Obama's Message to Europe
Tuesday, 08 July 2008

By ROGER COHEN

BERLIN

Senator Barack Obama is expected here on July 24 to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel. The Democratic presidential candidate is scheduled to make a speech at the Brandenburg Gate that aides describe as the major address of a European tour also taking him to London and Paris. Here's what he should say:
 
I am honored to be in this great city as a guest of your distinguished chancellor, a true friend of the United States. No place evokes the strength of the transatlantic alliance like Berlin. As candidate for the presidency, I feel humbled to be in this city where visionary American and German leaders fought pivotal battles for freedom. Those battles are won, but the transatlantic bonds that ushered Berlin and Europe to unity and prosperity endure. These ties remain critical to our fast-changing world.
 
The Brandenburg Gate, now open and delivered from a no-man's land, proclaims what the resolve of Europe and North America can accomplish. Together we are strong. Divided we falter. That has not changed.
 
But much else has. An alliance like NATO cannot be static. It involves give-and-take. It demands respect from both sides of the Atlantic. It benefits from curiosity. We have spent too much time talking past each other. If elected president I promise you this: I would reach out and listen to our allies!
 
I mentioned our resolve in winning the cold war. But from strength we also negotiated. In the 1980s we installed missiles to counter new Soviet SS-20s. Yet when opportunity arose, we talked to our enemy. Too often of late, we have compromised our diplomatic arsenal by isolating hostile nations like Syria or Iran. To engage is not to appease, nor to concede, nor even to recognize. If elected I would be as restless in the quest for new diplomatic avenues as I would be unwavering in defense of our freedoms.
 
Today, globalization has made isolationism impossible. The United States will not turn inward. But my country has no calling to run the world: unilateralism in our interconnected age is self-defeating.
 
More than 80 percent of Americans think our nation is going in the wrong direction. They want change! I know you do, too, because so many of our problems are shared. Every significant challenge today crosses borders: terrorism, nuclear proliferation, energy security, global warming and poverty. Believable change demands credible, creative engagement on all these fronts. My friends, I am committed to it! Yes we can!
 
The summons to rethink our world is insistent. Oil at $140, and the immense transfer of wealth that accompanies that, demand that we move beyond the age of fossil fuel. Melting ice caps insist we dream of new development models. The rise of great powers like India and China require us to modernize 20th-century institutions ill suited to this one. The border-crossing networks and communities that technology spawns call for a new diplomacy. These are generational challenges, but that is no excuse for postponing them. Our children would never forgive us for just muddling through.
 
Berlin teaches what far-sighted strategy can achieve. It also teaches shared sacrifice. Our alliance depends also on your resolve. I'm sure I can learn from Europe on universal health care or environment policy. But you too must reach beyond your comfort levels. Criticism is easy, sacrifice less so.
 
A German minister once said freedom is defended today in the Hindu Kush. He was right! I know that hero is a word you avoid in Germany, but your soldiers who have given their lives in that struggle against fanaticism in Afghanistan are heroes. We must see this fight through together for the cost of failure is unacceptable. We must also end the war in Iraq without abandoning a traumatized society to a still worse fate. Europeans and Americans, whatever their past differences, have a common interest in a stable, free, democratic Iraq.
 
An American historian, Richard Hofstadter, once wrote that, "It has been our fate as a nation not to have ideologies but to be one." That calling has been an inspiration — to generations of Americans and the world. But it has depended on respect of the values and essential freedoms that defined America. We cannot compromise our core liberties at home and be an example to anyone. We cannot rise to our new global challenges when we abandon our own ideals. Only in truth to them will we prevail.
 
Once again this city is instructive. The example of the West, its glittering lights and no less luminous possibilities, undermined the totalitarian East. The West's hope defeated the East's fear. As president, I would replace fear with hope, division with unity, in the spirit of the ideals of America's founding and of our great alliance.
 
My friends, from the Beltway to Berlin, yes we can!

Roger Cohen joined The New York Times in 1990. He was a foreign correspondent for more than a decade before becoming Foreign Editor in 2001.

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