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Obama to Europe: No More Excuses

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."

By Dan Froomkin  |  April 3, 2009; 1:30 PM ET
Categories:  Afghanistan  
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What a refreshing change it is to have an intelligent man as president. That moron w was not only an embarassment as an American but as a human being. He is not even aware of the disaster he has left Mr. Obama to clean. w, cheney should all be in jail. So good to have a good an decent person as the leader of a great country.

Posted by: davidsawh | April 3, 2009 2:24 PM | Report abuse

I would love for someone to interview the cokehead poser and ask him, Do you take responsibility for anything which happened during your terms? Did your actions and policies have any consequences of which you aren't proud? (I think the second question would cause him to lock up, Microsoft Vista-style.)

Posted by: whizbang9a | April 3, 2009 2:46 PM | Report abuse

w is such an immature man.

Posted by: davidsawh | April 3, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse

More of Obama's hopey-changey kumbaya nonsense being lapped up by his Euro-Socialist pals and the media.

The Great Accomplishment? A promise of 1 trillion freshly-printed dollars for the IMF.

Posted by: spamsux1 | April 3, 2009 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Uh, spamsux1, the implication is that we are printing the money for the IMF. I believe that the money will come from a number of nations, probably 19. The US may pledged the most, but I doubt that it was more than 25% of the total, and in any case, it probably has to be approved (appropiated) by Congress, which may cut the pledged amount.

Posted by: dickdata | April 3, 2009 3:57 PM | Report abuse

I think Europeans should answer 'No. We don't take orders from America.'

Posted by: bengtl | April 4, 2009 2:41 AM | Report abuse

I hate the Europeans. They have been the architects of slavery, racism, imperialism, ethnic cleansings, the two worst wars in the history of mankind, and pretty much everything bad that has occurred in the world. To think, we have a President that buys into the bs that our stature declined under President Bush. The Europeans always wanted to bring us down a notch. It is a competition and they want to win it. Pure and simple. We should remove our troops, all of them, from all European bases. They don't need them now; Russia is their best friend. Our "stature" was paid for in blood and glory at Anzio, Omaha Beach, and Bastogne. How dare these appeasing sob's judge us when we decide to take out a murderer like Hussein before he gets the technology to kill more than the hundreds of thousands he has already killed. Better wait until 20 million Russians or 6 Million jews are dead before you act, right Europeasers?

Posted by: jmwlaw | April 4, 2009 8:32 AM | Report abuse

Call it Al Qaeda or call it the Condalisa Unocal pipeline. Enough of Afghanistan. Enough of Kosovo, Enough of Georgia, Enough of Iraq, Iran, Israel, enough of Europe and Asia. Enough of G10, G20. the international monetary fund, the international trade union, enough of the commie U.S. government pilfering the life out of the American people and hiding behind honor and the love of mankind when its really 95% special interest greed. Enough of the new world order without the world.

Posted by: kimkimminni1 | April 4, 2009 9:11 PM | Report abuse

So imperialism under Obama is supposed to be more palatable to the world than imperialism under Bush because Obama has ostensibly repudiated torture? The UN has no mandate to interfere in a civil war between the Taliban (which is not Al Qaeda) and the current Afghanistan government.

Posted by: skeptonomist | April 5, 2009 10:05 AM | Report abuse

Dear JmLaw
I am sorry you hate Europeans. Having lived in the US and moved to Europe for better economic opportunities, health care, decent vacation time and affordable education for my daughter, safer medicines, food and water. I find them far better educated and generous than my own countrymen (of course there are exceptions). I find it hard to explain why the US always has to be different even to the size standard of paper they use and why we are so warlike and violent.

Posted by: DLN1 | April 6, 2009 9:43 AM | Report abuse

No matter how our "Dear Leader" prostrates himself to the EU, they aint gonna send one more person to Afghanistan. But once again, we thank Froomkin for regurgitation all the administration’s talking points.

Posted by: SharpshootingPugilist | April 6, 2009 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: jmwlaw | April 4, 2009 8:32 AM

I hate the Europeans.

Wow! You must have a hard time with yourself... For your information, Europe is not one entity, it's more than 50 independent nations, with different languages, culture and history. Try to educate yourself a little.

They have been the architects of slavery, racism, imperialism, ethnic cleansings, [...]

Some European nations trades slaves, not all. It happened more than 200 years ago.
The US slave system lasted until 1865.

Without European imperialism the US would not be the US, those of you who are white are really Europeans (do you hate yourself?), black peolple came to the US as slaves.

As for ethnic cleansing, try to look up Wounded Knee.

the two worst wars in the history of mankind, and pretty much everything bad that has occurred in the world.

WWI and WWII was started by Germany, not all Europeans. Again, try to educate yourself. Germany, however is different now, it's a democracy and I don't hate the Germans of today because their country occupied my country for five years.

To think, we have a President that buys into the bs that our stature declined under President Bush.

Bush invaded Iraq based on lies. More than 100 000 people have been killed.
Torture can never be accepted, is cruel and evil.

The Europeans always wanted to bring us down a notch. It is a competition and they want to win it.

No, it's not a competition.
We all live on this planet, and democratic nations should be able to work toghether to make the world better.

Better wait until 20 million Russians or 6 Million jews are dead before you act, right Europeasers?

Great Britain and France declared war on Germany after they invaded Poland. They did not have to do it, but they did.
What did the US do? The Republican Congress passed the Neutrality Act of 1939. Before thet they passed the Neutrality Act 1937, 1936 and 1935.

Again, try to educate yourself.

Like I said, this is not a competition, it's better for Europe and the US to work togheter than against eachother. Now it's possible when the childish freedom fries eating republicans don't have the power anymore.

Posted by: Supertzar | April 6, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse

whizbang9a By "cokehead" you mean obama right?

Also, Dan "I want to marry obama" froomkin, when was GITMO closed? Are you telling use the facility is closed and all prisoners are gone? or are you just doing your part on the obama spin machine?

Posted by: trjn30 | April 7, 2009 11:36 AM | Report abuse

DLN1 - I am happy you think you have found a better life in a better country. Please turn in your US passport and become a citizen of your new better country.

Posted by: trjn30 | April 7, 2009 11:40 AM | Report abuse

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