The World from Berlin: 'Obama Has Reduced America's Sense of Self-Importance'
With rousing speeches and a diplomatic manner, Barack Obama quelled fears that differences of opinion would end Europe's love affair with him. German commentators applaud how he handled himself during his European visit but worry that rougher times lie ahead.
Before US President Barack Obama came to Europe last week for a series of meetings with global leaders, many worried that Europe's Obama-mania had waned in the wake of growing disagreements on both sides of the Atlantic about how to handle a number of issues, ranging from how to combat the economic crisis to how to combat the growing Taliban threat in Afghanistan.
But most signs indicate that Obama succeeded in keeping the love alive. Thousands attended his speeches, and the places he visited were strewn with American flags and pro-Obama paraphernalia. When he spoke, moreover, Obama pleased audiences by making it clear that the US was willing to seriously address the issues that Europe cares about most, including climate change and global financial regulation.
Although he did not ignore the touchy issue of demanding more European commitment to helping in Afghanistan, saying that "Europe should not simply expect the US to shoulder the burden alone," Obama did not allow the disagreement to drown out the other issues on the table.
Instead, Obama made efforts to be the cordial statesman, and he even brokered a deal that paved the way for Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen to become the new head of NATO despite Turkey's opposition.
In a speech Sunday in Prague, Obama also expressed his desire to work toward a world free of nuclear arms, telling the audience of more than 20,000 that we "must ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot change. We have to insist, 'Yes, we can.'"
In Monday's papers, German commentators voice their approval for the way Obama handled himself in Europe. Some expressed their doubts, however, that the honeymoon can last, and others thought his call for a nuclear-free world somewhat quixotic.
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"There will be some in America who say: 'So, what has Obama gained in Europe? More troops for Afghanistan? More money to fight the recession? Nothing.' A few hard-boiled Republicans have already started criticizing Obama for precisely these things. But they represent the old school."
"According to the new school from Obama's new Washington, this is the way to look at it: The president has brought home the most valuable thing he could have and the thing that the superpower critically needs at this time -- credibility and the ability to win others' faith. There's no denying that, after his week-long trip to Europe, the president will not be able to show any new soldiers or investment packages. But he introduced the world to a new style and a more pleasant tone. America will be paid back with something it could really use at the moment -- loyalty."
"Obama's words have a certain degree of humility to them and sometimes even a slight meekness. He is deploying the style he used in his presidential campaign, though now on the diplomatic stage. Obama is not trying to make himself look like an important global leader but instead is taking pains to speak in a clear and direct manner so as to avoid problems. Nor does he claim to be able to offer a solution to all problems. … Obama has reduced America's exaggerated sense of self-importance while, at the same time, opening up the possibility for his country to attain a new greatness."
"However, Obama's lessons on partnership and the obligations of being in an alliance must have caused Europe's leaders some discomfort. For years, they have been griping, demanding respect, asking to be heard and claiming they have something to say. And now that they can, they can no longer hide behind the new president. … All of a sudden, the Europeans are facing a test of their credibility. They need to act."
The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"Obama presented himself as a 'new kid on the block' rather than as an all-knowing world leader, and as a newbie who still had a lot to learn. He gives off the impression of being very likeable and many -- and, particularly, the Europeans -- will have an easier time accepting him than they did George W. Bush. But whether this new style for trans-Atlantic relations will be able to last long is a whole other question."
"In London, Obama was able to learn that Europeans are far from united on how to deal with the economic crisis. In Prague and at the ceremonies celebrating NATO's anniversary, it was made clear to him that pledges of equal partnership and adopting a new strategy for Afghanistan do not mean that the Europeans will be willing to share the resulting burdens in equal measure with the United States. Obama played the intermediary who was able to smooth over disagreements on important issues and keep touchy topics completely off the table. That is a method of leadership that Europeans can appreciate."
"But if they are honest with themselves, Europeans know that leading by consensus has its limits. Even if he wants to, an American president can't please everybody. This time, Obama broadly succeeded in steering clear of any potential conflicts. … As a diplomat, Obama was able to win over people's sympathy. But there will come a day when the president has to make unpopular decisions, too."
The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:
"It wasn't long ago that it looked like Angela Merkel had a problem with the new US administration. She also appeared to be too firmly in league with Obama's predecessor. She has seemed to embody the complete opposite of the new pop star of global politics so often that even allies in her own party started calling on her to display more visionary power. And Merkel also stood in the way of Obama's delivering a campaign speech before the Brandenburg Gate, which only strengthened the impression that he somehow worried her."
"For Merkel, the change in president offers the chance for her to finally make people forget about all the foreign policy problems the countries had during the Bush era. For decades, friendly trans-Atlantic ties was an issue that helped form the identity of Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats. … Merkel's CDU party now has a president that it is allowed to like -- and one who is even willing to learn a few things from the Europeans. The fact that his political leanings are the opposite of the CDU's matters little when it comes to diplomacy. In the upcoming German elections, foreign policy will not be the decisive issue. But, after this weekend, Merkel has one less thing to worry about."
The right-leaning Die Welt discusses Obama's call for a world free of nuclear weapons:
"The president is right -- but he's also wrong. In the speech he delivered in Prague, Obama rightly pointed out the danger of a new nuclear arms race and the growing risk of nuclear weapons being used. But his call for a world free of nuclear weapons is wrong. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier might have applauded Obama, but what he said only strengthens the illusion that nuclear weapons lead to a worse rather than a safer world."
"Of course, at least in theory, it is possible to imagine scrapping all of the world's nuclear warheads. But the fact is that you can't just erase the fact that people know how to build atomic weapons. … Preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and reducing existing nuclear arsenals to a certain degree are worthwhile goals, but the so-called 'global zero' is not. 'More security' is more important than 'no nukes.'"
-- Josh Ward, 1:00 p.m. CET
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