Obama tour strong on symbols, light on substance

8th April 2009, Comments 3 comments

Rousing speeches aside, Obama's international policies do not represent a clear break from those of his widely disliked predecessor, some experts claim.

Paris -- US President Barack Obama's first European tour won little in practical terms, experts said Tuesday, but allowed him to deploy his charm in a bid to paper over real and ongoing trans-Atlantic divisions.

Last week's G20 summit in London yielded the headline figure of a trillion dollars for global recovery plans, but Germany, France and other European powers remained cold to Washington and London's calls for stimulus spending.

Following the weekend's NATO meeting in Strasbourg the White House felt able to claim that 5,000 more troops had been pledged for Afghanistan, but most of them won't stay there for long and many had already been announced.

Further east, Obama's speech in Prague clearly enthused his supporters there, but governments remain concerned that his bid to reach out to Russia while soft-pedalling on missile defence will leave them exposed.

His conciliatory speech in Istanbul was appreciated by many in the Muslim world, but his call for Turkey to be allowed into the European Union annoyed France and will do little in practical terms to advance its candidacy.

Everyone, of course, got behind his ambition for a world without nuclear arms, but not even Obama himself said this is something he will achieve any time soon while North Korea tests missiles and Iran enriches uranium.

"I don't think there's been a turnaround. Obama-mania struck again, he was successful from that point of view," said Didier Billion, deputy director of France's Institute of International and Strategic Relations.

For Billion and several other European experts who spoke to AFP, rousing speeches aside, Obama's international policies do not represent a clear break from those of his widely disliked predecessor, George W. Bush.

"While Obama is a more attractive personality than his predecessor, he is there to defend US interests," Billion told AFP, warning that many of Obama's fans in Europe will be disappointed if they expect too much change.

In Strasbourg, Obama came without much hope of convincing his allies to ante up more troops for his Afghan war plan, and instead attempted to appeal directly to European public opinion with a lively public meeting.

The speech made little difference to the result of the summit, but provided a cheery counterpoint on television news bulletins to images of rioting leftists burning buildings and stoning police outside the summit venue.

Obama's deft political skills saw him head off the threat of a rift with Turkey, which had opposed Europe's choice of NATO secretary general, but, on the battlefield, Afghanistan remains America's war to win or lose.

The bulk of what the White House called "up to 5,000" new European troops are in fact temporary reinforcements for August's presidential poll, and the rest are training teams or police advisers rather than combat forces.

"Obama didn't really try to convince his European allies to take a bigger role in military operations. He wasn't really expecting much from them on that front," said Josef Braml of German foreign policy think-tank DGAP.

For Braml, the more conciliatory tone aside, Obama sees US NATO strategy in the same way as Bush. "That's why I warn against putting too great a hope that things will change in this area," he said.

In Prague, Obama made another grand gesture, telling cheering multitudes that he would fight for an end to nuclear weapons, even as North Korea defied the world with a rocket launch.

Former Czech president Vaclav Havel was among the many who saluted Obama's vision, but again was careful to warn against allowing the change in tone from the White House to inspire "infinite hopes" that would surely be dashed.

From Prague, Obama moved on to Turkey, where he addressed relations with the Muslim world, vowing that the United States will "listen carefully, bridge misunderstanding ... We will be respectful, even when we do not agree."

Again, this was well received, but commentators once more warned that it would mean little in terms of better ties as long as nothing changed in terms of US policy, in particular as regards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"I believe Obama's remarks will be perceived positively," said Professor Mustafa Aydin from Ankara's TOBB University. "But the Arab World will adopt a wait-and-see approach and watch US policies regarding their region closely."

Dave Clark/AFP/Expatica

3 Comments To This Article

  • Dave posted:

    on 9th April 2009, 08:37:57 - Reply

    @ Peeper The word "impatient" suggests that you think people are complaining about the speed of Obama's actions and if that is what you mean, I think you are misunderstanding both the article and my comment. This is about going in the wrong direction - not how quickly he is moving.

    I have not speculated about anything. Here is an article about what Obama is DOING right now;

  • Peeper posted:

    on 8th April 2009, 23:54:34 - Reply

    Why are people getting impatient with President Obama? The world is under recession and the economic melt down cannot be overcome within weeks of taking presidential office. "Old Europe" has to soften up and accept Turkey as a partner instead of beating empty drums to secede itself from this vast Byzantine country. A world free of nuclear weapons should be able to guarantee the future of this planet. Give Obama a chance and please dont pretend to be more intelligent than the rest of the world by speculating with destructive criticism.
  • Dave posted:

    on 8th April 2009, 11:12:28 - Reply

    It gets worse. While he was making flowery speeches in Europe, his justice department back in the US was making a power grab even more extreme than the Bush thugs arguing before the Supreme Court that The Government cannot be sued by The Public for illegal wire-tapping by the NSA because of the pre-Magna Carta law of sovereign immunity. All of a sudden the government has rights and they exceed the real rights of citizens. He shuts down Guantanamo but keeps all the other black sites. He maintains his governments right to kidnap people off the street and secret them away to anywhere but Guantanamo.

    Meet the new boss, more articulate, smarter, and even more evil than the old boss.