In a highly unusual move for a U.S. presidential candidate, Barack Obama staged a foreign policy speech Thursday before a huge overseas audience, calling for renewed trans-Atlantic cooperation to rein in Iran, fight religious extremism and terrorism, and address global warming and poverty.
“People of Berlin, people of the world, this is our moment, this is our time,” the Democratic hopeful told an enthusiastic outdoor crowd, which local authorities estimated at more than 200,000.
Turning a critical eye on the U.S. and implicitly criticizing President Bush, Obama said, “I know my country has not perfected itself” and “we've made our share of mistakes and there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions.”
The Europeans roared with approval.
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Speaking before sunset at the Victory Column in Berlin's Tiergarten, to a crowd that stretched close to a mile back to the Brandenburg Gate, the 46-year-old first-term senator, who is extremely popular in Western Europe, recalled the celebration after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.
He warned that today “the greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another.”
Obama implored European leaders to send more military troops to fight al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan alongside the U.S.
“America cannot do this alone. The Afghan people need our troops and your troops,” he said.
Obama and his campaign have sought to downplay the campaign aspects of the Berlin appearance and his entire foreign trip this week.
“I speak to you not as a candidate for president, but as a citizen,” he said, “a proud citizen of the United States and a fellow citizen of the world.”
The line echoed President Kennedy's famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in 1963, when JFK said that “all free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin.”
Obama arrived in Germany Thursday morning to much fanfare, as local TV stations aired live coverage. Fans gathered in the streets for a glimpse of the Democratic presidential candidate outside his hotel and as he arrived for a meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Before delivering his speech, Obama told reporters it wouldn't be comparable to famous ones in Berlin by Presidents Kennedy and Reagan because “they were presidents. I am a citizen. But obviously Berlin is representative of the extraordinary success of the post-World War II effort to bring the continent together and to bring the West together and then later to bring the East and the West together. So I think it's a natural place.”
He demurred when asked if this was meant as a preview of what sort of president he might be if he were to defeat Republican John McCain in November.
“No,” he said. “I'm just giving a speech.”
A small campaign flap erupted late Thursday over Obama's decision to cancel a planned short visit to U.S. military bases in Germany. His campaign issued a statement explaining that Obama decided not to visit soldiers at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center because he thought it would be inappropriate to do so as part of a trip funded by the campaign.
McCain's campaign issued a statement criticizing Obama's decision to cancel the visit.
“Barack Obama is wrong. It is never inappropriate to visit our men and women in the military,” McCain campaign spokesman Brian Rogers said.
Before leaving Israel for Germany, Obama visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem, accompanied by a rabbi. Although the predawn visit was not advertised, it was widely anticipated, and in the waning moonlight he was heckled by a protester shouting, “Obama, Jerusalem is not for sale!” as other locals who supported Obama tried to drown out the protester's cries.
Obama will travel to France and England today and Saturday before returning home.