Analysis: Cheering but mixed bag for Obama
World must wait and see on issues like nuclear arms and economic reform
First 100 days
Barack Obama steps onto the world stage during his 11th week as president, meeting with leaders at the G-20 Summit in London and in Strasbourg, France.
updated 3:00 a.m. PT, Sun., April. 5, 2009
STRASBOURG, France - Stop after stop, crowds are thronging, leaders gushing, headlines blaring. Even a roomful of foreign reporters applauded after President Barack Obama's London news conference.
They love him over here. But are they giving him anything else to take home?
It's a mixed bag: some success, several failures and much still to be determined.
The president hit the halfway point Saturday on a European trip that, by the end, will have him charming and listening (not lecturing) his way through five countries, three international summits, one-on-one meetings with at least 17 leaders, a Buckingham Palace audience, at least seven news conferences, three speeches, two question-and-answer sessions with regular-folk foreigners and three official dinners.
The locals have chased his motorcade, strained across rope lines to shake his hand and gawped at Michelle Obama's sleek, multihued travel wardrobe. Leaders as reserved as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and as competitive — potentially even hostile — as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev have raved about his leadership style. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, trying to stave off his own political demise, was delighted to stand beaming at his charismatic guest's side, burbling about "exchanging ideas."
"Your first 70 days in office have changed America, and you've changed America's relationship with the world," Brown said enthusiastically.
In turn, Obama said repeatedly that the U.S. must learn as well as lead, a welcome sentiment for a world that's sick of what many see as American bullying. Still, lest the folks back home think he's gone soft in Europe, he declared on Saturday that the U.S. "has a continued extraordinary role in leading the world towards peace and prosperity."
Obama even engineered a solution to a dispute over the final communique at the London summit on the global financial crisis, conducting shuttle diplomacy between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Chinese President Hu Jintao. He came up with a compromise between the two leaders' opposing positions on offshore tax havens and shepherded each one's signoff. Deal done.
Nearly every day has brought requests for Obama to grace the world with more of his presence.
Like dropping rose petals
Almost like dropping rose petals as he goes, the president has been saying yes. With Medvedev, Obama announced he would go to Moscow in July. With Hu, he promised a trip to the Asian powerhouse in the latter half of the year. And Sarkozy finally secured what he wanted — a walk on the beach in Normandy with Obama to mark the June 6 D-Day anniversary.
Europe was oh so ready for a change.
"Anyone else but Bush is better," said Lene Gade, a 43-year-old teacher in Copenhagen. "Obama is bringing the United States back on the friendlyhood track, approaching the rest of the world with a much more open mind."
But what actual achievements does all this admiration put in the new American president's hands to take back home?
For one, he and Medvedev launched talks to further reduce the two biggest nuclear arsenals on the planet.
Those talks — if successful, and this is a big if — could have an even bigger payoff by actually pushing the "reset button" everyone talks about in U.S.-Russia relations and laying the groundwork for cooperation in important areas of disagreement, such as Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program.
The 20-nation global economic summit in London didn't yield what Obama most wanted, big new outlays of stimulus spending by other nations.
European wariness toward rising debt is one reason. There's also a reservoir of anger here toward America that euphoria about the election of the first black man to the U.S. presidency can't erase — as expressed by huge protests in London. Many Europeans blame the recession that's enveloping them on the U.S. — its reckless ways and global dominance.
This resentment and the recession's weakening of the U.S. had Obama confronting multiple and previously unheard-of questions about America's global standing, particularly after Brown declared that "the old Washington consensus is over."
Got to wait and see
However, Obama managed to keep out of the final communique some potentially problematic items, most notably a global superregulator with authority inside individual nations' financial systems. And on a range of smaller priorities, the agreement among wealthy and developing nations tracked Obama's goals, providing significant boosts to less-well-off countries and tightening regulation over risky financial products and institutions.
While praising the final agreement, Obama delivered a noncommittal bottom-line verdict: "We've got to wait and see."
Here in Strasbourg, the main agenda item was Afghanistan, in Obama's conversations with the French and German leaders and, even more prominently, at Saturday's NATO summit.