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Obama’s Brandenburg Should Be In Pakistan

One of the most interesting things about the Obama-McCain showdown is that for the most part, most of the world, including the Americans, have already begun treating Obama as President. The sort of coverage he gets, and more importantly, the kind of international reverberation and impact his actions create, are Presidential in every way. One need only follow the way that Obama was received in Kuwait or the kind of noise his appearance in Germany has been creating. Obama's plan in Germany, to hold a JFK-style rally in front of the historic Brandenburg Gate has come under attack from Germany's leader, Angela Merkel, as well as a host of critics who suggest that perhaps the Senator should wait before he's elected to make such a bold statement. Yet, the interesting question to me is whether holding such a rally is anything but a great PR move. It certainly doesn't evoke any substantive benefit, to the world, or to America. Tony Campbell at the excellent The Moderate Voice blog makes this point rather clearly when he suggests that rather than Berlin, Obama should go to Mecca.

"My suggestion to Obama: forget Berlin, go to Mecca. If you really want to be seen in a Kennedy / Reagan light in the diplomatic arena, you should use your popularity and your unique heritage to address the Christian and Muslim worlds. A thoughtful speech that focuses on our similarities, rather than our differences, is clearly needed between both communities of faith. Kennedy and Reagan in their speeches addressed the major foreign policy concerns of our country. Obama has the opportunity to do something similar if he takes up this challenge. However, the issue is much trickier and more dangerous than either Kennedy or Reagan had to face. Instead of disarming conventional and nuclear weapons, Obama has to disarm fear and prejudice on both sides, Christian and Muslim." 


Putting aside the various security and bigotry related reasons (Saudis don't allow non-Muslims in Mecca) that this can't happen, Campbell is, on the whole, right. When JFK went to Germany, it was the country at the heart of the conflict between Communism and the West. Today, Germany plays no role in the greater conflict enveloping the world — that of West versus Islam. In other words, if Obama wants to make something as historic as JFK's speech, he needs to tackle the perception that there is a war between Islam and Christendom, and he needs to make such a speech in a Muslim country. Where I disagree with Campbell is that Obama needs to go to Mecca (or to Tehran). JFK didn't go to Moscow or Beijing. Obama needs to find a place near to Mecca, with a sufficiently Islamic flavor, where the principles he wants to espouse — those of open government and freedom of conscience and trust-building — are present in sufficient qualities among the people. The recent (secular) democratic mini-revolution in Pakistan suggests that it is one such place. Pakistan has the benefit, unlike Egypt and Jordan and other Muslim countries where the democratic spirit is also high, of actually having a democratic government by virtue of having removed their tyrant. Security would be the only issue but there is no reason that it can't be surmounted. I also recommend Pakistan because Obama went there in college, has friends from Pakistan and his mother worked for Pakistani development in the World Bank, so that he has serious connections to the country. He can say that he witnessed Pakistan under Islamist Tyranny under General Zia ul Haq, and begin from there. Pakistan, incidentally, also happens to be the place where the so-called confrontation between Mecca and Washington is the most blatant. Obama should consider it. But wait till he's elected.

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