At Home and Abroad, Obama's Power Has Its Limits
By Ben Pershing
If the first 11 weeks of President Obama's tenure have taught us anything, it's just how much power -- both hard and soft -- the president really has. He can take over massive companies, fire CEOs, spend hundreds of billions of dollars and draw massive audiences in foreign capitals. In Europe this week, he has been a private dealmaker and a public superstar.
Yet this first major foreign trip has also shown us how much the president can't do. In London, Obama did not get other nations to commit to the levels of stimulus spending he had wanted. In Strasbourg, he did not persuade allies to offer more than a handful of troops for Afghanistan. And in New York, the U.S. was unable Sunday to coax the UN Security Council to agree on a response to North Korea's missile launch. (To be fair, Obama himself wasn't actually at the UN twisting arms.)
Minutes from now, Obama will address the Turkish Parliament, and the betting here is that he will not -- with this single gesture -- persuade the Muslim world to drop its mistrust of the U.S. or, for that matter, make Americans feel more positively toward Muslims. But Obama can work to keep Turkey as a vital ally in the Middle East. He can do that, in part, by encouraging the EU to accept Turkey as a member. And Obama can try not to offend his hosts on the subject of the Armenian "genocide." Obama's first question at his news conference this morning with the Turkish president was on this subject -- specifically his past position that it was indeed genocide -- and Obama said he has "not changed views" on the controversy but, "I want to be as encouraging as possible" of talks between Turkey and Armenia.
Posted at 8:18 AM ET on Apr 6, 2009
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