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In Mideast and Europe, Obama debuts 'global populism'

The American president took his case straight to the people on his trip this week, spending limited time with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Germany, and France.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 7, 2009

President Obama spoke with French President Nicolas Sarkozy (second l.) Saturday at the Colleville-sur-Mer cemetery before a ceremony to mark the 65th anniversary of D-Day.

Eric Feferberg/Reuters



Over three days in the Middle East and Europe, President Obama began an ambitious recasting of politics and global perceptions – taking his case for a new beginning directly to the world's people.

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The American president started with a nuanced bid for US-Muslim understanding and Mideast peace at the storied Cairo University – and ended in front of a soaring statue at the American cemetery at Omaha beach in Normandy titled, "The Spirit of American Youth, Rising from the Waves."

The trip, unusual in its limited time with state leaders in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Germany, and France – was a sweeping bid for the possibility of progress in long-intractable conflicts and standoffs, and a recasting of America's role in that effort. It was an appeal to reason, history, values, remembrance, and common aspirations of humanity, in a populist fashion rarely seen on the world stage, say diplomats and specialists.

"Obama is going over the heads of elites, attempting to establish moral legitimacy as a leader, turning popularity into policy," says Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. "What we are seeing is not spin, but a sincere effort to reach out to hearts and minds, appealing to better instincts, to the reasonable nature of others. It is a revolutionary approach."

In Egypt, Obama set out to drain the poison in US-Muslim world relations in recent years, and backed a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, as well as an unambiguous freeze on settlement activity. On Saturday, at the Buchenwald concentration camp, with noted Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Obama reaffirmed America's core understanding of the historical event that led to the creation of the state of Israel. On Saturday, speaking to an ever smaller band of veteran brothers on the 65th anniversary of D-Day, he honored the sacrifice and the role of allies in the war against fascism that brought America fully onto the world stage in the mid-20th century.

Reaching hearts and minds in new fashion