Obama to Europe: No More Excuses

By Dan Froomkin
1:30 PM ET, 04/ 3/2009

Obama at town hall in Strasbourg, France, today. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

Implicitly recognizing that many Europeans were disgusted with America's conduct during the Bush era, President Obama said today that now that the U.S. no longer tortures detainees, Europe has no excuse anymore to sit out his expanded military campaign in Afghanistan.

Heading into NATO summit meetings tomorrow, Obama told a French town-hall audience what was wrong with his predecessor's approach to fighting terror. "In dealing with terrorism, we can't lose sight of our values and who we are. That's why I closed Guantanamo. That's why I made very clear that we will not engage in certain interrogation practices," he said.

"I don't believe that there is a contradiction between our security and our values. And when you start sacrificing your values, when you lose yourself, then over the long term that will make you less secure. When we saw what happened in Abu Ghraib, that wasn't good for our security -- that was a recruitment tool for terrorism. Humiliating people is never a good strategy to battle terrorism.

"So we are going to conduct our operations in a way that reflect our best selves and make sure that we are proud. And that, in turn, will allow the Europeans, I think, to feel good about our joint efforts, and also not to have excuses not to participate in those joint efforts. All right?"

The audience, mostly made up of students from France and Germany, burst into applause.

But even as we've changed, the threat hasn't, Obama insisted. Calling attention to his Muslim middle name, he told the audience: "I think that it is important for Europe to understand that even though I'm now President and George Bush is no longer President, al Qaeda is still a threat, and that we cannot pretend somehow that because Barack Hussein Obama got elected as President, suddenly everything is going to be okay."

And he said that even though he is invested in "showing the Muslim world greater respect" and working "very hard for Israeli-Palestinian peace," al-Qaeda remains "willing to kill innocent people because of a twisted, distorted ideology."

After a generally successful G-20 summit, Obama now faces an even steeper climb trying to get NATO countries to pony up troops for the benighted campaign in Afghanistan.

Michael D. Shear and Debbi Wilgoren write for The Washington Post that Obama also stepped up his pitch in a meeting with the president of France.

"'We're not looking to be the patron of Europe, we're looking to be partners with Europe,' Obama said. 'The more capable they are defensively, the more we can act in concert on the shared challenges we face.'...

"After a closed-door meeting with President Nicolas Sarkozy, Obama said the two discussed the 'reengagement' of European nations in the Afghanistan war, adding that the French leader was receptive to that message.

"'I've not had to drag France kicking and screaming into Afghanistan because France recognizes that having al Quaeda operate safe havens that can be used to launch attacks is not just a threat to the United States but to Europe,' Obama told reporters."

Helene Cooper and Alan Cowell write in the New York Times: "The American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 soured relations between the United States and some European countries, particularly Germany and France, which bitterly opposed the war. Other nations, like Britain, joined the effort to topple Saddam Hussein.

"Offering a new tone, President Obama lavished praise on his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy, and, in a symbolic gesture, France agreed to accept a single prisoner from the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba to assist Washington with shutting down the facility....

"Mr. Obama has pledged a major increase in American troops in Afghanistan and has sought new commitments from NATO allies. 'We asked our NATO partners for more civilians and military assistance,' he said at the town hall meeting.

"He urged a shift in attitudes. In America, he said, there had been 'a failure to appreciate Europe’s leading role in the world,' and there had been 'times when America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive,' Mr. Obama said."

Edward Cody writes in The Washington Post that "European leaders have proved reluctant to follow Obama in his first major foreign policy initiative, which in effect seeks to make Afghanistan NATO's main mission of the moment. With a few exceptions, European analysts said, the leaders are ready to heed the U.S. call for more military help in Afghanistan only to the extent necessary to stay friendly with the new administration....

"European officials said Obama is likely to come away from the summit Saturday with a broad endorsement of his idea that stabilizing Afghanistan is a strategic goal for NATO and support for his decision to devote more civilian as well as military resources to eliminating al-Qaeda havens there and in Pakistan. But they also said that summit pleasantries are unlikely to mask Europe's refusal to commit to major new troop deployments."

Obama also revealed something about his inner working at the French town-hall meeting. Asked if he ever regretted his decision to run for president, he spoke of missing his family during the campaign and as president missing his "autonomy -- or anonymity" as he corrected himself. "[I]t used to be when I came to Europe, that I could just wander down to a café and sit and have some wine and watch people go by, and go into a little shop, and watch the sun go down," he said.

But then, he said: "[H]aving said all that, I truly believe that there's nothing more noble than public service....

"[W]hat I found at a very young age was that if you only think about yourself -- how much money can I make, what can I buy, how nice is my house, what kind of fancy car do I have -- that over the long term I think you get bored. (Applause.) I think your life becomes -- I think if you're only thinking about yourself, your life becomes diminished; and that the way to live a full life is to think about, what can I do for others? How can I be a part of this larger project of making a better world?

"Now, that could be something as simple as making -- as the joy of taking care of your family and watching your children grow and succeed. But I think especially for the young people here, I hope you also consider other ways that you can serve, because the world has so many challenges right now, there's so many opportunities to make a difference, and it would be a tragedy if all of you who are so talented and energetic, if you let that go to waste; if you just stood back and watched the world pass you by.

"Better to jump in, get involved. And it does mean that sometimes you'll get criticized and sometimes you'll fail and sometimes you'll be disappointed, but you'll have a great adventure, and at the end of your life hopefully you'll be able to look back and say, I made a difference."

First Budget Round to Obama

By Dan Froomkin
12:50 PM ET, 04/ 3/2009

President Obama's budget plan sailed through both houses of Congress yesterday. But it failed to garner a single Republican vote, and Democratic grumblings threaten to make the next steps considerably more challenging.

Lori Montgomery writes in The Washington Post: "Congressional Democrats overwhelmingly embraced President Obama's ambitious and expensive agenda for the nation yesterday, endorsing a $3.5 trillion spending plan that sets the stage for the president to pursue his most far-reaching priorities.

"Voting along party lines, the House and Senate approved budget blueprints that would trim Obama's spending proposals for the fiscal year that begins in October and curtail his plans to cut taxes. The blueprints, however, would permit work to begin on the central goals of Obama's presidency: an expansion of health-care coverage for the uninsured, more money for college loans and a cap-and-trade system to reduce gases that contribute to global warming.

"The measures now move to a conference committee where negotiators must resolve differences between the two chambers, a prelude to the more difficult choices that will be required to implement Obama's initiatives. While Democrats back the president's vision for transforming huge sectors of the economy, they remain fiercely divided over the details."

Carl Hulse writes in the New York Times that the lack of Republican support was "a sign of deep partisan tensions likely to color Congressional efforts to enact major policy initiatives sought by President Obama....

"Democrats said the two budgets, which will have to be reconciled after a two-week Congressional recess, cleared the way for health care, energy and education overhauls pushed by the new president. The Democrats said the budgets reversed what they portrayed as the failed economic approach of the Bush administration and Republican-led Congresses....

"House Republicans, who offered budget alternatives featuring a domestic spending freeze and broad tax cuts, accused Democrats of encouraging runaway spending that would bloat the government, worsen the economy and pile government debt on future generations."

David Rogers writes in Politico that congressional leaders "first shaved back many of the bolder proposals in the president’s budget -- and thereby lessened his momentum going forward."

Quick Takes

By Dan Froomkin
12:45 PM ET, 04/ 3/2009

Del Quentin Wilber and Karen DeYoung write in The Washington Post: "A federal judge ruled yesterday that three detainees at a U.S. military prison in Afghanistan may challenge their confinement before a U.S. court, handing the Obama administration one of its first legal defeats on a claim of executive power. U.S. District Judge John D. Bates...said that the situation of the three detainees at Bagram air base -- who were captured elsewhere and transported to Afghanistan by U.S. forces -- is 'virtually identical' to that of prisoners held by the military at Guantanamo Bay. A landmark Supreme Court ruling last year accorded habeas corpus rights to detainees at that facility....For the moment, the ruling lays to rest some of the concerns voiced by human rights groups that Bagram, a secretive prison that has generally escaped public scrutiny, could become a replacement destination for suspected terrorists."

Lydia Saad writes for Gallup: "Neither George W. Bush's deliberate silence about the Obama administration nor Dick Cheney's ready criticism of it appear to have altered U.S. public perceptions about either man. The former president and former vice president are each viewed unfavorably by 63% of Americans, very similar to where they stood with the public in their final White House years....The 35% of Americans viewing Bush favorably today is close to his all-time low of 32% in April 2008....The 30% of Americans viewing Dick Cheney favorably today matches Gallup's previous favorable reading on him, obtained in July 2007, which was his all-time low."

Randall Mikkelsen writes for Reuters about a new National Geographic documentary, "Explorer: Inside Guantanamo," which is "the first in-depth look at the detention center for terrorism suspects that has become a worldwide symbol of U.S. abuses in fighting terrorism after the September 11 attacks. National Geographic Channel will broadcast it on Sunday evening."

Binyamin Appelbaum writes in The Washington Post: "A former senior official in the Treasury Department under Henry M. Paulson says the Bush administration's response to the financial crisis was hamstrung by 'chronic disorganization,' 'a broadly haphazard policy process,' and 'sometimes strained relations' between the Treasury and the White House."

Al Kamen writes for The Washington Post that the White House unwittingly sent reporters trying to join a high-level conference call to a phone sex line.

TVNewser explains why Obama said "my heart goes out to you" after calling on CBS News's Chip Reid at yesterday's G-20 press conference: Reid's father passed away shortly after he arrived in London to cover the president -- but "his mother and wife, Nina, insisted that his father would want him to continue on the President's historic trip."

World Community Organizer

By Dan Froomkin
11:49 AM ET, 04/ 3/2009

Obama arrives for his G-20 press conference yesterday. (Kirsty Wigglesworth - AP)

Barack Obama showed the world a profoundly new style of American leadership yesterday.

Obama emerged from the G-20 summit in London, where the leaders of the world's largest economies agreed to what he called "an unprecedented set of comprehensive and coordinated actions," talking about his commitment "to respecting different points of view and to forging a consensus instead of dictating our terms."

His approach struck a very different note from his predecessor, the would-be Texas cowboy whose "with us or against us" attitude led to unilateral foreign adventurism and a diminishing of America's standing in the world.

But what kind of leadership is it when you don't dictate terms? How do you get things done?

Obama's style is very much a reflection of his background in community organizing, a process that starts with listening before moving on to forging consensus and taking collective action.

Apparently it works on the international stage, too -- though I expect it doesn't hurt if you're the charismatic and hugely popular new leader of the world's only superpower and (despite everything) largest economy.

Resolving disputes is another part of Obama's style, and it turns out he did that in London as well. Jake Tapper reported for ABC News that Obama "played peacemaker in a spat between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Hu Jintao, President of the People's Republic of China.

"In the final plenary session among the G-20 leaders, Sarkozy and Hu were having a heated disagreement about tax havens.

"France and other European nations have been pushing for rules and regulations to apply to various tax havens.... But Chinese leaders fear a crackdown would hurt banking centers in Macao, Shanghai and Hong Kong....

"The exchange between Sarkozy and Hu got so heated, said a source -- who is not a member of the Obama administration -- it was threatening the unity of the G-20 leaders' meeting....

"Mr. Obama, according to this account, stepped between the two men, urging them to try to find consensus, and giving them a 'pep talk' about the importance of working together."

A senior Obama administration official "said that Mr. Obama pulled Mr. Sarkozy aside, took him to a corner, 'and discussed possible alternatives,'... Once they arrived at one, President Obama 'sent a message to the Chinese' that a counter-offer was on the table."

Then "Obama, with the assistance of translators, suggested that he and Mr. Hu have a conversation as well. They, too went to the corner to talk. After a few minutes, Mr. Obama called upon Mr. Sarkozy to join them.

"'Translators and sherpas in tow, they reached an agreement,' the official said. 'There was a multiple shaking of hands.'"

Writing in the Guardian, Patrick Wintour, Nicholas Watt and Julian Borger, quote Obama as saying at one point: "Let's get this all in some kind of perspective guys."

Steven Thomma writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "It was a remarkable stroke of personal diplomacy by a new president who's making his debut this week on the world stage."

The wide-ranging deal struck by the G-20 didn't represent any sudden turnarounds by any of the world leaders, but there was an unexpectedly large -- $1.1 trillion -- commitment to the International Monetary Fund, to provide financial aid to the global economy. And there was the birth of what British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called a "new consensus" that envisions not just greater cooperation between nations, but greater government oversight over the financial institutions that, left to their own devices, trashed the world economy.

Steven Pearlstein writes in his Washington Post business column: "While President Obama may have overstated things a bit when he declared it a 'turning point' for the now-shrinking global economy, the meeting did manage to boost the confidence of financial markets, inject another trillion dollars into the financial system and provide needed political cover for world leaders to take unpopular actions back home....

"All in all, a pretty successful opening-night performance for President Obama on the international economic stage. He achieved most of what he wanted while allowing others to claim victory and allowing the United States to shed its Bush-era reputation for inflexibility and heavy-handedness. And by the standards of past summits, this one was full of accomplishment."

And Anthony Faiola and Mary Jordan write in The Washington Post: "The $1.1 trillion pledged by world leaders to combat the worst economic crisis since World War II effectively amounts to a rescue package for both poor and rich countries, potentially including the United States."

Some observers, however, are expressing disappointment that Obama wasn't more assertive. The Washington Post editorial board writes that "the summit would have benefited from a greater focus on the U.S. priority of fixing the crisis we are in before moving on to protecting against the next one."

Similarly, the New York Times editorial board thinks Obama should have pushed harder to get European leaders "to commit to spend the hundreds of billions of dollars in additional fiscal stimulus that the world economy needs to pull out of its frighteningly steep dive...

"After years of watching former President George W. Bush hector and alienate this country’s closest friends, we were relieved to see Mr. Obama in full diplomatic mode. We fear, however, that this is not the time or the issue on which to hold back. If world growth continues to decline — and all signs suggest that it will — the president will have to take on this fight soon."

In previous posts, I've discussed the media's intense focus on winners and losers, and noted that Obama on Wednesday scolded the press corps for trying to "inject some conflict and some drama into the occasion."

That tension continued to be apparent at yesterday's press conference. Obama repeatedly talked about the long haul, the big picture and the value of collaboration, to the evident frustration of a press corps that wanted to see immediate results, to know how yesterday's actions would help American families, and to hear who won and who lost.

"Our problems are not going to be solved in one meeting. They're not going to be solved in two meetings," Obama said.

Asked to rate his own performance, Obama replied: "Well, I think we did okay... Overall, I'm pleased with the product. And I'll leave it to others to determine whether me and my team had anything to do with that. All right?"

Yeah but: "What concrete items that you got out of this G-20 can you tell the American people back home who are hurting?"

Obama replied: "Well, as I said before, we've got a global economy. And if we're taking actions in isolation in the United States but those actions are contradicted overseas, then we're only going to be halfway effective, maybe not even half."

OK but: "In the spirit of openness with which you say you're going to run your administration, could you give us an insight into an area or areas where you came to London wanting something and didn't get it, where you compromised, where you gave something away to achieve the wider breakthrough agreement?"

Obama declined. "I'd rather not specify what those precise items would be, because this is a collective document."

Well, can you talk about how different you are from your predecessor?

Obama wouldn't entirely bite, although he noted "that we exercise our leadership best when we are listening, when we recognize that the world is a complicated place, and that we are going to have to act in partnership with other countries, when we lead by example, when we show some element of humility and recognize that we may not always have the best answer but we can always encourage the best answer and support the best answer."

Can you say for sure you've averted an economic depression?

"In life, there are no guarantees. And in economics, there are no guarantees…. I think the steps in the communique were necessary. Whether they're sufficient, we've got to -- we've got to wait and see…

"[Y]ou've got a sick patient. I think we applied the right medicine. I think the patient is stabilized. There's still wounds that have to heal. And, you know, there's still -- you know, there's still emergencies that could arise. But I think that you've got some pretty good care being applied."

Has America's power diminished on the world stage?

"I just think in a world that is as complex as it is, that it is very important for us to be able to forge partnerships as opposed to simply dictating solutions. Just a -- just to try to crystallize the example, there's been a lot of comparison here about Bretton Woods. 'Oh, well, last time you saw the entire international architecture being remade.' Well, if there's just Roosevelt and Churchill sitting in a room with a brandy, that's a -- that's an easier negotiation. (Laughter.) But that's not the world we live in, and it shouldn't be the world that we live in."

Late Night Humor

By Dan Froomkin
10:10 AM ET, 04/ 3/2009

"For those of you who have criticized the national media for not providing the level of detail to inform and educate the public," Jon Stewart chronicles cable's obsession with Michelle Obama's clothes -- and touching the queen.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
The Poisonous Queen
Cartoon Watch

By Dan Froomkin
9:12 AM ET, 04/ 3/2009

Walt Handelsman and Pat Oliphant on the Obamas and the royals, Signe Wilkinson, Dave Granlund, and Ann Telnaes on Ipods, Nate Beeler and Dan Wasserman on the G-20, Dwane Powell on the new White House tour, Lee Judge and Chan Lowe on the White House's tax problems, Ron Rogers on the Fighting Irish, and Jim Morin on Cheney's most enthusiastic audience.

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