Monday, July 28, 2008

Barack Obama in Berlin: How we in Germany experienced the visit

I witnessed the July 24th Berlin speech by US presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama like millions of people here in Germany and all across Europe experienced it___ glued to our TV screens viewing our favorite news channel(s) and being mesmerized by what was yes, an outstanding young American politician at an historical point in his political career and in world history. Five days after the speech at Berlin’s Siegessäule (Victory Column) Germany is still buzzing with the news, the numerous editorials, and debates about the candidate Barack Obama.

This post and my personal views expressed here are not intended to be an endorsement for either Senator Barack Obama or Senator John McCain. In fact I have great respect for both men and the decision to choose which would be best for the office of President of the United States is not an easy choice for me, particularly when all people around the globe are facing such dangerous and challenging times. But I must reveal to my readers that I am firmly in the Obama-for-President camp at present and this probably won’t change unless some wholly unexpected and/or tragic event makes me change my mind, and my vote.

My friend Jörg Wolf over in Berlin, the editor-in-chief at the website, has been feeding me news and updates re: Barack Obama’s Germany visit for the past week. Jörg, a Fulbright Scholar alumnus and co-author of the popular Atlantic Review blog is an “avid transatlanticist”, a person who is highly focused on the transatlantic relationship between Germany, Europe, and the USA and foreign policy issues. So today I will begin with the excellent work done by Jörg and the team at the Atlantic Community in covering the visit of US presidential candidate Barack Obama to Germany. Following are viewpoints, feedback, and information from the German people and from other nationalities that live and work here. I think that for the majority of my fellow American countrymen and women this feedback is important to have and perhaps even uplifting in these troubled times.

The Berlin Visit Pre-Game Show
Days before Obama had even arrived in Germany the fur and feathers was flying in the German mainstream media and press and in the German blogosphere. The Atlantic Review published a series of posts about the senator’s visit and I took the time to pipe-in with my thoughts and opinions. Following are comments I made at the Atlantic Review in response to questions raised by some readers:

What Do You Want to Know from Obama’s German Fans? – 07/21/08

My questions submitted to Jörg in preparation for the Obama visit to Berlin:

“You are right Jörg in stating that there is a great deal of excitement building here in Germany re: Barack Obama's visit to Berlin. I think it would be hard to predict how many people will actually attend this event but the number of people who would like to attend number in the millions, no doubt. One thing is for sure, the press coverage and media coverage of the candidate's visit will reach millions of people here in Deutschland and Germany's Der Spiegel magazine already has Obama as a cover story this week.

Re: what questions you should ask people on the street in Berlin tomorrow here's two for you:

Question Nr. 1
Why do you think there is so much excitement and attention in Germany for this particular US presidential candidate vs. US presidential candidates from years past?

Question Nr. 2
Do you think it could ever happen here?

Clarification: That Germany could elect a Bundeskanzler/in of color or someone with a different ethnic background than the stereotypical German that is "branded" into so many people's minds. After all, there are an estimated 750,000 "black Germans" here and some of these young people shall rise through the ranks of German political parties over the next decade. Could it happen here?”

Another comment I wrote further down in the post in response to another reader’s questions for the crowd at the Berlin speech:

“I think that many people will attend out of curiousity (did I spell that right?) or they just want to be part of a big "event" like the Love Parade or the Fan Mile during football championships.

Conversations that I have had with many "average German" citizens and residents about the US presidential campaign and the upcoming elections are often interesting and animated with lots of emotion, but I come away often with the feeling that most people here are not really aware of the candidates respective positions on critical global and domestic issues despite the massive press and media coverage they both have received in Europe.

It's sort of like "Obama is young and dynamic and exotic and has fresh ideas" which is good for Germany and Europe and "McCain is old and tired and a typical American and will just continue President Bush's disastrous foreign policies" (especially re: the war in Iraq) which is bad for Germany and Europe. It's just that black & white for many people across Europe I think. Note that I am using quotes in the statement above and that these are not my own personal views. My views on the issues and the candidates are well___ complex.

Of course after the November elections and the January 2009 inauguration the euphoria in Europe will quickly evaporate, no matter which candidate wins.”


Understanding Berlin, a pre-Obama speech guide – 07/24/08

My comments approximately 3 hours before Senator Barack Obama delivered his historic speech at Berlin’s Siegessäule:

“N-TV has wall-to-wall coverage of the Obama visit to Berlin and I've just watched an interesting lunch hour interview with former U.S. Ambassador to Germany John C. Kornblum (Clinton administration) re: this visit.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel looked absolutely delighted to have Senator Obama in town for a visit (she was almost 'giggly' during this morning’s photo session). Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is nervously pacing the halls over at the Aussenministerium in anticipation of this afternoon's meeting (and photo op session) with the political "rock star".

All-in-all this visit so far has gone very well for the US presidential candidate Barack Obama and the entire Obama campaign team. There is quite a bit of excitement everywhere in Germany today and the media coverage is absolutely massive. This is good for America, all Americans, irregardless of one's political persuasion. So the Obama critics and foreign policy idealogues here need to lighten up and address Atlantic Review readers and commentors with respect.

In regards to the number of visitors expected at tonight's speech at Berlin's Siegessäule (Column of Victory), that previous estimate of a million people may not be very far off. Whatever the number it will be the largest turnout for any US politician to have visited Germany in recent history. Certainly a bigger turnout than anything the people have seen at an Obama campaign event back in the United States. My personal estimate for the turnout this evening: 250,000+

Tell my good friend Jörg to get down to the Siegessäule early tonight and to bring along his own 'Bier'. The lines for a glass or two of Berliner Kindl, Bitburger, or Warsteiner will be absolutely unbearable in length.”

My comment in response to a reader’s question about why I thought this event was good for all Americans (written on July 25th after Obama’s speech had been delivered and broadcast to millions of people across Europe and the world):

Question to me from Atlantic Review reader Kevin Sampson:
"There is quite a bit of excitement everywhere in Germany today and the media coverage is absolutely massive. This is good for America, all Americans, irregardless of one's political persuasion."Why?

My answer:
Well for starters Kevin, this speech by Obama drew the largest crowd for a visit by a US political figure that I have ever witnessed in Germany (or Europe for that matter). I am talking about a time period spanning more than two decades and covering a number of US administrations.

It was evident in the coverage that I watched (3 European news channels, CNN, and BBC World) that the majority of the 215,000+ people who showed up at the Siegessäule yesterday were interested in what the man had to say vs. a Love Parade or soccer championship type of crowd. That crowd was not only large but multi-national and multi-ethnic and spanned all age groups, a rare reflection of modern German society itself as typically portrayed by the German news media on a day-to-day basis. It was a true "Der Spiegel" of Berlin and quite pleasing to watch.

In addition, this is one of the few times that I have ever seen a large crowd in Germany turnout to actually welcome an American political figure without the standard burning in effigy (did I spell that right?) caricatures of Uncle Sam, the sitting US President, or some other important American symbol. Former US President Clinton drew large crowds of admirers and onlookers during his visits to Germany that's true, but nothing anywhere close to what happened yesterday in Berlin.

There were important messages and signals emanating from that event in Berlin yesterday, not just from US presidential candidate Barack Obama, but from the 10's-of-thousands gathered at the Siegessäule and the millions of television viewers who were watching all over Germany (and perhaps the world). I do hope that people back home in the States recognize and understand what I am trying to express to you here about that event because the entire nation (USA) can build upon it.
People, particularly young people are yearning for peace and for a change in the style of political leadership not just in America, but in their own countries all across the globe. Many of them see Obama as the standardbearer of the change they so desperately desire.

I hope that this helps in answering your question: Why?


The Obama Berlin Visit Post-Game Show

The Atlantic Review

Obama Keeps It Global – 07/25/08
By Giving a Speech in Berlin, Obama is Playing with Fire – 07/25/08
What Germans Think of Barack Obama: Continuity We Can Believe In – 07/25/08

Note: ‘What Germans Think of Barack Obama’ is a post about an exclusive ‘on the street’ style video produced by the team at If you are interested in opinions about the candidate and his Berlin speech from people who were actually there, Germans and people from as far away as Jordan and Wales (UK), then please view this 15 minute online report. I think that this video is a ‘myth-buster’ as it helps to show how a small range of people from Europe and beyond who attended this event feel about Senator Barack Obama and the effect that his presidency may have on transatlantic relations and life in their own corner of the world.

Atlantic Community has an article and a higher resolution version of the video interviews over at their website: “Obama in Europe: Continuity We Can Believe In”.

Don’t miss the editorials by Dr. Matthias Stephan Fifka (University of Elangen-Nümberg and German-American Institute Nümberg) and by Deutsche Welle’s Rüdiger Lentz (President of the Atlantic Initiative USA).

Obama’s European Voters by Matthias Fifka – 07/28/08

A New Political Messiah? by Rüdiger Lentz – 07/28/08

Deutsche Welle’s Across the Pond blog project
Archives for July 2008 (lots of posts about McCain and Obama)

The July 24th Speech by Barack Obama at the Siegessäule in Berlin

I’ve noticed that there are a number of YouTube videos of the Obama speech in Berlin and some undoubtedly are of poor quality. The following links are to online video files of TV broadcasts on Germany’s ZDF (2DF) television network website, one of two state-financed TV networks in the country. The high-bandwidth, high-resolution videos of the Obama speech are in both German and English language.

The ZDF Mediathek videos contain a number of close-ups of Obama delivering his speech as well as cutaway shots to the crowd clearly showing the enthusiasm, the diversity of people, and the large number of people in attendance. I read today that some news sources are questioning whether 200,000+ or 20,000 people were in attendance. You decide how many people were there at the event, 20 thousand or 200 thousand plus?

ZDF News Channel - Germany – US Wahl 2008

Barack Obama’s Speech in Berlin (ZDF Mediathek, English, Windows Media Player, 28:58 min)

Barack Obama’s Rede in Berlin (ZDF Mediathek, Deutsch, Windows Media Player)

Barack Obama’s Speech in Berlin (ZDF YouTube, English)

Obama in Berlin (ZDF Mediathek, Deutsch, Windows Media Player, 1 hour 11 min)

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Monday, July 21, 2008

The ICC vs Sudanese President Omar al Bashir: the beginning of the beginning of the end to what?

As I bring my work at Jewels in the Jungle to a close this year, I never thought that I would be writing about the crisis in Darfur again. Ashamedly I belong to the millions of people around the world that have practically given up on a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Sudan’s western province. When I first started this blog back in 2004, peace in Sudan and the atrocities against innocent civilians in Darfur were themes that I tried to address again and again. But Darfur was too complex for many of us bloggers who at that time had little knowledge of the background to the long-running wars and atrocities that have plagued this African country since its independence in 1956. It was a subject better left to the experts, scholars, diplomats, and foreign correspondents of the world, many who have devoted their professional careers and lives to the study and resolution of such conflicts.

Two things happened last week that compelled me to want to speak out once again.

First, the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo submitted his long-awaited criminal indictment against the President of Sudan, Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir, requesting a warrant from the court’s judges for Bashir’s arrest. Of course such a request caused all Hell to break loose from the UN headquarters in New York City to the African Union and Arab League headquarters on the other side of the globe, as world leaders responded publicly in (feigned) shock to an indictment that they all knew was coming.

When the ICC Prosecutor’s indictment was read in public carried by news networks around the world, the people in the IDP camps of Darfur and Chad sent up cheers and hoots of joy that perhaps finally something was being done on their behalf to relieve the misery and suffering they have endured for over 5 years now. I certainly cheered while watching Mr. Moreno-Ocampo read the indictment summary at his press conference, backed by a black African female member of his very competent legal staff. The symbolism of that black & white duo in the press conference was very powerful and not lost on those of us who are even somewhat familiar with the complex ethnic and racial background to this abominable crisis.

I can imagine that the ICC prosecutor’s office is seeking international support for his move against al-Bashir and I want to say hear and now that I support this move by the honorable Mr. Moreno-Ocampo 150%. As a matter of fact I consider his action to be heroic in a world that has become increasingly cynical and downright despondent over the situation in Darfur and Abyei and all of the Sudan.

A second thing that occurred last week to help motivate me to write once again about this important subject is that my friend the editor-in-chief of the African Loft asked me to contribute to an online debate about the ICC indictment against the Sudanese president. The debate has only a dozen or so comments to date but it is quite civil and hopefully informative for all participants, and we have been joined by the Sudanese blogger Kizzie (I Have No Tribe, I’m Sudanese), a colleague and friend of the very popular blogger Drima of The Sudanese Thinker and editor for Sudan news at Global Voices Online. The debate at African Loft includes an interesting and civil exchange of opposing views on the ICC indictment between the honorable Mr. Oscar Blayton (a Washington DC area attorney) and “moi” (BRE).

So as I have stated the crisis in Darfur and the ICC indictment against Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir is very serious business, indeed. As I have always wished that this blog be a place of learning and sharing of ideas and opinions I shall waste no more of your valuable time with my own words. Below is a roundup of select news articles and reports about the ICC charges, the fallout over these charges against a standing head of state, and where all of this may be heading not only for the people of Darfur and all of Sudan, but for the whole damn(ed) world.

Jewels in the Jungle Global News Roundup for July 21, 2008
The International Criminal Court vs. Africa’s Top Dictator and Mass Murderer: Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmed Al Bashir

The Sudan Tribune
The Accused One’s Profile by Ahmed Elzobier – 07/21/08
Note: this is one of the best ever editorials I have read at this independent Sudan-in-exile (Paris, I think) news site. Here is an excerpt from the witty Mr. Elzobier:

The accused one’s profile: “He is kind and generous, a true Sudanese coming from a poor family”, says one of his government officials. However, we also know that human nature is not innately cruel and only rare sociopaths can participate in atrocities without suffering lasting emotional harm as psychiatrist Robert Lifton noted.

The rhetoric: The media in Sudan is all about representing one opinion and one voice. A Cold War era propaganda machine, not really concerned about objectivity or neutrality, or finding the truth. It is only about serving the ruling political party’s objectives, and dissenting voices are anathema. Since the news was leaked last Thursday it has unleashed its propaganda strategy in its fullest form and everything seems to be at stake:

“We are targeted, our sovereignty has been violated. The president is a symbol of the country and this is a conspiracy against Sudan. This is similar to what happened in Iraq. Our judicial system is fair and just and this is a political and not a legal accusation. This has never happened before. This happens to us because we believe in Islam. Because they know the National Congress Party (NCP) is going to win the election. Because of our successes and economic progress.”

The International Criminal Court – press releases
ICC Prosecutor presents case against Sudanese President, Hassan Ahmed Al Bashir, for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur – 07/14/08
Note: article with downloads of the summary of the case and the prosecutor’s statement are available in Arabic, English, and French languages
Office of the Prosecutor – bio of Luis Moreno-Ocampo

The New York Times and the NY Times blog ‘On the Ground
Prosecuting Genocide by Nicholas Kristof – 07/17/08
Your comments on my Darfur column of July 17th
China, Muslims, and the Genocide by Nicholas Kristof – 07/14/08

Memo from Africa: The Pursuit of Justice vs. the Pursuit of Peace by Lydia Polgreen and Marlise Simons – 07/11/08
Arrest is Sought of Sudan Leader in Genocide Case by Lydia Polgreen, Malise Simons, and Jeffrey Gettleman – 07/15/08

International Herald Tribune
Letter from China: Hands-off foreign policy a collapse of creativity by Howard French – 07/17/08
Note: veteran New York Times foreign correspondent for Africa and Asia Howard French comments on Beijing’s flawed policies toward despotic African states

The Economist
The International Criminal Court: Justice or expediency in Sudan? – 07/17/08
Political Immunity: Pulling back the blanket of immunity – 07/10/08

Jurist – Paper Chase (University of Pittsburgh School of Law)
ICC Prosecutor applies for warrant to arrest Sudan president – 07/14/08
Indicting Sudan’s President for War Crimes: Could George Bush be Next? – 07/15/08
The US and the International Criminal Court: Then and Now by David Scheffer - 07/16/08
Note: David Scheffer is a former US Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues and a professor at Northwestern University School of Law

The role of China and Russia in the Darfur crisis AND the bloody twenty year long civil war that ravaged southern Sudan is no state secret. As a result of their staunch economic, military, and diplomatic support for the Khartoum regime the governments of China and Russia have come into even sharper focus this month. On the heals of the ICC Prosecutor’s charges against President Omar al-Bashir the million dollar question at the United Nations Security Council over the next weeks will be: “What will China and Russia do if the ICC indictment and warrant for arrest gets kicked back to us?”

World Defense Review – Strategic Interests by Dr. J. Peter Pham
Sudan: The Beginning of the End – 07/15/08
Khartoum’s Partners in Beijing – 01/31/08
Note: Dr. Pham is a noted conservative Asian-American scholar on defense and strategic policy affairs. He is the Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University.

BBC News and the BBC One Panorama
China’s Secret War (Panorama) with host Hilary Andersson – 07/15/08
China is ‘fueling war in Darfur’ by Hilary Andersson – 07/13/08
China rejects BBC Darfur claims – 07/15/08
Note: It’s great to see the veteran foreign correspondent Hilary Andersson back at the BBC after such a long absence. She’s one of the best investigative journalists to ever set foot on African soil. She has unfortunately NOT been invited to cover the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing next month. The reason: “She’s a dirty liar!” according to the Chinese Special Envoy for Darfur. Xhinua News Agency

Voice of America News (VOA)
Former Charles Taylor Prosecutor Praises ICC Action against Sudanese President by Joe De Capua – 07/14/08
Note: download the MP3 audio file of the interview with former Chief Prosecutor David M. Crane. Dr. Crane was the founding Chief Prosecutor for the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone and instrumental in bringing former Liberian President Charles Taylor to The Hague. More about Professor Crane can be found in this bio at Syracuse University School of Law and at the Jurist website ‘An Empty Chair at The Hague: Trying Charles Taylor’ (June 8, 2007).

That’s enough for today. I will add more to this post as the plot against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir thickens over the next days and weeks. Look for updates to this post on a regular basis.

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