Timothy Garton Ash: If Obama really wants to lead us to a free world, he should abolish the G8
Timothy Garton Ash is a historian, political writer and Guardian columnist. His personal website is www.timothygartonash.com.
The west is dead, long live the west. Thus we might summarise the message of Barack Obama's trip to Europe so far – and Wednesday's keynote speech in Westminster Hall. There was one rhetorical moment that only Obama could have produced. An eloquent passage about well-integrated diversity being a strength of both American and British society culminated in the observation that this is why "the grandson of a Kenyan who served as a cook in the British army" could now "stand before you as president of the United States". It earned the first and only spontaneous round of applause from the assembled British parliamentarians.
Yet most of this well-crafted speech could have been delivered by any American president over the past half-century: the references to Magna Carta and D-day; the mythistory of our shared, centuries-old, English and American struggle for freedom; a hymn to Nato as "the most successful alliance in human history" (but only one passing reference to the EU); the obligatory quotation from Winston Churchill. Running through it all, and so seductively flattering to a British obsession since 1945, was the leitmotif of shared "leadership" – with the United Kingdom and the United States being repeatedly mentioned in the same breath, as if they were equal partners. And there was Tony Blair grinning in the front row.
As with the speech, so with the whole trip. There is very little here that could not equally well have been done by Ronald Reagan or John F Kennedy – all except for the final stopover in Poland, once a Soviet satellite, now a staunch US ally. The enemies and challenges may have changed but the friends and rituals remain remarkably the same...
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