Obama's Europe trip: 'A good opening act'
The president made few concrete gains in his first overseas trip, but helped begin remaking America's image in the world.
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The president – and first lady Michelle Obama, whose European performance rivaled that of Jackie Kennedy in 1961 – conquered England. But he failed to get the global economic stimulus he wanted out of the Group of 20 summit in London.
And, introducing himself by his full name, Barack Hussein Obama, he embraced the democratic and moderate Muslim nation of Turkey. But when he called on Europe to open up to Islam by accepting Turkey into the European Union, French President Nicolas Sarkozy told him to mind his own business.
“Sure, everybody wants to get into the picture with the coolest guy in school," he says. "But there’s an abrupt and sobering limit to this thinking that because people like us, they are going to throw domestic concerns to the wind and join us."
Making America popular again
Obama was of course pursuing American interests on his first overseas trip as president. He underscored that point by making a surprise end-of-trip stop in Iraq, where US military commanders have become concerned by a recent uptick in sectarian violence. Deteriorating security conditions in Iraq could throw off Obama’s plans for drawing down US troops there and shifting American combat focus to Afghanistan.
But one important objective of such trips is to improve America’s image with foreign populations, noted David Axelrod, Obama’s chief political strategist, in a briefing with reporters in Turkey. His point: If people – from the French and Germans to the Turks and others in the Muslim world – have a better view of America, it will be easier for their governments to cooperate with the US on issues ranging from Al Qaeda to nuclear weapons reduction to global warming.
That doesn’t mean the White House believed a “listening tour” by a popular president would result overnight in agreement on complex international issues.