Transatlantic Relations: Obama is no miracle worker
11 September 2009
A report published on the same day as the first 9/11 commemoration of the Obama era shows that Europeans are much more likely to approve of America than they did during the reign of President Bush, but it also notes that enthusiasm for Obama is not as strong in Central and Eastern European countries.
After the shock of the September 11 and the surge of solidarity that followed the attacks in New-York and Washington, European sympathy for the United States evaporated with the war in Iraq and the abuses of the Bush administration. Now on the occasion of the first 9/11 commemoration of the Obama era, America is benefitting from a more positive image, but not as much as the new president might have hoped.
"In Europe, popular support for America has quadrupled since the election of the Democrat President in January," reports Le Monde. The rate of approval, among Europeans, for the new US president's foreign policy now stands at 77% as opposed to just 19% for the George Bush's policy in 2008. This is just one of the findings of a June opinion poll conducted in 11 European Union countries, as well as Turkey and the United States, and included in the German Marshall Fund report on "Transatlantic Trends," published on 9 September 2009.
Mounting scepticism in Eastern Europe
In Germany, the percentage of those questioned who view America positively rose from 12% to 92% in one year. In France, the increase was from 11% to 88%. "Obama has managed to win back virtually all of the European support that George W. Bush had lost," explains Ron Asmus, executive director of the German Marshall Fund centre in Brussels. "This enthusiasm needs two qualifications, though. Firstly, that Central and Eastern Europe is far less enthusiastic towards America than the rest of the continent, and secondly, that the rise in confidence doesn’t mean that Europe and the US agree on all scores, e.g. Iran or Afghanistan," says Mr Asmus.
The main surprise revealed in the survey conducted by the American foundation is the increasing scepticism in European countries the Bush administration considered to be its best allies. For Asmus, the inhabitants of Central and Eastern European countries are "more cynical and pragmatic on their approach to a charismatic leader such as Mr Obama" – a view which is shared by Revista 22, which insists that "the Obama legend has yet to conquer New Europe." Attitudes to the new president in Slovakia and Bulgaria appear to be diametrically opposed to those expressed in Germany and France, and a parallel rift has opened up with regard to confidence in Nato. Only 53% of Eastern Europeans are convinced of the necessity of the transatlantic defence organization – deemed to be essential by 73 % of Western Europeans – which leads the Romanian weekly to wonder if this is "a sign that more and more Europeans are looking to Brussels from a New Europe that is more euro-centric and less focused on the US." And as support for NATO dwindles, "Slowly but surely, the war in Afghanistan is increasingly seen as Obama's war, and not as a war fought by Europe."
The Russian question
Whereas Afghanistan is an inherited issue that the Obama administration will have to manage in accordance with circumstances in the field, The Economist views the security policy that the American President has decided to adopt in Europe as a more profound reason for the cooling of the romance between "New Europe" and the New World. "The Obama administration is rethinking a planned missile-defence system, which would have placed ten interceptor rockets in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic," explains the London weekly. "Changing the scheme risks looking like a climb-down to suit Russian interests," which will not endear him to the residents of former Soviet Bloc countries where Russia is still perceived as the main threat in the region.
"Admittedly, America has many other bigger problems than its relations with Eastern Europe. The East Europeans may have been naive in their dealings with America in the Bush years. But for all that, even people inside the Obama administration agree that it could do better."