Foreign Affairs

Europeans Rate Obama

There are those who think it does not matter what Europeans think of America, but Barack Obama made wooing Europeans a cornerstone of his campaign for the presidency. Thus it seems fair game to ask — how did the European press rate his first 100 days in office?  

The Daily Mail Online had the most provocative headline:  “Obamamania or Overkill?”  It attached many of the exclusive photos which Obama had taken to commemorate this benchmark in his Presidency.  The first showed the President in the private White House movie theater watching the Super Bowl with friends.  Seeing the leader of the free world (an arguably applicable title these days) in 3-D glasses made for an odd image.  Then there were photos of Obama walking the family’s new dog, Obama rearranging furniture, Obama tossing a football in the Oval Office, Obama putting on the White House green, Obama shooting hoops in the equivalent of his driveway,  and lots of endearing Obama family snaps.

Britain not having the best reputation for its cuisine, the Mail’s article made much ado about how butterfly-shaped Pepperidge Farm crackers are favored by the President for his snacks.  Those who wished to emulate this nibbling option were informed that Pepperidge Farm had “not yet dented the UK markets.”  Really?  Whatever happened to globalization?

Charles Hawley, writing for the more taciturn der Spiegel, said that Obama had already discredited himself — and his country — by not being able to deal with various issues related to the prisoners held in Guantanamo, adding that “German commentators are disappointed.”  To illustrate his point, Hawley cited articles from several papers across the political spectrum.  The bottom line is that the Germans think Obama’s inability to devolve Gitmo breaks some sort faith they had in his ability to change things.  

Another der Spiegel article, “The Instant American Revolution,” began by informing readers that it was Franklin Roosevelt who instituted the arbitrary 100-day mark, calling it an “artificial anniversary” akin to the Korean tradition of celebrating a baby’s birth after 100 days.  But despite referring to the “know it alls on the right” who diss Obama at every turn,  this  article goes on to warn Obama not to coast on the polls which show he is turning the mood of the nation around (although another Daily Mail article asserts Obama poll numbers have actually fallen below those of  Clinton’s early days).  

Despite his personal popularity, the new President is reminded here that he is being watched for his actual policy decisions. It is also clear that Europeans are aware of Obama’s cabinet and staffing problems (and this was before the infamous New York City flyover).   The “Worms in the Apple” list is topped by Timothy Geithner, while Larry Summers is identified as “the personification of pessimism.”

Valentina Pop, writing for The EUobserver, suggests that President Obama has failed to fill in the blanks in his policies toward Eastern Europe and Russia.  Despite his meetings with the leaders in this bloc, and his obvious difference in style from George Bush, insiders report his actual positions on a variety of issues are “vague.”  She quotes Michael Emerson from the Centre for European Policy Studies (identified as a centre-right think tank) who suggests Obama needs more time to get his administration in order. 

The Italian Prime Minster, billionaire Silvio Berlusconi — embroiled in a nasty divorce — was too busy to contribute to the 100-day commentaries.  It is, however, somewhat telling that since meeting Obama at the G-20 Summit, Mr. Berlusconi announced to the world’s press that he (not Obama) was indisputably the Jesus Christ of Italian  (if not world)  politics.  "I’m a patient victim. I put up with everything. I sacrifice myself for everyone," he said.  One can see how the painting of Obama as a Christ figure — unveiled to coincide with the 100-day mark — might have bruised Berlusconi tender ego.  

This caused the usually mild-mannered Pope Benedict to tell the Prime Minister to pipe down.

The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) asked three (cleverly selected) international political cartoonists to characterize Obama’s first 100 days.

 Hozhaber Shinwary of Afghanistan said his focus was on the change of having US foreign policy run by the State Department, and no longer by the US military. His image of Obama had the president walking on a very fine rope between the White House and the rest of the world.  His message for Obama, said Shinwary,  was that he could easily slip into a dangerous world below him.

Nikahang Kowsar of Iran chose to portray Mr. Obama as the Greek mythological character, Sisyphus, trying — unsuccessfully — to roll the globe up a hill and prevent it from rolling down, only to be impaled on a financial graph with all indicators spiking down.  Ouch.   Noting that Bush was at least funny, Kowsar said “a cartoonist usually has an opinion and, personally, I’m not sure he (Obama) can deliver.  How this squares with Obama’s idea that he can make a diplomatic breakthrough with Iran is open to debate.

Finally, Rayma Suprani from Venezuela chose to illustrate Obama’s first 100 days with a cartoon strip showing our President’s  recent  meeting with Venezuelan President (for life?) Hugo Chavez.  He portrays Mr. Obama as asking someone “Do you want to be my friend?”  The next cartoon frame shows that Obama is actually addressing Bo, the family’s new pet dog and in the last frame, the dog accepts the offer. “You can interpret that however you like,” Kowsar concluded.  

This is not to say that Obama does not maintain his “magic” among certain Europeans — the regular folks. For example, Prince Charles is organizing a fresh and new campaign to save the rainforests so he just hired the Internet consultancy firm which created the website for Obama’s Presidential campaign.  It has been noted that Charles does not email, or use a Blackberry. Nor does he have an iPhone; – although his Mom could surely share the iPod Obama gave her recently just to help her eldest son get more tech friendly.  It is not as if iPhones endanger rainforests.  But what this whole deal indicates is that it is business as usual. The elites continue to faithfully hire one another so at least one employment sector is safe from the recession.

With his own poll ratings rolling downhill, French President Nicholas Sarkozy has announced a major photo op for himself and Obama. This will take place on June 6th, on the Normandy beaches, at the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings which led to the liberation of Nazi-occupied France.

One wonders if — on that occasion — some French political cartoonist will portray Sarkozy as an American poodle (an image frequently used to illustrate Tony Blair’s relationship to George Bush). Or will there be a sketch showing Obama asking a canine caricature of Sarkozy if he wants to be his friend?