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.
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.
Posted by: Nisey01 | April 5, 2009 11:06 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Nisey01 | April 5, 2009 11:20 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: darling_ailie | April 6, 2009 9:25 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: bleon2000 | April 6, 2009 10:59 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: rlj1 | April 6, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: TeaTimesUp | April 6, 2009 2:33 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Omyobama | April 6, 2009 3:16 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: gsms69 | April 6, 2009 9:46 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: gspahn | April 7, 2009 10:51 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: cturtle1 | April 7, 2009 10:56 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: rambostilskin | April 7, 2009 11:41 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: aperkins1 | April 9, 2009 2:47 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: MichiganMike | April 12, 2009 8:35 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.