From the April 8, 2009 Daily Telegraph
April 8, 2009
by Irwin Stelzer
Fugedaboutit. For those of you who don't speak New York, that's "forget about it", the most emphatic of the negatives in a New Yorker's repertoire. But it has nothing like the power to influence events that the "non", "nein" and "no" that capped Barack Obama's tour of Europe have. It is one thing to attract a crowd in Berlin, a city in which politicians have historically been successful in attracting mass audiences, or to wow several hundred adolescents in Strasbourg and thousands of adults in Prague with talk of a nuclear-free world, and quite another to get the elected representatives of those crowds to shoulder a fair share of the burden of the fight against Islamist terrorists.
The leaders of Europe came naked to the Nato meeting last weekend, shorn of the cover provided by Bush-hatred. As the American commentator Robert Kagan puts it: "George W Bush did the Europeans a great favour by giving them the best excuse for inaction in transatlantic history." Europe's leaders have always claimed they would co-operate with America in all things, were it not for that toxic Texan with his unilateralist belief in spreading democracy and free markets.
Well, George W Bush is safely back in Texas, Barack Obama wants to listen as well as lead, and Michelle Obama, after a touchy-feely visit with the Queen, proved to have more crowd-appeal than Carla Bruni. One astute observer told me that British and European crowds "went weak-kneed in the presence of the Obamas". But popularity on the streets means little in the conference room.
At the Nato meetings, "weak-kneed" took on an added meaning – no significant permanent deployment of fighting troops to aid the Americans. Obama was prepared for the turn-down, although he did harbour the illusion that in the end Gordon Brown would come up with more than a few poll-watchers. After all, the President had gone out of his way to sprinkle some of his stardust on the embattled Prime Minister. Unfortunately, Obama had not been briefed by Tony Blair on Brown's capacity for gratitude.
Turkey was a somewhat better stopover for the travelling President, who had no specific requests that could be turned down. The persistently fawning New York Times reported that the President was "showing more self-confidence each day on his maiden overseas trip as President", although how Obama could show more self-confidence than he already has is difficult to imagine: this is a man confident in self to a point that is slightly unnerving.
Obama had won favour with European audiences by proclaiming that America has shown inadequate respect for Europe's accomplishments. So he carried his I-am-not-George-Bush campaign to Ankara by implying that the US bears responsibility for "the difficulties of these last few years" between Muslim countries and America. No need to mention the World Trade Centre, Khobar Towers, the USS Cole or his support in the Senate for labelling as "genocide" the killing of Armenian Christians by Ottoman Turks. More politic to support Turkey's application for membership in the EU, despite a mind-your-own-business warning from President Sarkozy, who earlier agreed to accept one – yes, one – of the 245 Guantánamo detainees because that is "what being allies is about".
After having spent an entire presidential campaign playing down his full name and early years, the President had himself introduced to the Turkish parliament as Barack Hussein Obama, and pointed out that "Many other Americans have Muslims in their family, or have lived in a Muslim-majority country. I know, because I am one of them." This, on the heels of his deep bow to Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah (the Queen of England merited what can at best be described as a deferential nod). There is more to come: the President will soon travel to an as yet unnamed Muslim country to deliver a major speech laying out his views on Islam.
The question for Obama is what he does about coming home with nothing tangible to show for his trip. He has made the war in Afghanistan his very own, deploying the forces that he claims were diverted from the real fight against terrorism by the war in Iraq. He has set forth a reasonable strategy and been careful not to ask his Nato allies to join America in attacking terrorist bases inside Pakistan. Still, a Bushless America, with a coherent strategy, making a measured request for help, could not win over European leaders who have learned to free-ride on America. After all, the Europeans have their welfare states to fund, and Britain is so broke that ministers are leaking stories about the non-humiliating virtues of an IMF bail-out.
The usually soft-spoken Charles Krauthammer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and Fox television commentator, created something of a television, and subsequently YouTube, sensation when he said Europe "has been sucking on… [America's] tit for 60 years… parasitically". And so it has.
Obama now has to explain to his pacifist Democratic Left why he is sending tens of thousands of troops into Afghanistan when his Nato allies, equally threatened – witness terrorist attacks on Madrid and London – won't. He must also explain his plan to spend billions on what looks very much like a "surge" – a policy that dare not speak its name in the White House. Especially when that effort will shore up the regime of Hamid Karzai, who is stalling on the repeal of new laws that restrict women's rights every bit as much as did the Taliban zealots.
Fortunately for the President, the Republican opposition is more loyal than was the Democratic opposition to Bush. John McCain has backed Obama's Afghanistan policy, and conservative commentators, although more than a little annoyed by the President's rubbishing of his own country in order to pander to European and Muslim audiences, are supporting him.
Democrats in Congress are sullen but not (yet) mutinous. But their President's failure to wring a single dollar of added stimulus from the G20, or a meaningful commitment of fighting troops at the Nato meeting, has persuaded many that a conservative colleague of mine was right when he told the then-president of the European Commission – at a dinner in your Washington embassy – that "Europe is irrelevant to the 21st century". Administration economists are predicting that the EU economies will fall off a cliff by year end, and Obama and Congress will have little reason to offer any help. Obama returns home knowing that the success of his administration will depend on working out reasonable arrangements in Beijing, New Delhi, Moscow and Islamabad. London and Paris remain nice places to visit.
The President's more immediate task is to get his daughters the dog he promised them. After his European tour, it is not likely to be a French poodle, a dachshund, or a bulldog.
Irwin Stelzer is a Senior Fellow and Director of Economic Policy Studies for the Hudson Institute. He is also the U.S. economist and political columnist for The Sunday Times (London) and The Courier Mail (Australia), a columnist for The New York Post, and an honorary fellow of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies for Wolfson College at Oxford University. He is the founder and former president of National Economic Research Associates and a consultant to several U.S. and United Kingdom industries on a variety of commercial and policy issues. He has a doctorate in economics from Cornell University and has taught at institutions such as Cornell, the University of Connecticut, New York University, and Nuffield College, Oxford.
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