Against a backdrop that evoked historic speeches by Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, President Barack Obama vowed to “move beyond [the] Cold War” and to begin a push for reducing nuclear weapons, eventually eliminating them: “As long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe,” he said.
President Obama’s refrain was “peace with justice,” a label he applied to a variety of causes, from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to climate change and fuel-efficient cars. He also touted several achievements of his generation, including the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, a war staunchly opposed by Germany.
Speaking after German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Obama removed his jacket during his remarks, and made his characteristic self-references, recalling his previous speech to Berlin, a campaign visit in 2008 in which he spoke to a larger crowd at the Victory Column after being denied permission to use the Brandenburg Gate.
Obama could not, as Kennedy and Reagan had, speak about the challenge of confronting a global enemy. So he attempted to evoke a vast array of global causes and ambitions. The speech had the feel of a campaign rally, with a long list of platitudes and little of substance, beyond his pledge to start new nuclear talks.
Much of it seemed an attempt to bask in the past by imitating it. President Obama declared, for example, that “Government exists to serve the individual, and not the way around.” It was a principle in which both Kennedy and Reagan believed. Yet Obama’s own record in office has challenged that principle at every turn.