His long delay in more aggressively supporting Syria’s beleaguered opposition forces — a move that his administration announced in the form of expanded military aid on the eve of his visit here — has frustrated the leaders of France and Germany. The recent disclosure of the National Security Agency’s telephone and Internet surveillance has angered many European politicians, particularly German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom he will see on both stops of his three-day visit.
And the expansion throughout his term of drone warfare has disillusioned a once-adoring European public — and, to a lesser degree, its more pragmatic political leaders. Reflecting that disappointment, the French newspaper Le Monde headlined an article this month about the NSA’s surveillance programs: “George W. Obama and National Security.”
“People in Europe were looking for a political redeemer,” said Jan Techau, the director of the European center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Those expectations, of course, were greatly exaggerated. Soon it became clear, as it is now, that he is simply an American president with all of the ugly power politics that the position involves.”
Nowhere has Obama been as popular as he once was in Europe, a collection of traditional U.S. allies viewed by the George W. Bush administration as more hindrance than help on the security challenges of the post-Sept. 11, 2001, world.
Obama promised something different as a candidate in 2008, when his ecstatic reception in Europe signaled the international demand for a new style of U.S. leadership. He pledged to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, end the harsh interrogation of terrorism suspects and conclude the U.S. war in Iraq, which had alienated many European allies.
Even though Obama has fulfilled the last two of those promises, the glow surrounding his presidency in Europe has faded as he arrives Monday to speak in Belfast, a seaside city once known as a cauldron of sectarian conflict that is now prospering under a U.S.-brokered peace agreement.
Obama — who will also return to address the German capital, which received him rapturously as a candidate — once counted on his popular luster abroad to help drive his policy ambitions. But that shine has dimmed in Europe because of what analysts say is a perception of tepid leadership and a troubling counterterrorism approach that recalls the excesses of the previous administration.
A Gallup poll published in March showed that the public approval of U.S. leadership in Europe has dropped 11 percentage points since Obama’s first year in office, to 36 percent, although it is still far higher than it was during the Bush administration’s final year.