Yesterday I happened onto France 24 just as it was airing President Obama’s speech to a select group of Belgian students in the presence of the king and queen and government officials at the Palais des Beaux-Arts, a fancy theatre. He started by saying: ‘What’s not to like in a country famous for its chocolate and beer?”
It was the old Obama, the one we loved and admired when he ran for his first term, the Obama of Dreams from my Father, a brilliant intellectual who knows where the major capitals are - yet caring, and funny. You could tell he was happy to once again be in front of a young audience that could respond to his message with enthusiasm. It was a message that glossed over centuries of strife to emphasize the noble documents they spawned but did not always follow, giving rise to the most powerful military alliance the world has ever known.
Here in the capital of EuroNatoLand, he lectured the next generation of leaders about the meaning of freedom and democracy, and the need to defend those values lest they be taken away by - essentially - the same country their parents were taught to fear all during the Cold War.
But the only enemy tanks Belgium and the rest of Western Europe have known were not Russian, but German, and every European youth has been taught what that meant. And because of that history, European youth is largely pacifist (unless you count the resentment, among the lower classes, of Muslim immigrants).
Of course this lengthy speech was not broadcast in the United States, but you can read it here http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/transcript-president-obama-gives-speech-addressing-europe-russia-on-march-26/2014/03/26/07ae80ae-b503-11e3-b899-20667de76985_story.html and still catch the French debate that followed online at http://www.france24.com/en/20140326-the-debate-obama-europe-pivot-part-one-ukraine-crimea-nato-diplomacy-defence/. (The French channel also documented the enormous number of security vehicles and personnel accompanying the president on the American taxpayers’ dime, conjuring up a Hollywood rendition of Cleopatra’s trip to Rome.)
Here are some of the more outrageous claims the President made, perhaps thinking that Europeans are as ignorant as Americans of world events:
“We did not claim or annex Iraq’s territory. We did not grab its resources for our own gain (sic). Instead, we ended our war and left Iraq to its people in a fully sovereign Iraqi state that can make decisions about its own future.“ Never mind that Al Qaeda was not inIraq before we invaded, while now it controls parts of the country, together with parts of Syria.
“NATO only intervened after the people of Kosovo were systematically brutalized and killed for years.” NATO bombed Serbia without a UN mandate, while Obama accuses Russia of not getting UN permission to hold a referendum in Crimea.
“We are confronted with the belief among some that bigger nations can bully smaller ones to get their way — that recycled maxim that might somehow makes right.” Give a Professor of Constitutional Law a little chocolate and beer and he’ll say anything to earn his keep.
Obama ended his speech by linking individual and national responsibility in a magisterial sweep from respecting gay rights to being strong in the face of conflict and corruption, calling for freedom to triumph over tyranny, ‘for that is what forever stirs in the human heart.”
Such an ending could not fail to stir enthusiastic applause. But I could find no mention of the speech today in either the Belgian or French press.