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Obama Keeps a Promise

There will be much to argue about when President Obama comes home from Europe. But his town meeting in Strasbourg showed he has kept at least one promise from his campaign: that he would restore some of the world’s affection for the United States.

Simply to have an American president in a position to hold a “town meeting” of the sort organized on Friday was remarkable in itself. The response to Obama verged on the ecstatic. John McCain’s campaign was certainly right about one thing: Obama really is the “biggest celebrity in the world.”

One of the most striking passages in his speech at the beginning of the town meeting touched on both American arrogance and European anti-Americanism.

He said:

In America, there's a failure to appreciate Europe's leading role in the world. Instead of celebrating your dynamic union and seeking to partner with you to meet common challenges, there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive.

But in Europe, there is an anti-Americanism that is at once casual but can also be insidious. Instead of recognizing the good that America so often does in the world, there have been times where Europeans choose to blame America for much of what's bad.

On both sides of the Atlantic, these attitudes have become all too common. They are not wise. They do not represent the truth. They threaten to widen the divide across the Atlantic and leave us both more isolated. They fail to acknowledge the fundamental truth that America cannot confront the challenges of this century alone, but that Europe cannot confront them without America.

This was a classic display of a particular Obama rhetorical style: He takes on and embraces the other person’s idea -- in this case, the view of many Europeans that the United States has displayed “arrogance” and had been “dismissive” of Europe -- and then links it to his own idea, in this case the danger of “anti-Americanism.” His audience was clearly more prepared to hear the second point because he had acknowledged the first. A statement of this sort is certain to begin quelling anti-American feeling.

President Bush was so unpopular in Europe that many are arguing that the warm reception for Obama grows in large part the mere fact that Obama is not Bush. (“Anyone else but Bush is better,” Lene Gade, a 43-year-old teacher in Copenhagen, told the Associated Press.) Yet opposition to Bush in Europe did not stem primarily from a personal aversion but from opposition to particular policies. Thus, Obama won loud cheers and applause in Strasbourg when he declared that he had “ordered the closing of the detention center in Guantanamo Bay” and also when he said that “I can stand here today and say without equivocation or exception that the United States of America does not and will not torture.”

This is the moment he promised rather explicitly in one of the first foreign policy speeches of his presidential campaign. On April 23, 2007, Obama predicted that the American people were “ready to show the world that we are not a country that ships prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far off countries. That we are not a country that runs prisons which lock people away without ever telling them why they are there or what they are charged with.”

My colleague Jackson Diehl worries about Obama’s “willingness to embrace the priorities of European governments, Russia and China while playing down -- or setting aside altogether -- principal American concerns.” Although Jackson leaves open the possibility that Obama’s approach could “prove effective over time,” he asks a pointed question: “Is the new president shrewd and pragmatic about using his power at home and abroad -- or too passive, even weak?”

My answer is this trip was about neither passivity nor weakness. Rather, it represented a first step toward rebuilding American influence abroad. Popular acclaim for an American president is by no means the only test of American power. But I do think Obama’s standing makes the country more secure and affords us more room for maneuver in the world.

By E.J. Dionne  | April 4, 2009; 5:04 PM ET
Categories:  Dionne  | Tags:  E.J. Dionne  
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Comments


Obama Keeps a Promise

President Obama in my honest opinion has kept his promise on his agendas. In politics one should be mindful that it’s a game involved in any progress which distorts the ability to progress from one agenda to another , which if one is blind to that acknowledgement, it could distort the truth of the expected reality. That’s just my opinion from what I’ve seen throughout politics.

Posted by: Nisey01 | April 5, 2009 11:06 AM | Report abuse

Obama Keeps a Promise

This trip abroad for President Obama in my honest opinion has been a plus in reaching out to our foreign allies in an attempt to secure a more concrete and unified relationship with them. At this crucial time in the history of our world, we need to revamp and come on one accord and also facilitate a purposed driven agenda to secure by all means a safer environment for all. We need our allies just like they need us. I commend President Obama for his comment on the fact that America alone doesn’t have to worry about an nuclear attack but that our foreign allies need worry also. I feel confident in President Obama’s ability to keep his promise despite all that he has to go through, because he is a man of integrity, diversity and strength and he carries the concern and love of the people on the forefront of his concerns. I know that it isn’t an easy job to do, but for the most part he has prevailed, and his spirit for doing the right thing has a highlight that can’t seem to be dimmed by even his worst enemy. God bless America!

Posted by: Nisey01 | April 5, 2009 11:20 AM | Report abuse

Well, well.... I divide my time between France and the UK. Not ONE person has been overly enthusiastic over the Obamas. The welcome was warm, but that was politeness -- no more. Most people had a 'wait and see' attitude, hoping for the best but not raising too many expectations.

Then came Obama's speech in Prague and his his star fell. (Read the European papers to see the Czech reaction when over 2/3rds of the Czech people don't want his missile shield in their country, and he announces that he plans to build it anyway.)

Even worse was his mistake in telling the EU to admit Turkey. Most Europeans don't want Turkish membership, and for very good reasons. Sarkozy slapped Obama down for his comments, and for once, even Sarko-haters agree with the French President.

I read the American papers on the Web and I realise that Americans aren't being told the full story. I live in Europe, and I can tell you that Obama really blew it.

Obama is a disaster.

Posted by: darling_ailie | April 6, 2009 9:25 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Dionne, once again you give an astute analysis. It is puzzling to me that so few political analysts are taking a positive, long view by interpreting President Obama's trip to Europe as a tremendous first step. By healing the rift between the U.S. and other countries, particularly the European countries, the president has greatly increased the possibility that these countries will give us more concrete and substantial support for our economic efforts and our policy in Afghanistan later down the road.

Indeed, as you argue, the benefits of his recent meetings in Europe with many of the world's leaders will pay big dividends in the months to come.

Posted by: bleon2000 | April 6, 2009 10:59 AM | Report abuse

darling_ailie I don't know where you're getting your information. Just writing something doesn't make it true.

The majority of the European papers and citizens feel that Pres. Obama is doing good and they like him and his policies.

Posted by: rlj1 | April 6, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse

One has to wonder whether the rest of the world really hated America or was it the left in the world. Remember that there were still many protests held at the G20 summit. Also, think back to who had contracts with Iraq prior to our invasion? France, Germany and Russia. Of course they didn't want us to stop their flow of blood money ie Oil for Food program. Lastly, also remember that we didn't go into Iraq single-handingly, it was a coalition of many countries. Obama is an appeaser and the left in the world love that while the rest will hate him for it. I cannot wait to see his reaction after the next terrorist attack (believe me it is coming). He will not respond and we will be attacked again. Millions of Americans will most likely die, but hey isn't that what we voted for? (Change)

Posted by: TeaTimesUp | April 6, 2009 2:33 PM | Report abuse

TeaTimesUp -- so glad you came out of your bunker to dispense your wisdom, lol. And if you followed the protests, they were much less violent than in Bush's day and petered out as the summit went on. But, hey, to you the sky is orange and the water purple, right? Hilarious ...

Posted by: Omyobama | April 6, 2009 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Obama went over to get help for Africa, push the stimulus, and get help for Afghanistan. He spent most of the time apologizing to Europe for everything he thinks has gone wrong here, including the treatment of the Indians. He will get not help from the Europe countries regarding Iran or Korea. They don't care because they know that the US will come to their defense if they get in a jam, just like the blood and souls we have lost since the 20's saving their countries. As a 43 yr Democrat, frankly I was not pleased.

More preparation prior to the trip by the Admin., might have made it more successful. EJ, we do not need a world celebrity as our leader. I do not like European style govt. or European influence in our lives. I hope Obama will soon change his tone.

Posted by: gsms69 | April 6, 2009 9:46 PM | Report abuse

I live and France and I can tell you that while the youngsters over here 35-40 and the political class are snickering at his longwindedness and lack of experience. He's fine for us provincial Americans, but he should keep his nose (and requests) out of Europe. They will not join "obama's war" in Afganistan, and see his pandering to the Muslim world as a threat to them and the US. He really pissed off the french man in the street with his demand they admit Turkey to EU. Heck, he should know that half the EU doesn't even want the EU. Where are this guys briefers and protocol people. His bow to the King of the house of Saud was met with shock in this secular country. A friend (french) said to me "the manchurian candidate is here!"

Posted by: gspahn | April 7, 2009 10:51 AM | Report abuse

It was immensely refreshing to see the American President showing the dignity, courage, accountability, ability to think on his feet, and grace that we've been lacking in our president for eight years. Republicans seem to feel that it's all about conflict, all the time, and whoever has the biggest (missile) is the "winner"! Well, that's an adolescent way of thinking. Peace is about listening, understanding, cooperating, negotiating, compromising, and yes, showing strength and confidence. Confidence comes from knowing that the USA would fight vigorously to defend itself if attacked, just as in WW II. We know we'd win that war. But to attack less-strong nations who never attacked us is to mobilize our enemies. We can't appear to be a bully in the world, demanding stuff and threatening others.

We have to calm things down among our enemies. Nothing takes the wind out of their sails as fast as being like children who are "misbehaving". The Bush Reaction was the very sort of reaction they wanted. "You wanna fight?" he said. And they said, "Yes!" But any school yard bully (and that's what terrorists are) can be diffused with simple ignoring and dismissing. Their power is the power of starting fights.

Obama is FINALLY the smart president who "gets" human relations, and he is craftily, carefully, and subtly making the world a safer place for everyone. Maybe you have to have lived in another culture to "get" this, or have had a successful marriage (!), but his approach isn't at all weak; it's the strength of a powerful, rational, calm, adult confidence. Think Eisenhower rather than Nixon. Think Churchill rather than Bush.

Posted by: cturtle1 | April 7, 2009 10:56 AM | Report abuse

As darling_ailie, shows above, there are some that find anti-Americanism useful and self-serving. They are not anti-American because of anything the US has done under Bush or even before Bush, they are anti-American because they find it to their benefit to be anti-American the same way Russians are. For them, Bush was a god send. Nothing Obama does or says would change them; in fact, they will make every effort to dilute any effect Obama might have with that segment of the population that are prone to be swayed by logic. They are in every European country but more in some than others. In those countries, their news sources will find it perfectly natural to quote only the first paragraph above and simply ignore the rest. Or they will quote half a sentence from one of Obama's speeches to create a conclusion that fits their view of the US. I suppose it is not in Obama's nature to acknowledge their existence - those that are inherently anti-American - but that doesn't make his tour any less of a success.

Posted by: rambostilskin | April 7, 2009 11:41 AM | Report abuse

Stop the presses. Obama kept a campaign promise. Let the celebration begin. He says so many things and does the exact opposite.

Posted by: aperkins1 | April 9, 2009 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Crafty or condescending? Time will tell. Bowing to "kings" or "tyrants" - Time will tell. Future help from the Europeans will be the judge and jury. Anti-Bush or Anti-American? Perhaps, if even the great Obama cannot persuade them then we will know the answer to that last question. History may indeed show that Bush was not the problem. Bush I was a better diplomat when he was throwing up on those that he was trying to influence for America because it made him look human.

Posted by: MichiganMike | April 12, 2009 8:35 PM | Report abuse

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