Obama in Europe: Brief glimpse of good old days
WASHINGTON (AP) — For President Barack Obama, it was a brief glimpse of his good old days in Europe when the continent cheered his ascent to the White House.
Obama received an enthusiastic welcome in Estonia from Baltic leaders who see American military power as the best safeguard of their own security. At the NATO summit in Wales, Obama won numerous statements of support for his call to confront Islamic State militants in the Middle East.
“I did not get any resistance or pushback,” Obama said as he ended a three-day trip Friday.
But Air Force One returned Obama to a far different landscape in Washington.
At home, he has faced harsh criticism not only from Republicans, but also some Democrats, for being overly cautious in his response to the Islamic State militant threat and Russia’s provocations in Ukraine.
A few days in the warm embrace of European allies was unlikely to shift that dynamic much.
The criticism of Obama’s foreign policy has put the White House on the defensive and driven down the president’s approval ratings on international matters.
In Europe, too, Obama has struggled with allies who have quibbled about his perceived lack of focus on their region and resisted his calls for more aggressive action against Russia and in the Mideast.
With those crises escalating, Europe appeared willing, even eager, to stand squarely with a weakened American president.
During meetings in Estonia, Baltic leaders praised Obama and made clear their desire for a bolstered U.S. military presence. The president gave them most of what they wanted, agreeing to a NATO plan for a rapid response force with headquarters in Eastern Europe.
“We are grateful to the United States and to you personally for your leadership, your commitment, and your support to Estonia,” Estonian President Toomas Hendrick Ilves said Wednesday.
In Wales, it was Obama, with British Prime Minister David Cameron, who dictated much of the discussion during the two-day NATO meeting.
They set the tone for the summit with a joint editorial released Thursday that urged their allies to put aside an “isolationist approach” and join a coalition to take on extremists in the Middle East.
The support appeared to buoy the president. There was a notable difference between his demeanor during his news conference in Wales on Friday and his appearance before reporters at the White House a week earlier, when he conceded that he did not yet have a strategy for going after Islamic State militants in Syria.
That one line set off a fresh torrent of criticism in Washington. Yet after his meetings in Europe, Obama confidently embraced what he called a “systematic and methodical” approach to tackling the threat.
“That deliberation allows us to do it right,” he said.
While Obama’s reception in Europe was warm, it hardly mirrored the heady days of his first presidential campaign and early months in the White House when many European leaders and their publics were enamored with the new American leader.
The president returned to Washington with only murky answers to the questions that dogged him when he arrived in Europe.
For example, while there was widespread support for Obama’s call to address the Islamic State threat, the alliance made no commitments.
While individual nations, including France, Australia and Canada, appeared willing to join a coalition, it was unclear what they were willing to do.
On Russia, European leaders firmed up plans for new penalties against Moscow and appeared in agreement with the U.S. to impose them regardless of whether a cease-fire holds. But if that truce were to break, there was no indication that the West was ready to make stronger moves against Russia.
Heather Conley, director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Obama’s trip showed that American leadership is “still very much in demand in Europe.” But she said it will be the follow-up that determines whether Obama can keep up the momentum he built during his trip.
“It takes sustained policy focus and sustained leadership after the summit,” she said. “This is where the Obama administration has typically fallen short.”
Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC