regrettable events at the end of the world should stop to reflect. Those who still believed that the torture at Abu Ghraib or that the waterboarding in CIA prisons had nothing to do with them, are now changing their views. Those who thought that we are on the good side and that it is others who are stomping all over human rights are now opening their eyes. A regime is ruling in the United States today that acts in totalitarian ways when it comes to its claim to total control. Soft totalitarianism is still totalitarianism.
From the Chancellery, Obama moved on to the highlight of his visit, a keynote speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Here too, though, the president was dogged by history. Presidential speeches in Berlin have become known for their inspired oration, celebrations of freedom and pleas for peace. John F. Kennedy is beloved in the German capital for his 1963 "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech. Ronald Reagan demanded of Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 that he "tear down this wall." And Bill Clinton, in 1994, hailed East Germans, saying they had "turned your dreams of a better life into the chisels of liberty."
Obama added himself to the list in July 2008 in his speech at the Victory Column, just down the street from the Brandenburg Gate, as a presidential candidate. "This city, of all cities, knows the dream of freedom."
His speech on Wednesday was a clear effort to continue the tradition. Obama praised Berlin as a symbol of freedom and the fight against tyranny. Of the wall which once cut off the very place where he stood, he said "no wall can stand against the yearning for justice, the yearning for freedom, the yearning for peace that burns in the human heart." He then made the surprise policy pitch that had already leaked to the media on Wednesday morning: that of seeking to further reduce the US and Russian arsenals of strategic nuclear weapons.
Obama is a gifted orator. But it remains to be seen whether the president's impassioned words in front of Berlin's pre-eminent Cold War symbol will be enough to assuage deep German disappointment over the fact that Obama has failed to live up to expectations.
Germans say that there are two Obamas: The ''Obama-Hope'', referring to his slogan during the presidential campaign in 2008 and the ''Obama-Drone'', referring to his policy of using ''drones attacks'' against extremists, terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with a numerous civilian deaths as result. German are less impressed by the latter ''Obama'' and his visit to Berlin has not changed their minds at all. Many in Germany are left with the impression that Obama's second visit to berlin was '' another show of America Imperialism and Obama's soft Totalitarianism. Indeed Obama's second visit to Berlin was overshadowed by the ''Prism Scandal'' and his ''Drones Policy''.
By Guylain Gustave Moke
World Affairs Analyst