Obama Gets Warm Welcome in Europe, Few Policy Wins

Friday, 27 May 2011 06:57 AM

 

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DEAUVILLE, France — As President Barack Obama jets across Europe, he is highlighting the characteristics of his presidency his supporters adore and his detractors criticize: sweeping speeches before enamored crowds and policy sessions that emphasize deliberate discussion over concrete results.

The four-country, six-day tour has produced plenty of enduring images, from Obama knocking back a pint of Guinness in a tiny Irish village and drawing tens of thousands for remarks in central Dublin, to hobnobbing with Britain's royal family at Buckingham Palace. But there have been few memorable policy breakthroughs, a point underscored at the G-8 summit in France, where Obama and world leaders will agree to financially support fledgling democratic movements in Egypt and Tunisia, but stop short of backing a specific monetary package.

That's not to say Obama's trip won't be considered a success. The kind of soft diplomacy the president has engaged in can go a long way in currying favor from allies when their support is needed on tough issues. And the White House doesn't have to look far down the line for opportunities to cash in on that support, with the first phase of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan set to begin in July, and the U.S. and its NATO allies locked in a bombing campaign in Libya that has no end in sight.

The White House also hopes images of the president being greeted by cheering crowds and American-flag waving Europeans could give Obama a boost on the domestic front, where Republican contenders are lining up to run for his job. One of those GOP hopefuls, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, already has taken a dig at Obama's popularity here, taking to Twitter to say he "sorry to interrupt the European pub crawl," but could Obama outline his Medicare plan?

While it may not have exactly been a pub crawl, Obama's trip to the tiny Irish hamlet of Moneygall, where he drank a pint of Guinness in the village where his great-great-great grandfather was born, will likely be one of the standout images of not just Obama's European trip but also his presidency.

At times in Ireland, it seemed the president was campaigning for the hearts and minds of Irish voters, even delivering his campaign slogan "Yes we can" in Gaelic to the roaring approval of 30,000 people gathered to hear him speak in the center of Dublin.

The European adoration continued in London, where Obama delivered a rare address in Westminster Hall to both houses of Parliament and received a thunderous standing ovation. Members of parliament jostled to shake Obama's hand, mobbing him as he pressed the flesh on his way out to spontaneous rounds of applause.

The Guardian newspaper noted that "everybody he met ... all reached out, all hoping to grab some stardust and sprinkle it over themselves."

Michelle Obama was a hot topic too, praised for her glamor, poise and fashion sense.

The Telegraph newspaper gushed about Mrs. Obama's warmth and "wow factor," saying "nothing quite beats the glamour of an Obama — especially a Michelle Obama, the only first lady since Jackie Kennedy to be quite as exciting as her husband."

Even here in France, where Obama is meeting with G-8 leaders on global security and economic matters, the U.S. president attracted the most attention from the local crowd, rewarding their cheers by stopping to chat and shake hands before heading in for talks.

Obama has been popular in Europe since he arrived on the national political scene in the U.S. As a presidential candidate in 2008, he drew a crowd of 200,000 for a speech in Berlin. Shortly after taking office, tens of thousands gathered in Prague to hear him make the case for a world free of nuclear weapons.

While his popularity with the European public remains high, his standing with the continent's political leaders may have dropped a notch.

"I think they had expectations that could not be met and changes that they had anticipated that President Obama would make," said Heather Conley, director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. She cited Obama's failure to close the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention center and increase troops in Afghanistan as disappointments in Europe.

In France, there also has been some criticism of the Obama administration's involvement in the Libya bombing campaign. But when Obama met Friday on the sidelines of the G-8 summit with Nicolas Sarkozy, both leaders expressed nothing more than appreciation for their mutual efforts in Libya. And they reasserted that longtime Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi must go.

After wrapping up his meetings at the summit Friday afternoon, Obama heads to Warsaw, Poland, the final stop on his trip. He's due back in Washington on Saturday night, and will almost immediately leave behind the celebrations he enjoyed in Europe for the sobering suffering of residents in Missouri, where more than 100 people were killed in violent storms, and hundreds more affected.

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