European Leaders Balk At Obama Afghan Initiative Goal
It may be smiles, handshakes and thumbs up, but when it comes down to President Barack Obama trying to get European leaders to put Afghanistan on the front-burner and make major new commitments, Obama going to have a lot of convincing to do.
The Washington Post says this on the summit to mark the 60th anniversary of NATO:
“This summit will be held in a new diplomatic context, with the United States taking a clearly more collective approach than during the Bush era,” said a senior adviser to French President Nicolas Sarkozy. “We have turned the page on Iraq.”
But behind the display of revived transatlantic friendship, European leaders have proved reluctant to follow Obama in his first major foreign policy initiative, which in effect seeks to make Afghanistan NATO’s main mission of the moment. With a few exceptions, European analysts said, the leaders are ready to heed the U.S. call for more military help in Afghanistan only to the extent necessary to stay friendly with the new administration.
“The Europeans want to come back from the summit and say, ‘Look, we’re still tight with the Americans,’ ” said Daniel Korski, an Afghanistan specialist at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “The Americans want to come back from the summit and say, ‘Look, the Europeans are going to help with the new strategy in Afghanistan.’ ”
According to the Post, Obama is expected go come away with some diplomatic goodies that are more than merely symbolic — but they won’t be fill or sate him or his goals:
European officials said Obama is likely to come away from the summit Saturday with a broad endorsement of his idea that stabilizing Afghanistan is a strategic goal for NATO and support for his decision to devote more civilian as well as military resources to eliminating al-Qaeda havens there and in Pakistan. But they also said that summit pleasantries are unlikely to mask Europe’s refusal to commit to major new troop deployments.
There are of of reasons why: war weariness, Europe’s own sagging economies, the political cultures within all the countries and a residue of feeling treated poorly and mislead by the Bush administration.
But Obama has some key things going in his favor. Some of the biggest 1)He talks of the U.S. being part of a team with Europe and listening to other governments, 2)he is not George Bush 3)he has admitted that the U.S. shares some of the blame for the world economic mess and, Reuters notes, 4) he was a big hit in Europe..so his clout there increases:
From cheering fans lining the streets to an adoring crowd packed into a sports arena, Obama-mania was in f
ull swing in Europe on Friday.
The excitement generated by U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to both sides of the French-German border was a sharp contrast to the angry protests that often greeted his predecessor George W. Bush on trips to the continent.
“I wanted to tell you that your name in Hungarian means ‘peach’,” a girl from Heidelberg, Germany, gushed to Obama, at a townhall meeting.
The style and substance of Obama’s tour were also different to Bush, who was unpopular among Europeans because of the Iraq war and a list of contentious policies.
While Bush usually confined his European itinerary to contacts with the political and business elite, Obama set out on Friday to hear the voices of ordinary citizens.
“What we thought was important was for me to have an opportunity not only to speak to you but to hear from you,” he said in the French city of Strasbourg where he held a townhall-type meeting, a question-and-answer forum he used in the presidential campaign.
Obama made the case for more NATO help to win the war in Afghanistan, seeming to test whether his pop-star popularity could be leveraged into policy gains with European leaders.
It’s too early to tell. But even “pop-star popularity” is unlikely to get European leaders to budge on making as big a commitment to Afghanistan as Obama seeks.