December 9th, 2009
02:48 PM ET
8 months ago

How is Obama being viewed in Europe?

How is Obama being viewed in Europe?.
How is Obama being viewed in Europe?.

London, England (CNN) – Few American presidents have been greeted with the enthusiasm Europe demonstrated for Barack Obama on his election. In part, it was a reaction against his predecessor - George W. was never loved in the EU - but there was also the feeling that Obama was a genuine multilateralist.

Europeans, who welcomed Obama as the candidate of change, didn't expect him to agree with them on everything, but they believed that he would at least listen to them.

So now that the showroom gloss is beginning to wear off Obama at home, now that U.S. poll respondents are indicating that the first dents and scratches are visible in the previously gleaming bodywork, how is he being seen between Ljubljana and Lisbon?

In Europe's capitals, as in many places, there was something of a gulp when the Nobel Peace Prize was announced, a feeling that it was being bestowed in hope of what was to come rather than in recognition of what had been achieved.


That said, Obama remains far more popular personally than Bush, whose Iraq war adventure with the eager assistance of British Prime Minister Tony Blair led to splits among Europe's leaders. On the diplomatic circuit, the movers and shakers will still fight for invitations whenever the president swings through European cities.

On the plus side, there was a big welcome, except perhaps among some of the Eastern European states, when the president scrapped the missile defense plans with installations in Poland and the Czech Republic, indicating that he wanted to talk to Moscow rather than lob bricks over their neighbor's wall.

Europeans, who don't possess America's military might and who nearly always, in Winston Churchill's words, prefer "jaw, jaw to war, war," also welcomed Obama's early overture to Iran indicating that if Teheran would unclench its fist, then America was ready to extend its hand.

After the strong influence the climate change deniers appeared to have with the previous administration, Europeans were especially pleased that Obama said he would come to the climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark. They were impressed with the way he helped to broker a deal at the G20 summit in London in April, something he managed to do without throwing his weight around.

It is a measure of the president's continued pulling power that the Europeans, who have seemingly grudged every extra pair of boots the NATO secretary general has persuaded them to dispatch up until now, are to stump up around 7,000 additional troops for the war in Afghanistan alongside the 30,000 more committed by a president who has now more than doubled the U.S. contingent there.

But while Europe's diplomats and politicians know that the president, too, has to strike political balances, and while they recognize that shared values across the Atlantic won't always mean shared interests, a few niggles are creeping in.

For all the talk about resetting relations between Washington and Moscow, the Europeans are worried that the crucial December 1 deadline passed without a deal renewing the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty for monitoring nuclear arsenals.

On Afghanistan, Europe's political leaders were muttering behind the scenes as the president took a long time making up his mind about the extra troops. To them, he seemed to be dithering; and with anti-war opinion building in their own backyards, he made their own lives more difficult while they awaited his decision.

Some criticism has come into the open. For example, Bob Ainsworth, Britain's defense minister, has refused to commit the U.S.'s leading ally in Afghanistan to a pullout timetable beginning with the president's promised date of July 2011.

Paddy Ashdown, who knows a bit about these things as the international community's former high representative in Bosnia, reckons that the president failed to produce a political strategy to go along with his military one.

Obama, said Lord Ashdown, was trying to appeal simultaneously to two different audiences. He wanted to tell the folks back home in Peoria, Illinois, that the troops would be home in 18 months, and he wanted to tell the Taliban that an extra 30,000 troops were on their way to make life tough for them. The problem was that the folks back home would focus most on the extra 30,000 troops going out, and the Taliban would focus on the fact that they would start leaving in 18 months.

Taliban leader Mullah Omar is supposed to have said: "The enemy has the watches; we have the time." Insurgents tend to have a longer time scale than democratic politicians, who only too soon will be facing electors once more.

The Europeans, while they like much about Obama's style, are growing just a little uneasy about how things will pan out under his presidency.

"It's early days, but perhaps a little less talk and a little more do might be welcome," one former Downing Street insider told me.

They weren't expecting Superman in the White House, certainly not at a time of major economic recession. They still feel that the new president is a man they can talk to. But they can see that power is moving inexorably from the the G8 to the G20, where Europe's influence will be diluted by major new players like China and India. They may become a little sensitive as the president is seen to cozy up to the new players.

The Europeans also can read the Pew surveys in the U.S. showing that a greater proportion of Americans would like their nation to pull back from a world role and "mind its own business" than did so even during the Vietnam war.

They will watch Obama now to see how he resists the pressures of isolationism.

The slight unease one senses now in Europe's capitals is, in a sense, less a personal slippage for Obama than a growing recognition of the weakness of a debt-ridden U.S. economy and of the inability of the world's strongest military power to contain Islamic insurgencies or to find and dispose of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar eight years after the mass murders of 9/11.
The U.S. may still have the military might. But even America has to look
at the costs column these days. And when the likes of French President Nicolas
Sarkozy inveigh against the evils of the "Anglo-Saxon economic model," they
have Wall Street just as much in mind as they do the city of London.
Obama, though, doesn't have to worry yet about his personal popularity in
Europe. He remains a beacon of hope to many Europeans.
And he will probably remain rather more popular in Europe than he is at
home because it is in tackling the back-pocket issues with their own
electorates - like health care - that most politicians make their enemies.
That may, however, be little consolation to a president with a second
term to win in due course. Blair, after all, remained hugely popular in the
U.S. But so discredited did he become back home that he was forced to step down
and hand over power to Gordon Brown.


Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. RNC = DNC = politics as usual

    "but perhaps a little less talk and a little more do might be welcome"

    Sounds like the World has Obama figured out better than the US does.

    December 9, 2009 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  2. Jokes aside!

    This is best president!! ever the world has produced. He understand the economic hardships faced by many in the entire world!!. Unlike his predecessor, he doesn't preach about ME, ME, ME, he preaches responsibilities and hard work for all. GOD BLESS PRESIDENT OBAMA AND THE WORK OF HIS HANDS!!! AMEEENN

    December 9, 2009 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  3. Obama's blown it

    Nobel Peace Prize winner ... what a joke. He celebrated this noteworthy achievement by refusing to sign the International treaty on landmines and then escalating the conflict in Afghanistan, thus continuing Bush's policies. The man who promised so much is becoming a monumental disappointment.

    December 9, 2009 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  4. Jeff Spangler, Arlington, VA

    The silly European idolaters who thought they were going to see "change" are even dumber than the American voters who believed it.

    December 9, 2009 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  5. Hope to Change

    Polled down.

    December 9, 2009 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  6. ken neal

    A decline in the high regard for Obama was inevitable. He is juggling more difficult tasks that any U. S. president, perhaps even more than faced Abraham Lincoln. In office less than a year, with a major economic collapse averted and economic recovery starting, it is pretty hard to understand how opponents, domestic and abroad, can be so quick to blame him for the mistakes of the Bush Administration, and for that matter, of the world's major economic players. Sure, Obama is trying to balance politics with necessity in Afghanistan. But if politics were his main consideration, he would have announced a quick withdrawal in Afghanistan. The fact that he didn't means he is trying to do the right thing, including perserving Pakistan, where the threat of a nuclear war is very real. That cause is so important to the world that all of our allies, specifically the Europeans, should get behind an all-out push in Afghanistan and Pakistan. (Please show me the duplication)

    December 9, 2009 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  7. Greg, MN

    They see him as a weak, appeaser who is leading America down the round to govermentized banking, health care, and retirement. They see him as rolling over on capitalism by allowing US businesses to take it in the rear with Cap and Tax legislation. While the other major players like China and India do nothing...

    December 9, 2009 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  8. Matt

    Obama is seen as weak. He has dissed our allies and apologized to all of our enemies. I haven't seen any good results from his wimpy foreign policy. His need to feel liked needs to be trumped by his desire to help US citizens.

    December 9, 2009 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  9. aware

    The appeaser should rank high in Europe! :)

    December 9, 2009 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  10. Second Week of Advent- symbolic of Peace...Blessed be the peacemakers for their's is the Kingdom of Heaven

    Poor President Obama..hostage to 25-46 decievers..
    .their idols are sliver and gold, made by the hands of men. they have mouths , but cannot speak, eyes but cannot see, the have ears but cannot hear, noses but they cannot smell, feet but they cannot walk, nor can they utter a sound with their throats. Those whom make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them (Ps 115)

    The EU is wrong to put out their proclamation declaring a two state solution...This is God's footstoll... there are other avenues to peace...you must seek so you can find.

    December 9, 2009 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  11. B

    People obviously understand and support HOPE and understanding versus secretive, opaque, unilateralism !

    It is the difference between Light and Darkness.

    December 9, 2009 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  12. Seth

    Remind us again how was Bush viewed by the Europeans.
    Also, How was Chaney viewed? I remember they had pictures of him as a vampire, when the Europeans begin to do that to Obama then you can talk about dents.

    December 9, 2009 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  13. Melissa

    President Obama is still liked alot more than Bush. In Canada, people like him a great deal and recognize his difficulties.

    December 9, 2009 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  14. As a big woos............

    what else?

    December 9, 2009 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  15. George Bush - Worst President Ever

    Bush wasn't liked because he was a typical Republican whose every action was based on what that action could do for him. Allies tend to want you to act based on the common good of the group.

    December 9, 2009 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  16. Carlos

    About like he's being viewed at home now, as a duffus that's waaay over his head.

    December 9, 2009 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  17. Enrique Gonzalez

    Suggest the President read or review European and Middle East history.

    December 9, 2009 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  18. Rickster

    Democrats are always more popular in Europe because they share the same socialist agenda. I could care less what the limp-wrist Europeans think. Poland and The Czech Republic coincidentally are the only decent ones left over there.

    December 9, 2009 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  19. Pepou

    In france we LOVE him. We envy you Americans and wish he was our President, not Sarkozy.

    December 9, 2009 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  20. single mom

    I realize that the president is the 'leader of the 'free' world', HOWEVER, he is, first and foremost, the President of the UNITED STATES.

    Yes, we have to get along with the rest of the world, but is it too much to ask that the President put his country's well-being ahead of the rest of the world?

    December 9, 2009 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  21. P Adams Jr

    Obama should be loved in Europe because he loves their way of governing better than the US Constitution's mandates.

    December 9, 2009 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |