“I wanted to make sure that everybody in our country, but everybody around the world, understands that the transatlantic alliance remains a cornerstone, a foundation stone, for American security,” Obama said Saturday at a news conference in the Polish capital.
But Obama did so without announcing significant new policy. Instead, his biography often substituted for — or served to represent — his policy.
In Ireland, he drank a beer with the residents of Moneygall, birthplace of his maternal great-great-great-grandfather, and electrified a downtown audience in Dublin in need of cheering up after years of recession.
In Britain, Obama and the first lady, Michelle, lodged at Buckingham Palace and, at the nine-century-old Westminster Hall, he presented himself to Parliament as “the grandson of a Kenyan who served as a cook in the British army.” The audience erupted in applause.
And here in Poland he acknowledged that he shares its heritage, if only through cultural osmosis.
“I am part of Poland because I come from Chicago,” he said. “And if you live in Chicago and you haven’t become a little bit Polish, then something’s wrong with you.”
Obama’s project to remake the U.S. image abroad has always relied, at its core, on his own against-the-odds story. And the adoring reception he received, from the public and its elected leaders, suggested the message still resonates here.
His achievement, though, is difficult to measure. How his public diplomacy will translate into policy that strengthens his hand in Afghanistan, Libya and the broader Middle East remains unclear.
But at the G-8 summit in Deauville, France, Obama did reap the benefits of his effort to “reset” relations with Russia, securing from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev a pledge to help push Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi from office.
Russia had previously spoken critically about the NATO-led mission, saying it is exceeding its U.N. mandate. Whether Gaddafi accepts Russian mediation is another matter, but Medvedev’s position leaves the Libyan leader more isolated than ever.
Obama warned here Saturday that political change in North Africa and the Middle East would be a difficult, halting process, but he argued that U.S. support for the democratic transition underway is essential to ensure its success.
In making his case, Obama drew on lessons he said he learned during his trip — from Ireland, where a 1998 peace agreement in Northern Ireland ended decades of sectarian strife, and from Poland, where Solidarity challenged Soviet communism years before its fall.