Can Europe share the burden?
SEBASTIAN WILLNOW/AFP/Getty Images The scuttlebutt on Barack Obama’s speech in Berlin, due to hit in less than an hour now, is that he’s going to use the occassion to demand more of Europe, particularly when it comes to boots on the ground in Aghanistan. Coming from the lips of George W. Bush of John McCain, ...
SEBASTIAN WILLNOW/AFP/Getty Images
The scuttlebutt on Barack Obama’s speech in Berlin, due to hit in less than an hour now, is that he’s going to use the occassion to demand more of Europe, particularly when it comes to boots on the ground in Aghanistan.
Coming from the lips of George W. Bush of John McCain, it’s the kind of appeal that would go mostly unnoticed. But coming from Obama, it’s going to seem to many like a “Sister Souljah moment” — the act of telling a friendly audience what it needs, but doesn’t necessarily want to hear. With Obama seen in many quarters as too Europhilic, (gently) criticizing Europe is savvy campaigning.
Politics aside, it’s doubtful Europe can rise to the challenge. German officials and politicians have been fretting for days that Obama would ask them to send more troops, and Chancellor Angela Merkel has vowed to resist the Illinois senator’s entreaties. Germany is already planning to send an additional 1,000 soldiers to Afghanistan in the fall, and that was hard enough politically for Ms. Merkel to pull off. Nicolas Sarkozy has talked tough, but is in the midst of downsizing the French military. Britain may be able to redirect some of the forces it is planning to withdraw from Iraq, but British officers are already complaining loudly of being overstretched.
It’ll be interesting to see if Obama comes up with any creative workarounds, such as an appeal to newer NATO powers to step up. But given that he isn’t visiting anywhere east of Berlin, that would be an odd move to make.
UPDATE: Der Speigel reports that “tens of thousands of people” are making their way to the speech site.
Blake Hounshell is a former managing editor of Foreign Policy.
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