July 27, 2008
Kuwait – Afghanistan – Iraq – Jordan – Israel – West Bank – Berlin – Paris – London, was the Barack Obama itinerary for the past week. The ‘celebrity tour’ element was a great success. However, the tour was part of his American electoral campaign, and the degree of its success will be seen in the US.
Have we learned anything new? I suspect the week has re-inforced much of what was already known. This was a bold, superbly orchestrated but risky exercise. But his Iraqi military withdrawal plan was well received by Prime Minister Nouri-al-Makiki. In Afghanistan, he expressed the views of many in the need to focus on that country and Pakistan in the fight against terrorism. Considering his strong pro-Israeli stand taken recently, he did well not to receive an Arab backlash – the visit to the West Bank clearly paid off.
The speech made in Washington on 15 July set out, for the first time, Obama’s foreign policy overview. The follow-up speech in Berlin did not add much to this. There were no other set pieces delivered.
Angela Merkel was right to stress that “major changes” cannot be expected in US foreign policy, whoever the next occupant of the White House. However, the Obama approach to Europe will clearly be co-operational, rather than confrontational. But he will also be looking for less criticism and more burden-sharing in security and defence.
Obama left the cautious, balanced Merkeland for Sarko’s Celebrityland. The President’s unrestrained enthusiasm for son “copain” seemed temporarily to surprise his guest. Sarkozy even spoke of “une grande convergence de vues avec Obama.” A telling statement was perhaps, “Mais on a le droit d’être intéressé par un candidat qui regarde l’avenir et pas le passé ».
The tour closed by graphic contrast in Brownland, where the visit was kept deliberately in low key. A two hour talk and a stroll before Senator Obama spoke to reporters. He said his conversation with Mr Brown in Downing Street had been “terrific”. There were also meetings with Tony Blair and David Cameron.
Obama’s statement that, “The reason that I thought this trip was important is that I am convinced that many issues that we face at home are not going to be solved as effectively unless we have strong partners abroad”, was welcome as was his call for a “strong transatlantic partnership”. The Senator has made clear that he expects the European partners to contribute more military support than they have up to now – and it will be much more difficult to resist Obama than to refuse Bush.
We will, of course, have to wait to see what President Obama says and does (assuming that he makes it), but we’re at least enjoying the right music and some good theatre.
Seeing Obama and Sarkozy together is like seeing two young men in a hurry and determined to bring in change. They appear both, in very different ways, to be men of their time. We can certainly expect some excitement and hope may even begin to chase away fear, which has been ruling too long.Author : Stanley Crossick