Tags: eu | europe | teflon | obama

Obama-Mania Waning in Europe

Sunday, 06 Dec 2009 01:21 PM

 

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PARIS -- Europeans might have reason to feel disappointed with Barack Obama.

The American president arrives this week in Europe to pick up his Nobel Peace prize just as he has nearly doubled the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan. This fall, Obama found plenty of time to tour Asia, while missing the 20th anniversary celebrations of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

And Obama originally planned to spend just four hours at the Copenhagen conference on global warming, which for many Europeans is the world's No. 1 problem.

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Nevertheless, Obama-mania lives on in the hearts of millions here.

A poll released Friday and conducted in the five major European powers _ France, Germany, Italy, Great Britain, Spain _ and the United States, showed that Obama has retained the support of the vast majority of the Europeans polled, even as his rating sagged in the U.S.

The president's continued high standing in Europe may be due in part to the deep-rooted hostility Europeans have harbored for his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Europeans seem to sense that even if he only shows his face at Copenhagen and has failed to sway his own Democratic Congress to do more on global warming, Obama will likely be bringing far more to the climate table than they could ever have expected from Bush.

Obama on Friday altered his plans and will join the crucial last week of the meeting amid shifts in the Chinese and Indian positions, reviving some hope of a major breakthrough.

"It sounds like he's still the bees knees for everyone in Britain. He's fabulous," said Sarah Hodgkin, a civil servant from Essex, England.

In the small Spanish town of Arroyo de Luz, about 180 miles (300 kilometers) southwest of Madrid, Miguel Angel Bernejo Carrero made news when he renamed his bar in honor of Obama during the Democratic primary battle, even before it was clear Obama would be his party's candidate.

His enthusiasm for the U.S. president hasn't waned.

"People are crazy to judge him so soon. Circumstances are incredibly difficult and he's doing all he can. I mean, give him a break, man!" Bernejo Carrero said in defending Obama against accusations he has promised much but delivered little.

Moving toward the heart of Europe, Obama has a somewhat tougher sell.

"Since September there have been questions on his real capacities," said Thomas Gomart, head of the Russia Center at the French Institute for International Relations in Paris.

But because of his charisma and the comparison with Bush, who was wildly unpopular in Europe, Gomart says Obama's image in Europe "is still very positive."

"Everybody is waiting for results," Gomart said. "The months ahead are crucial."

Peter Filzmaier, an Austrian professor and respected political commentator, said further fallout from the financial crisis, which many Europeans blame on the United States, may begin to erode Obama's popularity.

"Europeans are unsure if Obama is part of a solution _ or part of the problem," Filzmaier said.

"Another risk for Obama is what will happen in the Middle East," he said.

Many Europeans supported Obama's call for a complete freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank and were disheartened when he appeared to waver in the face of Israel's rejection. Now, with a temporary halt in place, Obama's policy may be somewhat vindicated.

Still, Filzmaier said, Europeans will look for examples of concrete successes and "so far, most Europeans think that there are nearly none."

Europe, however, may need to do more itself to catch Obama's attention.

"I think it is very important that Europe react to his (Obama's) interests. I think we need to be much more visible," said Ambassador Isvtan Gyarmati, president of the International Center for Democratic Transition in Budapest, Hungary. "If Copenhagen does not bring what we hope for, it will not be the fault of the Americans."

While Obama has retained the hearts of the people, European media have recently been stinging in their portrayal of him.

Two recent headlines in the Italian press read: "Obama a fallible Messiah" and "The Crisis of Obama."

"Is it possible that the American presidency is going through a kind of identity crisis?" asked Lucia Annunziata, a well-known observer of the United States, in her column in La Stampa.

She said there is growing impatience over his delays in policy decisions, with the president apparently "preferring a path that seems to appear Byzantine _ that is exactly the opposite of all that he promised."

Swiss cartoonist Patrick Chappatte has taken aim at Obama in a series of cartoons, showing him rebuffed by China on human rights, dumping the Copenhagen climate change treaty in a recycling bin, and with his feet rolled over by an Israeli settlement train.

Earlier this fall, Obama aroused worry about the U.S. commitment to central Europe and even Germany.

Obama did not attend the Sept. 1 commemorations on Poland's Westerplatte peninsula marking the 70th anniversary of the start of World War II. That was in marked contrast to a high-profile and prolonged visit to China and other points in Asia _ a continent which Europeans fret might be on the verge of displacing theirs in economic and political might.

Then Obama decided to scrap a Bush-era missile defense shield planned for the Czech Republic and Poland, with the announcement made on the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union's World War II invasion of Poland. Less than two months later, Obama ducked the ceremonies in Berlin marking the fall of the Berlin Wall.

"This administration has really neglected central and eastern Europe," said Marcin Zaborowski, a Polish expert on trans-Atlantic issues. "This is really shocking for people in the region because during Bush's times they were privileged."

However, Zaborowski says the problems were largely "patched over" by a visit from U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to the region, and that an improvement in ties can be seen in Polish officials announcing plans last week to send 600 more soldiers to Afghanistan.

Most Europeans laud Obama's efforts to extend health care coverage in the United States and close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, said Christoph Hofinger, managing partner and scientific director of the Vienna-based Institute for Social Research and Analysis.

But Hofinger warned that European support for Obama may not last forever.

"If Obama will remain unsuccessful with all of his reforms, or if he becomes a president politically constrained by an unsuccessful but expensive and bloody war in Afghanistan," Hofinger said, "the mood might change."

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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