Commentary Magazine


He Needs to Be There

President Obama has reportedly informed the German government that he will not travel to Berlin on November 9 to participate in the 20th-anniversary celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is an unfortunate decision on multiple counts.

First, it is another slight to another European ally — one that is going all-out to celebrate the event. The invitation to Obama was extended personally by Chancellor Angela Merkel last June.

Second, it is a failure to correct the historical misstatement of his citizen-of-the-world address last year in Berlin, when he credited the fall of the wall to the “world standing as one” and failed even to mention the names of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.

Third, it is an embarrassment for the United States not to be represented at the highest level for the commemoration of an event of this magnitude. As Matt Welch writes in the November issue of Reason magazine, November 1989 was “the most liberating month of arguably the most liberating year in human history” — the end of the Soviet Union and communism in Europe and a 50-year Cold War that was a worldwide ideological battle. It was battle led by America.

Fourth, it is an opportunity for Obama to give a speech in which he does not apologize for his country but celebrates the triumph of freedom that has been the driving force of American history from its beginning through his own election. As a former president eloquently said, the power of liberty is one that “brought settlers on perilous journeys, inspired colonies to rebellion, ended the sin of slavery, and set our nation against the tyrannies of the 20th century.” The American president should be in Berlin on November 9 to celebrate a moment that was a triumph for America as well as Germany.

There is still time for Obama to reverse his decision. If he cannot bring himself to see the importance of this issue on the merits, perhaps his political advisers will consider the optics of his ending his first year in office with (1) a trip to Copenhagen on behalf of his hometown, (2) a trip to Oslo to pick up a prize he admits he does not deserve, and (3) a failure to take a trip to Berlin to help celebrate his country’s historic accomplishment. History will notice his absence, and the electorate may as well.