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Obama agenda: Willkommen zurück ('Welcome back' in German)

The New York Times: “The last time President Obama paid a visit here, as a candidate in 2008, he was cheered on by 200,000 Germans eager to see the back of George W. Bush and, as one member of that crowd recalled Tuesday, ‘full of wholly unrealistic expectations of what kind of miracles Obama could work.’ When he arrived here on Tuesday evening ahead of a full day of talks — capped by a speech at the Brandenburg Gate — the reception was far more restrained.”

Reasons for the change: The continuation of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, American drone use, and surveillance of foreigners.

USA Today: “As a candidate, Barack Obama was greeted here five years ago by massive crowds and media adulation for his strident criticism of the wartime policies of President George W. Bush. But when President Obama speaks here Wednesday, he may find a different reception due to controversy over his government's surveillance program and his decision to maintain many of the anti-terrorism policies of Bush so loathed by the German left that swooned for Obama.”

And: “President Barack Obama is expected to use his speech at the iconic Brandenburg Gate on Wednesday to renew calls for a reduction in nuclear weapons. It is not the first time the president has called for a reduction in stockpiles, but by addressing the issue in a major foreign speech, Obama is hoping to rekindle the issue, which was at the center of his early first-term agenda. Obama will address a crowd of 5,000 invited guests at the historic landmark in the center of Berlin almost 50 years after John F. Kennedy made his famous speech at what was then West Berlin at the Rathaus Schoeneberg (town hall).”

Obama’s on the front pages of German newspapers:

- The tabloid Bild, wondering what Obama will say,
- Der Taggesspiegel (with this subhead, translated from German: “The U.S. president is in Berlin - he travels directly from the G-8 meeting, which ends with no clear line on Syria,”
- Die Tageszeitung: In English so Obama can read it: “Mr. Obama, open this gate!” over a picture of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and
- Die Welt: Over a photo of G-8 leaders (translated from German): “Syria - G-8 states require transition regime.”

Speaking of Syria, Jeffrey Goldberg reports that Secretary of State John Kerry wanted to bomb Syrian airfields controlled by Assad: “At a principals meeting in the White House situation room [Wednesday], Secretary of State John Kerry began arguing, vociferously, for immediate U.S. airstrikes against airfields under the control of Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime -- specifically, those fields it has used to launch chemical weapons raids against rebel forces.

“It was at this point that the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the usually mild-mannered Army General Martin Dempsey, spoke up, loudly. According to several sources, Dempsey threw a series of brushback pitches at Kerry, demanding to know just exactly what the post-strike plan would be and pointing out that the State Department didn’t fully grasp the complexity of such an operation. Dempsey informed Kerry that the Air Force could not simply drop a few bombs, or fire a few missiles, at targets inside Syria: To be safe, the U.S. would have to neutralize Syria’s integrated air-defense system, an operation that would require 700 or more sorties. At a time when the U.S. military is exhausted, and when sequestration is ripping into the Pentagon budget, Dempsey is said to have argued that a demand by the State Department for precipitous military action in a murky civil war wasn’t welcome.”

The New York Times: “The Taliban signaled a breakthrough in efforts to start Afghan peace negotiations on Tuesday, announcing the opening of a political office in Qatar and a new readiness to talk with American and Afghan officials, who said in turn that they would travel to meet insurgent negotiators there within days.”

So much for that? AP: “Afghanistan's president says he will not pursue peace talks with the Taliban unless the United States steps out of the negotiations and the militant group stops its violent attacks on the ground.”

The Hill: “Domestic intelligence programs run by the National Security Agency (NSA) have ‘disrupted’ more than 50 potential terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies, NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander told Congress on Tuesday.

The plots included a previously undisclosed plan to blow up the New York Stock Exchange, Alexander said.”

Scandal? USA Today: “John Shafer, a manager in the IRS' Cincinnati field office, has told congressional investigators that the scrutiny of tea party bases started as ‘normal business’ in early 2010 when one of his agents came to him with a difficult case, according to a transcript released by Democrats on a key House committee Tuesday.”

Pallin’ around? “Bill Ayers believes President Obama should be put on trial for war crimes at The Hague, the Weather Underground co-founder told Real Clear Politics in a [video] interview posted Tuesday,” The Hill writes. “Ayers told the website he ‘absolutely’ believed the president was engaged in terrorism for his use of drone strikes in fighting the war on terror. ‘Absolutely. Every president in this century should be put on trial, every one of them,’ Ayers said. ‘For war crimes. Absolutely.’”

John Harwood notes that Obama skips over many red states.