Obama-Europe Honeymoon: The Thrill is Gone?

I thought this, from David Brooks’ analysis of President Barack Obama’s Cairo speech earlier this month, was on the money:

This speech builds an idealistic facade on a realist structure. Andthis gets to the core Obama foreign-policy perplexity. The presidentwants to be an inspiring leader who rallies the masses. He also wantsbe a top-down realist who cuts deals in the palaces. There is a tensionbetween these two impulses that even a sharp Chicago pol is havingtrouble managing.

What made me think of it now was this passage from a Der Spiegel feature on the strain in U.S.-German relations:

In pursuing its foreign policy, the new administration in Washingtonno longer relies solely on high-level meetings and state receptions. Infact, the populations of other countries are now being mobilized tosupport the goals of the United States to an unprecedented extent.Officials at the White House and the State Department have developed acompletely new form of the old concept of “public diplomacy.”

The piece goes on to describe a detailed White House communications strategy involving a “ground game” and an “air game” that, frankly, come off sounding a bit creepy. But the direct appeal to the masses has been an obvious tactic to bypass the ministries, with the tension Brooks identifies a very real one.

There was also this:

As it is, the U.S. president in person is by no means the charming andsmiling character many have come to expect from his televisionappearances. He cultivates a cool style or, as one of the members ofthe delegation describes it, “an almost unfeeling style.”

That pretty much sums up the anti-climactic nature of the Obama honeymoon period. I expected an eventual clash between Washington and European agendas, but it’s been more of a fizz than a bang. Obama remains pretty popular here in terms of public opinon, but I suspect that expectations and enthusiasm have been lowered a bit by his cautious approach to reversing some of the more unpopular Bush policies.

As for Obama’s much-vaunted willingness to listen that won such raves on his first trip through Europe, the Der Speigel piece suggests that the thrill is gone there, too. It’s a bit more Janet Jackson (What Have You Done for Me Lately) than Michael Jackson (Beat It), but either way, Europe feels out of the loop.

More World Politics Review