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.
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"I've never seen anything like this on the Middle East," says a former senior US diplomat who was responsible for Europe and the Mideast. "He's [Obama] started something for Muslims, Israel, Europe, and the US, and it is something that can grow. He's legitimizing a new discussion, saying other ways of thinking are possible, that if you change the psychology the policy will follow.Skip to next paragraph
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"Obama also seems to understand the need to prepare, to open this slowly," the diplomat continued. "That's necessary in the Middle East, if you want people to take risks. You need follow-up and if we don't move quickly the energy will be vitiated. But you first have to get there."
'Global populism in a progressive sense'
A day and a continent later, at the Buchenwald concentration camp in Weimar, Germany, where 56,000 – many Jews – perished under the Nazis, Obama continued a public acknowledgment of the ties that bind what he called America's "unshakeable" relations with Israel. Speaking of those who died at the camp, including Mr. Weisel's father, he offered that, "They could not have known how the nation of Israel would rise out of the destruction of the Holocaust."
In a further challenge to Holocaust doubters, including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president suggested a visit to the camp would provide the "ultimate rebuke" to such views.
On Saturday the 65th anniversary of D-Day at the American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, with its endless rows of crosses and Jewish stars set just above the Omaha beach landing spot, provided the final backdrop for the White House affirmation of history – and future. With allied leaders including Fresh President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in attendance, along with veterans of the fateful invasion, the president continued his public appeal for a broader vision of humanity: "We live in a world of competing beliefs and claims about what is true," Obama said. "In such a world, it is rare for a struggle to emerge that speaks to something universal about humanity. The Second World War did that."
Mr. Kuchan argues that Obama's popularity allows him to try and create a new dynamic: "Obama is doing this because he can. But also because he believes that in an age of polarization and economic distress, this will work.
"If there is a deal with Iran," Kupchan continues, "it won't be because of back-room negotiations with Ahmadinejad, but because of an appeal to the broader Iranian polity that will build support for a new relationship with the US. His key interlocutors are not his counterparts, but people in Egypt and the Middle East. This is global populism, not in a narrow, but in a progressive sense. The million dollar question is whether it will work."