The World as It Is (2018) is a deeply personal look at the Obama presidency, written by a man who not only worked closely with the forty-fourth president, but also became his friend. Taking us on a behind-the-scenes tour of Obama’s presidency, from his first campaign to Trump’s inauguration, these blinks also chronicle the author’s personal journey from fresh-faced staffer to hardened national security operator.
When Barack Obama first ran for the presidency, in 2007, he represented something new. For starters, he had opposed the Iraq war when almost everyone else supported it. To many, he seemed like a beacon of hope. He used words that sounded moral, and authentic, at a time when Washington politics seemed anything but.
Obama fought his campaign with a promise of change. From a foreign-policy perspective, that meant doing things that went against the grain of establishment thinking.
For instance, Obama called for diplomacy with Iran without preconditions. The Washington political class saw this – or anything that deviated from instinctive “toughness” toward Iran – as a blunder, despite the fact that Iran was quietly progressing its nuclear program. But Obama doubled down, responding to criticisms of his foreign policy by saying, in a nod to the disastrous Iraq war, that he wouldn’t be lectured by people who had supported the greatest foreign-policy mistake of his lifetime.
In most presidential campaigns, foreign policy is a minor issue, with few votes in it beyond veterans and key ethnic constituencies. But Obama’s campaign wanted to do more. Conscious of the higher expectations placed on an African-American candidate, Obama wanted to prove his ability to handle international diplomacy and the demands of being commander-in-chief. To do this, he embarked on a campaign tour of crucial European nations and the Middle East – an unusually long detour from the standard presidential campaign trail.
A key piece of the tour would be a speech in Berlin, delivered on the site of two iconic speeches from American presidential history – Kennedy’s famous “Ich bin ein Berliner!” speech and Reagan’s speech, “Tear down this wall.”
The speech almost ended in disaster, however. Just hours before Obama spoke, the author pondered a crucial line in the speech’s ending that referred to the German word for “community of fate,” Schicksalsgemeinschaft. Double-checking with a translator, he discovered that the word had been the title of a well-known speech by Adolf Hitler!
The line was changed, just in time. And the speech – given to an enormous, cheering crowd – was a huge success. More than his actual words, which emphasized globalism over nationalism, the image of an African-American candidate addressing vast crowds on a historic stage was a powerful one.