The US presidential candidate Barack Obama is currently on tour through Europe, speaking in Berlin right now as I type this. It's been top news here in Germany for at least a week now. One could get the impression that Senator Obama is running for president in Germany. Or at least, that he already is a president.
The amount of media coverage may be surprising from a non-German perspective. However, Germans have been shown much interest in US presidents and their actions, starting with the famous speech of John F. Kennedy. Since the end of WW2, America has been much more than just the winner of the war. America was a helping hand, a promise, and apparently living up to the promise. And it maintained stability in Central Europe by keeping the (perceived) expansion threat by the Soviet Union in check. Though the Vietnam fiasco certainly caused some damage to the positive image of the USA in Germany, America was still the moral authority. Not everyone liked that, there was always a small amount of anti-Americanism in Germany, of course. It was mostly fed during the cold war by the fear of becoming the center of a nuclear war.
The problem is, that virtually nobody here knows anything about American history, society and political system(s). Germany media, which has the strange notion to "educate" its readers like school children, often fails to give the information necessary to understand many events and actions related to American politics or society. School education often also just covers a small amount of the US foreign policies, but not where it is coming from.
And hence the outcry, when the US invaded the Iraq: America gone evil! And it's all the fault of the president and his gang! Granted, in my opinion the war in Iraq is not only wrong, but outright illegal. Its justification was communicated in an extremely poor way. The long-term effects will be disastrous and not limited to the Middle East. However, the war in Iraq was not a change in American foreign policies at all. It is the same mode of operation that has been in effect for quite a long time. The large amount of support for the war among Americans at first is a good indicator. European media suspected that the support was due to propaganda by conservative media. The same media that is considered liberal (i.e., leftist for European readers) by American conservatives, by the way. One very common opinion is that America is betraying its ideals and not living what it preaches. It is a misunderstanding, though. Maybe the most disastrous for the reputation of the USA.
This misunderstanding, or rather: where it is coming from, is something that apparently puzzles the current US administration. Which lead to uncountable communication mistakes, especially by Donald Rumsfeld. An inexplainable war, perceived arrogance, no wonder anti-Americanism was on the rise in Germany. But people here hope for the return of the noble, multilateral America. John F. Kennedy stands for it, even though the historical truth is far more complex. Barack Obama reminds Germans of JFK, the visit of Berlin is certainly an attempt to get into his footsteps. Yet it is strange feeling that Obama is campaigning in Europe.
Would Obama be a good president for America? Even though the foreign policies of the USA won't change, much to the disappointment of many in Germany, he and his team certainly would do much better than the current president who acts like a bull in the china shop. But would Obama be a good president for the people of America? That's what the Americans have to decide this fall.