As President Obama travels to Europe to confer with leaders there about how to come to grips with the worldwide recession, Kate Pickert, at Time.com, compares the trip to earlier Presidential travels overseas.
Ms. Pickert is a native of Watertown, New York, and started her career at the Watertown Daily Times, a very highly regarded newspaper; for decades it has been one of the smallest dailies in the country to have a full-time reporter in Washington. The late Alan Emory, who ran its DC bureau from the 1950s to the 1990s, was one of the most respected figures in the Beltway press corps.
Unfortunately, Ms. Pickert seems to have some way to go to fill his shoes.
The reporter starts with a pretty good point – that Obama’s press secretary Robert Gibbs, at a briefing the day before the President’s departure, was not asked a single question about the trip, since the members of the Fourth Estate present were more concerned about the forced resignation of GM CEO Rick Wagoner. Ms. Pickert notes that days of old “a President could dominate the news by simply leaving the country and posing for some photo ops. Maybe he’d even sneak in some history-making diplomatic feats. Exhibit A: Richard Nixon.”
Yes, she’s talking about the China trip. The round-the-clock TV coverage that event received – the first time all but a handful of Americans had been able to see China up close and personal – was apparently, in the reporter’s mind, equivalent to a series of “photo ops.”
After giving an account of the visit which reads like a condensation of its Wikipedia entry, Ms. Pickert continues:
Nixon’s China trip was successful, but it’s not as if he ended a war. Woodrow Wilson’s trips in 1919 to the Paris Peace Conference, however, led to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles at the end of the first World War.
Let’s leave aside the perennial debate about the degree to which the terms which Germany had to accept at Versailles, mainly at the insistence of the French government, set the stage for the rise of Hitler and another world war. The useful point to make here is that, while RN’s visit to the PRC may not have ended a fighting war, it brought one major part of the Cold War – the isolation of China from the United States for nearly a quarter-century – to an end, and thus helped to diminish the possibility of a third world war.
Ms. Pickert goes on to discuss the 1945 Yalta Conference, which she says produced as its “end result […] the partition of Germany and the creation of the United Nations.” It was the Dunbarton Oaks meeting in 1944 which laid the plans for the founding session of the UN, which took place a few days after Yalta; what FDR accomplished at the Black Sea resort was to get a commitment from Stalin to have the USSR join the UN.
But the really startling paragraph in the article is this one:
Of course, not all presidential trips abroad are known for altering the course of world politics. John F. Kennedy’s 1963 trip to Berlin was notable for the speech expressing support for a free West Germany, but infamous because of the four words he used to drive the point home: “Ich bin ein Berliner,” which can be interpreted to literally mean “I am a jelly-filled doughnut.” Some reports say the statement wasn’t mocked in Berlin at the time, but this hardly matters. In popular memory, Kennedy committed an embarrassing gaffe, something presidents try hard not to do while abroad, where they operate under more scrutiny than usual.
Really. JFK’s speech was “infamous?” Then why does Ms. Pickert think Obama, when a candidate last year, chose Berlin to make his one major appearance outside the US during his campaign – an appearance which drew hundreds of thousands? Why is JFK’s speech so prominently featured in his library in Boston? Why was it one of the highlights of former Nixon White House staffer Bruce Herschensohn’s acclaimed documentary Years Of Lightning, Day Of Drums? Why does the “Berliner” line inspire fond memories in older Europeans to this day, many of whom, I daresay, would regard it as a very significant event of the Cold War?
The Watertown Daily Times article about Ms. Pickert’s hiring by Time states that she has a master’s degree from Columbia. The major is not identified, but I’ve got my doubts that it was American history.