As President Barack Obama winds up his first major trip abroad this week, he has earned an “A” grade in my book.
I am a great believer in the British concept of the “loyal opposition”: At home, we can be fiercely critical of our president, but when our leader is abroad, we are one nation.
There are several reasons I consider Obama’s trip to Europe a success.
First of all, we cannot overestimate the symbolic value of Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle. A family of color, descendants of Africans and slaves, is living in the White House. The Obamas and their classy manner have provided an amazing testament to the vibrancy of our democracy, that we remain a “land of opportunity,” and that our nation still gives hope to millions around the world.
Second, Obama understands, as did Ronald Reagan, that America’s leadership of the free world comes from example rather than by edicts.
During the height of the Cold War, Reagan succeeded in rallying Europe behind U.S. policies in confronting — and ultimately, bringing down — the Soviet empire.
I was impressed that Obama sought to unite Europe behind the American insistence on the dire threats posed by al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.
Speaking in Strasbourg, France, on Friday, Obama said: “We have a mutual interest in ensuring that organizations like al-Qaida cannot operate. And I think that it is important for Europe to understand that . . . al-Qaida is still a threat, and that we cannot pretend somehow that because Barack Hussein Obama got elected president, suddenly, everything is going to be OK.”
Obama has outlined a coherent strategy for dealing with Afghanistan and Pakistan, the hotbed for al-Qaida and other extremists. Though it appears that Europeans are not necessarily buying into it, Obama was willing to challenge their conventional wisdom.
Third, Obama may play a significant role in stopping Europe from dangerous protective tariffs.
This past weekend, I chatted with Lord William Rees-Mogg, the former editor of the Times of London, currently a columnist at that paper and the Daily Mail. (He also served as Newsmax Media’s chairman.)
The politically conservative Lord Rees-Mogg said Obama and his wife have wowed the British people. The Obamas made a strong impression, and now are viewed “very satisfactorily” in the eyes of the public there, he said.
This is a high compliment in reserved Britain.
Rees-Mogg also pointed out that the European political sensibility is akin to that of a state like Massachusetts, and Obama is being received favorably that way across the Atlantic.
Obama offers the “best chance of saving Europe” by using his political capital to stop Europe from going down the road of protectionism, Rees-Mogg said. Such a move would be disastrous to the world economy, as the Great Depression was worsened by ricocheting tariff increases around the world.
Obama so far has embraced the idea of free trade, which offers the best chance of saving Europe.
The Obama administration is still in its infancy, so my comments here should not construed as an assessment of his foreign policy.
Obama and his team will have to deal with several flash points globally, but it remains unclear whether it will meet with success. Among these flash points:Obama’s approach to Iran is to make nice, but the Islamic Republic appears to be intent on developing nuclear weapons and threatening a second Holocaust.North Korea defied calls from Obama and other world leaders and went ahead with its launch of a missile that could be used to carry a nuclear weapon.In Afghanistan, Obama has committed additional troops to battling the Taliban, but it’s not clear whether this “surge” will work.Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev recently announced that the two nations will seek to reduce their stockpiles of nuclear weapons, and Obama spoke in Strasbourg of "a world without nuclear weapons." That is a worthy goal, but any reduction in U.S. weapons stockpiles must be matched by completely verifiable reductions in the stockpiles of nations like Russia and China.
So, the bottom line: It’s too early to tell how Obama and his policies will fare in the future, but at least for his first field trip abroad, job well done.
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