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Dan Balz's Take

On Europe Trip, Obama Will Test Power of Popularity

By Dan Balz
Can President Obama lead the world? That may overstate the ambitions Obama will take with him to Europe Tuesday for a week-long series of summits and speeches. But it is the question that will shadow him throughout his trip and likely become the basis for judging the outcome once he returns.

Candidate Obama promised Americans a fresh start with the rest of the world, after eight years in which former President Bush's policies and style made this country deeply unpopular abroad. Before he was even serious about running for president in 2008, Obama had concluded from the reaction he received on a trip to Africa in the summer of 2006 that his election had the potential to change instantly international perceptions of America.

That seems indisputable. As a leader Obama is significantly more popular overseas than Bush ever was. The question is whether Obama has a strategy in mind to leverage that popularity to bend recalcitrant allies in directions he would like them to go, whether that means producing a coordinated response to the international economic crisis or winning concrete support for his new policies for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Implicit in Obama's campaign rhetoric was that he would seek cooperative relationships with America's allies, rather than pursuing the unilateral style that often marked Bush's approach, particularly in his first term. Stylistically that should make him a more appealing U.S. leader to his counterparts in Europe and elsewhere. Substantively, it leaves considerable power in the hands of U.S. allies to resist measures Obama may be advocating, unless he proves to be powerfully persuasive in both public and private venues.

Last summer, Obama got his first taste of this when he took his week-long trip to Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East and Europe. Because he was there as a candidate, he was not selling a particular set of policies. Mostly he was trying to make a good impression on leaders with whom he might be dealing and to win an election back home. But at the end of the trip he talked about the potential value of having a president who enjoys the good will of publics in countries around the world.

One of the central debates of the campaign, he said, was over which candidate was best positioned to forge coalitions that could successfully deal with big issues, from terrorism to climate change to the economy. "What I thought was useful was to give the American people some sense of how I was approaching these issues, but also to give them a sense that the world can be responsive to this approach and that it will make a difference," he said that week.

At the time, he used Afghanistan as an example of how an Obama presidency might succeed where Bush's had failed. He was already advocating the need to send more troops to Afghanistan and for troop support from other countries. Leaders in those countries, he argued, would be more likely to cooperate if their constituents were more favorably disposed toward the United States and its president.

"Anti-American sentiment is not useful even when we've got strong allies like [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel and [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy, who are pro American and favorably disposed and don't engage in, you know, sort of taking cheap shots at us. They've been great allies. But we put them in a tough bind if we're not attentive to their constituencies. So I wanted to give voice to that very practical, hard-headed approach to foreign policy."

Obama's July trip was a trial run. There was no political payoff likely at the time. The only real risk was that he might commit a gaffe that would undermine his hopes of winning the presidency.

His advisers argued at the time that the real value of spending a week abroad in the middle of a campaign would come only if he won the election. He would start his presidency having taken the measure of a number of key world leaders (and they of him) and would need no on-the-job training once in office.

All of that will be put to the test this week, under circumstances that are significantly different than they were last summer, given what has happened to the world economy. It should be easy for Obama to escape any blame among Europeans for Bush's national security policies. He can begin his Afghanistan policy with a relatively clean slate - though that will not assure that European allies will step up.

On the economy, it will be less easy for Obama to insulate himself from anger abroad that American-style capitalism (and lack of government regulation) trashed the world economy, though European-style capitalism (and government) bears responsibility for the current crisis as well. Obama may bear no direct responsibility for what happened before he came into office, but perceptions of cowboy capitalism may complicate his ability to forge the kind of consensus or coalition he talked about last summer.

Obama has demonstrated that he can command attention on the world stage and no doubt will do so again this week. How much that attention translates into influence on the other leaders with whom he will be meeting will determine whether the president's first big foreign journey meets the expectations he set as a candidate.

Posted at 2:37 PM ET on Mar 30, 2009  | Category:  Dan Balz's Take
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Well, at least it seems that "Barroso goes Obama"... Jose Manuel Durao Barroso is a European Commission President, and surprise, surprise, just with some days difference with the trip a Obama's web event launched a web site called tellbarroso.eu (www.tellbarroso.eu), where he is inviting European's to give their view on the priorities of the European Union... the web-site is managed by the Center for European Studies, a center-right think tank...well, the project is very minimalistic comparing the one on the US President, but seems that again European's are following very closely how the politics is done in US. Anyway, nice project.

Posted by: dianelorenzo | April 4, 2009 4:06 PM

The comments section here isn't much good for informed discussion of issues, but if you want a front row seat at the disintegration of the Republican Party, read on!

Posted by: nodebris | March 30, 2009 11:44 PM

cms1 if you're so enamored of Europe, why don't you go live there - and take Oblah-blah with you. Even if he lasts the remainder of his term, I'm not sure the US will. You sufferers of the Bush Derangement Syndrome need to get over it and wake up to how your boy Bam is ruining this country. You and your libutard friends think Bush spent money like a drunken sailor, but when Oblah-blah does it and triples the debt in the process it's all OK with you. Make up your freakin' mind will you? As for the "rock star" b.s., for some reason a "rock star" with his finger on the nuclear button doesn't give me the warm and fuzzies, it scares the sheet out of me.

Posted by: profmoriarty | March 30, 2009 9:11 PM

cms1 if you're so enamored of Europe, why don't you go live there - and take Oblah-blah with you. Even if he lasts the remainder of his term, I'm not sure the US will. You sufferers of the Bush Derangement Syndrome need to get over it and wake up to how your boy Bam is ruining this country. You and your libutard friends think Bush spent money like a drunken sailor, but when Oblah-blah does it and triples the debt in the process it's all OK with you. Make up your freakin' mind will you? As for the "rock star" b.s., for some reason a "rock star" with his finger on the nuclear button doesn't give me the warm and fuzzies, it scares the sheet out of me.

Posted by: profmoriarty | March 30, 2009 9:03 PM

President Obama is going to be received in Europe with the people welcoming him in massive numbers and the Government taking notice of the fact that HE is more popular that their own leaders.
President Obama is an internationally recognized "rock star". The PEOPLE love him.
Why? They recognize that he is ONE of THEM. Why? Because he is. America recognized it and so do all the other people in the world.
Given the utter catastrophe he was handed by Bush, and the whole world knows it, he can ONLY look and be better than what has gone before.

Posted by: cms1 | March 30, 2009 8:26 PM

Obama will speak to the G-20 at Horsham. he will address NATO at Baden-Baden, and the EU at Prague. Then he will go on to Turkey, a muslim country. Probably he will say everywhere what the media expect him to say. But there is also his first meeting with Medvedev. So perhaps there will be some real progress after all.

Posted by: dunnhaupt | March 30, 2009 8:23 PM

I heard there is a new brand of Kool-aid. It's called Bama Juice...apparently it's all the rage with the 60% of Americans who don't actually pay taxes, are here illegally or somehow think Government fills the role of God in their pathetic lives.

Posted by: laughing_at_dems | March 30, 2009 7:47 PM

the last bastion of voce solo for the extreme right wings. If you had any good ideas you wouldn't be in the situation you are in - having to blast a very popular president on the blogs. Get a real idea that might be productive - conducive to getting us somewhere - you need to air out after 8 years with being Bushed.

Posted by: therookie | March 30, 2009 7:37 PM

prosperity2run2000 wrote: "WaPo needs to cease this nonsense! Obama has his hands full trying to lead this country, let alone countries in Africa, Europe, Asia, Central and South America, and the rest of North America. Let the man be!"

Shooting fish in a barrel here, but dude, you cannot be serious. The Post isn't blaring loud music in his window at night or pulling the fire alarm during his meetings. He is free to go about his duties without regard for what the Post writes. If you want to live in a country where the media doesn't dare question its leader, maybe you would be happier in North Korea.

Posted by: Compared2What | March 30, 2009 6:43 PM

Mr. Balz;

Why of Course Barry will be Popular and get our "Allies" to go along with all of his agendas!

Just so long as all of His Agendas are the ones our "Allies" EXPECT the Green, and Wet-behind-the-Ears(And My! What BIG Ears!) Congressional Lawyer pretending to be an Executive;

are the ones THEY want!

After all;

he CAN Claim: Ich bin ein "Beginner"! ;~)

Posted by: SAINT---The | March 30, 2009 6:39 PM

Obama faces a far more important task than erasing foreign perceptions of "cowboy capitalism." He must convince Americans that it is not business as usual in Washington. Despite all his efforts to communicate his economic plans to the American public, the President and his staff have failed fully embrace and explain the Keynesian economic principles that underlie their stimulus plan. I read an interesting article on the subject. Here is the link:http://sublimeandbeautiful.wordpress.com/2009/03/27/5/

Posted by: ceterisparibus7 | March 30, 2009 6:28 PM

"If Obama is believed to be popular here in the USA, the World might take note that the people

refuse to buy papers that do not show the TEA PArty revolt masses in the streets calling for

Obama's removal.

------------------------------------------

You mean those pathetic showings of about 20 people per disparate location?

For a block of people who incessantly bash on unions and community organizing you folks could sure take some pointers from these groups' "revolt" organizing know how.

Posted by: htruman | March 30, 2009 6:16 PM

OK geniuses:
On Iran: what did you expect, the announcement that they would immediately abandon any nuclear activities? Or should we just go with Bush's method which has empowered Iran more than any time in history?

On the economy: Please refrain from making idiotic remarks like "The airline industry bounced back better than before"

Teleprompter nuts: EVERY President reads prepared remarks from a teleprompter or a piece of paper, take your choice.


Try to take into consideration Europe is upset because of the Buy American clause in the stimulus bill. If it wasn't there you'd be ranting about Obama giving away billions to Europe.

Posted by: JRM2 | March 30, 2009 6:11 PM

Wow, all the financial geniuses and foreign policy experts of the 20% in exile are out today.

Posted by: JRM2 | March 30, 2009 6:05 PM

Wiggan: Thank you for your very elementary analysis.

Posted by: JRM2 | March 30, 2009 6:04 PM

"Ich bin ein Teleprompter."


Hopefully he won't thank himself for inviting himself or for coming himself.

The guy unfortunately is a bad joke, he is popular only with the uninformed masses not statesmen.

Posted by: chicago77 | March 30, 2009 6:03 PM

The people saying Obama is a failure are the same people who said George Bush is a success.

'Nough said.

Posted by: nodebris | March 30, 2009 6:01 PM

If Obama is believed to be popular here in the USA, the World might take note that the people

refuse to buy papers that do not show the TEA PArty revolt masses in the streets calling for

Obama's removal.


Newspapers are not displaying the American truth.


NO OBAMA IS NOT POPULAR HERE IN THE U.S.A.

That went away the day he spoke to Islam before the American people.


All Constitutional Republic citizens are clamouring for proof of "natural born citizen" status of

Barry Soreto...aka...Kommander Klink Obama.


NO CONFIDENCE = OBAMA

Posted by: dottydo | March 30, 2009 5:55 PM

Actually, the Europeans are already convinced Obama is an idiot. Countries such as Germany have had nightmarish experiences with inflation and are rightly concerned with tossing cash at problems.

Posted by: birvin9999 | March 30, 2009 5:48 PM

All the poor sheep still following this Marxist's grab power. Barrack Obama has removed the American dream from the table so the we can all be poor. Now he's definitely a one termer.

Posted by: Superpower | March 30, 2009 5:41 PM

Right on Wiggan! Hopefully our country will last longer than his adolescent popularity.

Posted by: Superpower | March 30, 2009 5:19 PM

Letters to the Dimmest President #2

a series of letters because, like it or not, he IS our President

Tips for the G20 meeting.

Please SHUT UP.

Take Bernanke along and let him speak.

Look good in photo ops and make a short dismissive phrase for TV.

Then SHUT UP.

King Solomon said it better in the Bible:

Pr 17:28 Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.

Posted by: JaxMax | March 30, 2009 5:19 PM

G20 TIMING FOR WAGONER DECAPITATION COULD NOT BE WORSE

The G20--even France-are already startled by the depths of Obama socialist idiocy.

Now this....

We will be fortunate the Chinese do not dump US Bonds after the G20..........

Posted by: JaxMax | March 30, 2009 5:15 PM

Wiggan-
Most of the world's countries are capitalist countries. Most of those countries are poor, or at least, most of their people are poor.

The most successful capitalists I know is is a top executives for a major corpoartion based in Sweden.

An intelligent, open minded study of Scandinavian economic systems could be extremely beneficial to us. These are capitalist countires with well-designed economic safety nets. It is difficult, at this time, to persuade Scandinavians to generate government stimulus packages, because they don't need them.
http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=the-social-welfare-state

Posted by: rooster54 | March 30, 2009 5:14 PM

Funny how when Sarah Palin's daughter breaks up with her boy friend, it makes headlines in the US liberal Media. And, when Sarah wears a jacket with a company logo on it earns her another ethics violation. But, when Joe Biden's daughter is caught snorting cocaine, not oneUS paper covers it. We learn about it from the London Daily News.

America's liberal media is sick!

Posted by: mike85 | March 30, 2009 5:12 PM

@Wiggan: "When we let the Airline industry go bankrupt, those airlines restructured and came back stronger than before." You obviously don't fly. On my last Delta (the last major bankruptcy and the one with the most strings) flight, they brought the wrong plane.

The system has been rigged by Republicans to violate most of the assumptions of why markets should work: transparency, competition (as opposed to cartelization), etc. And this is what always happens over time, markets become distorted and often need regulation to function even half-way decently.

Posted by: thebuckguy | March 30, 2009 5:12 PM

There's a difference between being our allies and agreeing with us on specifics (details) of bailouts and such things.

But at least he won't look like the class clown like Prince George did.

Posted by: WillSeattle | March 30, 2009 4:52 PM

i've noticed the huge international support for his re-invasion of aghanistan .... i hope this kind of support isn't indicative of the worldwide love for the next 3+ years

Posted by: ptandcarol | March 30, 2009 4:45 PM

OBAMA’S BARNEY FRANK RESIGNATION ANNOUNCEMENT

(WASHINGTON DC) The following is President Obama’s verbatim statement regarding Mr. Wagoner at GM, with “Barney Frank” substituted for “Rick Wagoner” and “Fannie Mae” substituted for “GM”.

“Fannie Mae has made a good faith effort to restructure over the past several months -- but the plan that they've put forward is, in its current form, not strong enough. However, after broad consultation with a range of industry experts and financial advisors, I'm absolutely confident that Fannie Mae can rise again, providing that it undergoes a fundamental restructuring. As an initial step, Fannie Mae is announcing today that Barney Frank is stepping aside. This is not meant as a condemnation of Barney Frank, who's devoted his life to this agency and has had a distinguished career; rather, it's a recognition that will take new vision and new direction to create the Fannie Mae of the future.”

Posted by: JaxMax | March 30, 2009 4:34 PM

it is always good to be popular at the outset rather than despised. This applies to any situation in life. Pres. Obama is the kind of person who thinks things through and is not one to decide willy-nilly. Our interests are always paramount in his mind so of course, Pres. Obama will try to get the best deal for the US. When he meets with other world leaders in G20, this time we have a president who knows what he is talking about, has excellent vocabulary and grammar and a good command of the subject matter. Those idiots who mouth off about "teleprompter reliance" are simply that idiots.

Posted by: mstratas | March 30, 2009 4:27 PM

tea with the Queen....
milk or honey?
--that would depend on the tea

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | March 30, 2009 4:12 PM

I´d like to thank VP Biden on behalf of DR people for not inviting Leonel Fernandez of DR to his meeting with the Central American dignataries. It´s been long due, this dude wants to play two bases, and enough is enough

Posted by: rancho3chico | March 30, 2009 4:11 PM

WaPo needs to cease this nonsense! Obama has his hands full trying to lead this country, let alone countries in Africa, Europe, Asia, Central and South America, and the rest of North America. Let the man be!

Posted by: prosperity2un2000 | March 30, 2009 4:11 PM

TO: President Obama

(c/o Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod; staff, please forward)


Mr. President:

The affront to human rights known as the "extrajudicial punishment network" extends worldwide, utilitizing the same monstrous "tools" of suppression...


...including silent, potentially fatal, illness- and injury-inducing microwave radiation("directed energy") weapons.


This weaponry is being proliferated worldwide by U.S. arms merchants, and to domestic law enforcement agencies.


THESE 'D.E.W.' SHOULD BE BANNED AS INHUMANE WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION...


...the moral equivalent of the atom bomb.


***


INNOCENT BUT 'TARGETED.'


Google it.


YOU -- or someone close to you -- could be the next victim.


Unless Team Obama -- especially AG Holder, SecDef Gates, SecDHS Napolitano, SecTreas Geithner -- take down the draconian Bush-Cheney extrajudicial punishment network...


...an array of secret "programs of personal financial destruction" and government-funded vigilante "community stalking"...


...coupled with the proliferation of mind- and body-degrading "directed energy" microwave radiation weapons -- the Zyklon-B of a grassroots, government-enabled American Gestapo.


Attorney General Holder, you must act NOW to restore human and civil rights in America.


Before the naivete of liberals empowers the saboteurs and Dr. Strangeloves who say "No!" to change.


***


Where is the civil rights division investigation that victims have demanded?


Or is there "nothing to investigate" -- because the government already knows all about this?

http://NowPublic.com/scrivener


Posted by: scrivener50 | March 30, 2009 3:51 PM

You can hardly attribute the present economic situation to a failure of capitalist, when you did not let the capitalist outcome take place. When we let the Airline industry go bankrupt, those airlines restructured and came back stronger than before. That is capitalism. When you bailout the auto industry nonstop to prevent it from failing, that is not capitalism.

The hard lesson for Obama is to realise that popularity abroad does not necessarily help American interests. For instance when you appease terrorists by setting time tables for withdrawal in Iraq sooner than negotiated, or when you catagorically close down Guantanamo, you make those terrorists happy because you caved on issues they care about. However you then have to deal with the mess of freed terrorists from Guantanamo stirring up the pot, or embolded Al Quada in Iraq moving operations somewhere else.

When you promise lots of foreign aid to other countries at a time when we are not balancing our own budgets, you do generate good will from those aid receiving nations at our children's expense.

Ultimately the president is accountable to his constituency, the American people, and if he continues to act against their interest by appeasement, he will face backlash.

Posted by: Wiggan | March 30, 2009 3:46 PM

Given that Obama is approximately 0-for-13 in diplomatic endeavors so far, I can only imagine the hilarious fireworks to come. On the plus side, the Iranians responded so positively to his bowing and scraping that they have agreed to stop funding Islamic terrorism and will dismantle their "peaceful" nuke program. Ha ha ha, of course not.

Seriously though, Obama could at least try to salvage some dignity by following in JFK's footsteps: "Ich bin ein Teleprompter."

Posted by: zippyspeed | March 30, 2009 3:21 PM

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