What’s Left – Obama’s Eurotrip

I was in London last summer when President Bush traveled through as part of his farewell tour of Europe. A collective groan escaped the city when Mr. Bush arrived; there was no enthusiasm, real or fake, for the president’s visit. The focus was not on his goodbye, but rather on the delays and cancellations he and Air Force One caused at Heathrow. The reaction to Mr. Bush’s visit was indicative of the European sentiment that persisted during his presidency.

While Tony Blair may have fallen for Mr. Bush’s policy, most Europeans were wary and often disdainful of the choices America made under its former president, splitting divisively with him on the war in Iraq.

Europeans seem to be enthusiastic about Mr. Obama. The exuberance could just be a result of an anything’s-better-than-Bush mentality (which would be understandable). Or it could be that the European populace sees Mr. Obama as a thoughtful, cooperative and reasonable leader. He spoke frankly about the deterioration of U.S.-European relations in recent years, expressing a desire to put the remains of hostility and animosity aside.

Conservative pundits have deemed Mr. Obama’s choice of words to describe America’s past relationship to Europe as rhetoric critical of America and overly friendly to Europe. In fact, his words are honest and reflective of the way many Americans and Europeans viewed Mr. Bush’s policies. Acknowledging America’s role in the poor relationship with Europe, Mr. Obama told a crowd in Strasbourg, “I know that there have been honest disagreements over policy.”

He continued, stating that, “In America, there’s a failure to appreciate Europe’s leading role in the world. Instead of celebrating your dynamic union and seeking to partner with you to meet common challenges, there have been times where America’s showed arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive.”

His statements simply acknowledged a basic truth underlying the relationship America and Europe have had recently. Mr. Obama went on to place blame on Europe for their anti-American sentiment and stringent focus on American failures instead of succeses. The honesty presented was a recognition of all the acrimony, be it over the mutual contention regarding the Iraq War, the popular re-naming of French fries as “freedom fries,” or European belief in the stereotype of the fat, obnoxious American loudly parading around Europe in a fanny-pack.

In essence, Mr. Obama asked Europeans to put aside all the bad faith accumulated in the Bush years. An acknowledgement of the caustic relations was necessary because of the global nature of the economic crisis. Cooperation and coordination would not be a reality if the relationship between Europe and the U.S. were to continue on the same course. A recognition of past prejudices allows for the character of U.S. and European connection to move from mistrust and irritation to confidence and responsiveness.

Perhaps Mr. Obama’s gestures of conciliation are so abhorrent to conservative pundits because they represent the antithesis of all things George W. Bush. Mr. Bush gleefully defied Europeans in all he did. Opinions coming out of Europe (or from anywhere else) were to be brushed aside and discounted; the only valid opinions were those that emulated Mr. Bush’s.

Though his policies often proved faulty and his skeptics were often proved right, Mr. Bush could never bring himself to offer a real apology to those who proffered the opinions he so cavalierly discarded. Apparently, Mr. Bush’s cowboy diplomacy meant never having to say you’re sorry even if you should be. Let’s hope that Mr. Obama’s visit to Europe marks a permanent break from former policy.