Roman: 'Good Speech, But No Jack Kennedy' (12)

Steve Roman (Photo: Scott Diel)
9/4/2014 3:54 PM
Category: Politics

ERR News also turned to Steve Roman, a longtime Tallinn-based journalist, former head of one of the Baltic region's bigger weeklies and noted Russia-watcher, for his reaction to Obama's speech.

Roman wrote:

A Good Speech, But No Jack Kennedy

In the run-up to Obama's Tallinn visit, commentators like Edward Lucas wrote that the president should “channel JFK” with his address, sending a clear, tough, “hands-off” message to Putin. Others argued Obama should evoke the spirit of Ronald Reagan. While Obama certainly did a good job of assuring the Baltics that any Russian aggression against them would be met with the full weight of NATO's Article Five, the speech simply lacked the punch of an “Ich bin ein Berliner” or a “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

To be fair, the impact of a speech relies on audience reaction. Estonians are not normally known for their spontaneous outpourings of emotion, and Obama had the extra challenge of addressing the stiffs at the Nordea Concert Hall, most of whom seemed to be sitting on their hands, nervously waiting for someone else to start clapping. But there were really no historic soundbites here. No hair-raising moments, despite a well-constructed and impassioned conclusion that proclaimed that regimes that think that might makes right will not win and those that value human dignity and freedom will ultimately prevail.

In terms of the messages communicated, Obama, as expected, strongly reaffirmed NATO's commitment to the Baltics. He also did a fantastic job of spelling out the origins of the current Ukraine mess, clearly laying the blame at Russia's feet while at the same time rejecting, point by point, the version of events being generated by the Kremlin's joke factory. Support for Ukraine and its sovereignty was a thread that ran through the speech. What was missing was an indication of what concrete aid, beyond sanctions against Russia and long-term reform projects, the US and NATO would give Ukraine. Indeed it's a tricky question, given the risk of getting into a direct shooting war with Russian troops. Maybe more clues will come out of the summit in Wales.


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