Obama Portrays Another Side of U.S.
President Wraps Up Overseas Tour in Which Humility, Partnership Were Key Themes
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
ISTANBUL, April 7 -- President Obama concluded his inaugural overseas tour Tuesday after presenting to the world a starkly different image of the United States than his predecessor had, returning home from encounters with exuberant U.S. troops in Iraq, fawning crowds in Europe and Turkey, and foreign leaders who welcomed a new partnership with the country but did little to support its goals.
Obama left Istanbul shortly after 2 p.m. local time and made an unannounced stop in Baghdad, where he addressed U.S. troops and received a briefing from Gen. Ray Odierno, the commander of American forces in Iraq. He also met with President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki during the several-hour stop, his first visit to the country as president.
Throughout his trip abroad, Obama portrayed a proud but flawed United States, using a refrain of humility and partnership in an attempt to rally allies around such issues of mutual concern as the global economy, climate change and nuclear proliferation. He talked about the nation's "darker periods" of slavery and repression of Native Americans, and its past sanction of torture that he has ended. He also spoke with pride about the United States' diversity and its central role in rebuilding post-World War II Europe, while condemning "anti-Americanism that is at once casual but can also be insidious."
Despite his celebrity reception at nearly every stop on the six-country tour, Obama was unable to persuade European allies to increase fiscal stimulus spending or to send additional combat troops to Afghanistan for long-term deployments.
"Why didn't the waters part, the sun shine and all ills of the world disappear because President Obama came to Europe this week?" said David Axelrod, one of Obama's top aides. "That wasn't our expectation. . . . We understand . . . that this involves solving the problems, the difficult, thorny problems we face in the world."
The president's advisers pointed to the Group of 20 agreement to commit more than $1 trillion in new money to the International Monetary Fund and other programs to revive the global economy and protect the poorest nations from the economic downturn. Obama announced new arms-reduction talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. And, the advisers said, the president, through his tone and policy proposals, outlined a broad framework for improving U.S. relations with the world.
"There was a sense that America was back. So many of the leaders basically said, 'It's nice to have America back at its place,' " said White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.
But his conservative critics at home said Obama displayed more style than substance. Thomas Donnelly, a resident fellow in foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, said the president "maintained, and if anything added to, the feeling of bonhomie that the rest of the world now regards him."
"On the substantive front, there wasn't all that much, and what there was, if you hold it up to the light, there should be many questions about it," he said, referring to Obama's goal, outlined in Prague, of eliminating the world's nuclear arsenals. Donnelly added that "in the case of Afghanistan, the silence was deafening."
"People already liked Obama, that's nothing new," he added. "And at some point there needs to be a 'therefore' clause. The president already had the world's goodwill, but he has yet to translate that into action for the public good, especially on the security issue."
Obama used his time in Istanbul on Tuesday to reach across cultural barriers -- meeting with Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders, slipping off his shoes to tour a 400-year-old mosque and urging an audience of university students to "build new bridges instead of new walls" throughout the world.
"The world will be what you make of it," Obama said in the town hall-style meeting here, where he emphasized, as he has in earlier forums, the growing power of young people to change politics and policies.