The President in Europe

The President’s first trip overseas is drawing to a close with his visit to Turkey today. It is difficult to over-state the differences between Mr. Obama’s place on the world stage and that of his predecessor, although partisans on both sides will do their best to achieve precisely that, an overstatement of the difference.

Liberals are enamored of something called "world opinion." President Obama refers to this more than I think he should. It is not just that the notion is fuzzy, it is also at times wrong-headed and misunderstands the role of political leadership. I recall in the 1970s and 1980s, when the United Nations General Assembly would routinely pass resolutions condemning Israel and praising the PLO which was still very much a terrorist organization. The frightening thing about Russia today is not that Vladimir Putin has manipulated the electorate to guarantee his hold on power, it is that Putin and his buddies could win a free election in Russia today.


That said, it is nice to see large crowds in Western Europe gathered to greet, rather than to protest, the arrival of a U.S. President. At the very least, it has removed from the likes of Sarkoszy and Merkel the ability to score a cheap victory with their home crowds by insulting the President of the United States the way a derogatory remark about George W. Bush was always guaranteed to do. Certainly the Czech Prime Minister, who had such harsh words for Obama’s economic policies last week, had to question his stance when he saw the crowds in Prague cheering Mr. Obama.

The biggest difference, however, is that President Obama, while not compromising American interests one iota, understands that allies should be treated with respect and that friendships require nurturing. President Bush seemed to presume hostility to "old Europe" and his GOP allies would routinely and unnecessarily provoke ill will, often in the silliest ways. Remember "freedom fries?" Nor was it merely atmospherics. Bush’s policies, especially his push for deregulated economic structures and his prosecution of the war in Iraq, earned him the hostility of our longtime allies. The economic meltdown has taken care of the hubris of the laissez-faire crowd, and Mr. Obama’s pledge to wind down the Iraq War has earned him kudos abroad.

The test, now, is whether the administration can turn the kudos and the crowds into support for a robust, if less bellicose, foreign policy both abroad and at home.


Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
9 years 9 months ago
The only thing we can be certain of is that we have no allies in Europe. They are all out for their own self-interests and will never stand with us when the going gets tough. Yes, we try to make nice with them but must always be conscious of the fact that we can never turn our backs on them and can never completely trust them. In this Holy Week, MSW should not be fooled by the adulation of the crowds. The crowds turned on Jesus. Once Obama acts in the best interests of America, hopefully he is inclined to do so, the Europeans will abandon him. They have a deep seated, yet tacit, hatred of us. The hatred is not because of George Bush as some of the "blame America" crowd would have us believe, but because they are just depraved.
9 years 9 months ago
I'm not at all against being liked on the world stage. It's certainly better than being hated. But are we really to believe that these crowds are cheering on America, or her policies, as opposed to her president? Obama's election was a coup for our public diplomacy, and that's not nothing, but don't mistake the crowds in Prague and Strasbourg for a realignment towards U.S. leadership. All the plaudits in the world are not going to persuade China to take a tough stand against North Korea, or (as we saw last week) convince the EU to commit more troops to Afghanistan. Color me skeptical that Obama can translate his popularity into the tools he needs to actually influence world affairs: respect and, yes, maybe even a little fear. The world may like the idea of Obama, but I think the last eight years have ingrained the idea that the world can be multi-polar, and this is in many ways a very empowering revelation, even as it's at once a very dangerous one. Once you accept a world where you've convinced yourself that the E.U. or even China is as credible a leader as the U.S., it's hard to go back to following the U.S.
9 years 9 months ago
In what languages did Mr. Obama address the cheering crowds?
9 years 9 months ago
I've always considered (not that my opinion matters) America a liberal, partisan tabloid. This last week’s coverage of the g-20 was pathetic! Where are the “social justice” cries? Where is the coverage that 20 countries hold the economic fate and determinism of the rest of the world? Why no mention of dept, poverty, 3rd world determinism blah, blah blah? What about the fact the summit’s motto was “stability, growth and jobs.” What happened to peace, justice, lyberty or fairness? I know, George Bush wasn’t there!
9 years 9 months ago
I remember immediately after 9/11 how moved I was by the numerous expressions of support and solidarity from ordinary people in countries throughout the world (yes, European countries, too, Milbo). It saddened me that when London and Madrid suffered their post-9/11 terrorist strikes, we didn't do the same -- light candles, gather flowers for their dead, make them feel as supported as we had been. We can be a little self-centered, and President Bush seemed, in so many ways, to reinforce our parochialism. Whatever other issues I may have with President Obama, I am glad that he is reaching out to Europe, Turkey, et al, and strengthening historic bonds.
9 years 9 months ago
"The only thing we can be certain of is that Europeans have no allies in America. We are all out for our own self-interests and will never stand with them when the going gets tough." Thank so the last 8 years, this statement is as true as the one above from which it was adapted. And don't start harping on the Marshall Plan, WWII, etc. That was a long time ago and we are not that country any more.
9 years 9 months ago
Patriotism,” said Theodore Roosevelt, “means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the President or any other public official save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. … I think he should tried for treason.


The latest from america

Psychedelics can blur the line between science and spirituality—but Christian mysticism cannot be studied.
Terrance KleinJanuary 17, 2019
The extensive New York Times series in support of legal abortion unfolds as if the last 46 years of the abortion debate following Roe v. Wade never happened and did not need to.
​Helen AlvaréJanuary 17, 2019
In 1983, Sri Lanka descended into a bitter and prolonged ethnic conflict. Harry Miller, S.J., then almost 60, was thrust into a new role as witness, advocate, intermediary and protector not only for his students but for anyone in Batticaloa who sought his help.
Jeannine GuthrieJanuary 17, 2019
I have found that praying 15 minutes every day is an important form of self-care.
Michael R. Lovell January 16, 2019