Archive for January 21st, 2009

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Great Expectations

Europe has praise and great expectations for Barack Obama’s administration, reports the VoA’s London correspondent. Nobody more than Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s slightly hysterical president:

“We are anxious to see him get to work so we can change the world with him.”

A bit more understatement might be in order. In the first place, the new administration needs to reform America and restore its confidence in itself. If there is some time left besides, America’s new president can still help changing the world. The Economist of January 17 already sounds some notes of caution, like this one:

[Mr Bush, in 2000] presented himself as a centrist – a new kind of “compassionate conservative”, a “uniter rather than a divider”, an advocate of a “humble” and restrained foreign policy. The Economist liked this mixture enough to endorse him in 2000. — printed ed., Jan. 17 2009, page 23

And late in 2008, the Economist endorsed Barack Obama.

For everyone going overboard with enthusiasm now, this is essential food for thought. You see, if even the Economist, first published in September 1843 to take part in a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress can err that profoundly, so can an electorate, and any public.

For sure, Barack Obama has the makings to become a great president. But Europe’s stark enthusiasm will probably cool down much faster than America’s.

And that’s only natural. Americans will care most about rebuilding America itself, and they probably see the gravity of the situation. European’s expectations, as so aptly expressed by Sarkozy, are about “changing the world” with America. About foreign affairs, that is.

But there will be more change within America than in its foreign policies.

Obama may be less keen on building a “League of Democracies” than Robert Kagan, John McCain’s foreign policy advisor. Obama will also be more careful not to offend anyone without need than his predecessor.
But New York Times columnist T. Friedman put things into perspective in November: “
The minute Obama has to exercise U.S. military power somewhere in the world, you can be sure that he will get blowback.” Much of the current neocon relativism looks like wishful thinking – Krauthammer’s view that Obama is vindicating Bush is probably out of proportions, but so are Europe’s expectations.

Maybe this piece by the Economist again puts the beginnings of America’s new foreign policy approach best:

[Obama] needs to explain that, although his America will respect human rights and pay more heed to the advice of others, it will not be a pushover: he must avoid the fate of Jimmy Carter, a moralising president who made the superpower look weak. — printed ed., Nov. 8 2008, p. 14

Let’s hope that Nicolas Sarkozy has some really cool and precise plans. America got more real again during the past three or four years, concerning global politics. Now it’s Europe’s turn to get real, too. That could really be the beginning of a renewed, wonderful trans-atlantic partnership.

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Related: Barack Obama – a choice out of fear and hope, Nov. 5, 2008

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