Monday, May 23, 2011

What do the British think of Obama?

UPDATE: Oct. 24, 2012: As the election nears, this post is getting steady traffic, but it is a bit out of date. I have recent posts on Obama's overseas reputation. Click on the title and a few of my recent posts discuss this. Also, I am working on an explainer post for the morning after as a Romney win is the way to bet at this point. I get the impression that this will surprise many overseas.

As mentioned, the British used to love him.  These days, people avoid talking about him most of the time, so it is hard to get a good read.  This Guardian article is the best articulation I've found of British opinion on Obama.  If I were to weave together all the offhand comments, overheard mutterings, mini conversations, I think this is the picture that emerges:

But one of the most curious things about those who support him most is not their disappointments – given their high hopes for him, that's to be expected – but their enduring devotion in the face of those disappointments. It's as though each single disillusionment is consumed as its own discrete letdown. String them together and you have not a narrative of failing to deliver on promises, but a litany of isolated, separate chapters – each with its own caveats, exceptions and explanations....
The article, and remember this is The Guardian, the leftist/progressive paper, goes on to describe the contradiction of the "enduring devotion": 
The strange thing is that much of what Europeans loathed about the Bush era remains intact even as Obama prepares to run for a second term. Guantánamo is still open, rendition continues, there are more troops in Afghanistan and still troops in Iraq.
This could be overstated. Obama's statement on the Middle East last Friday shifts US policy on the region closer to Europe's than it has been for more than a decade. But that wouldn't be the first time he's delivered an impressive speech and then failed to follow through.
Moreover, Europe is implicated in many of the areas where foreign policy has stalled. Part of the problem with Guantánamo is that European governments refused to take many of the prisoners. Some applauded America's intensification of the war in Afghanistan even as they planned to unilaterally draw down their own troops.
"The problem is he's asking for roughly the same things President Bush asked for and President Bush didn't get them, not because he was a boorish diplomat or a cowboy," Peter Feaver, a former adviser to Bush now at Duke University, told the New York Times in 2009. "If that were the case, bringing in the sophisticated, urbane President Obama would have solved the problem. President Bush didn't get them because these countries had good reasons for not giving them."
Either way, Obama's principal defence abroad, as it is at home, is that things were bad when he arrived and would be worse if he went. This is true. But it falls far short of the inspiring rhetoric that accompanied his rise to power. Not so much "Yes we can" as "Could be worse".
European political elites have long been frustrated. "Maybe this is an overstatement, but I see this [European tour] as an opportunity for a reset of the European relationship," Heather Conley, director of the Europe programme at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, told the Washington Post. "European leaders have really been struggling with where they fit. They had enormous expectations for this president, but they're now wondering, 'Is it that different after all?'"
But this has yet to filter down in any discernible way. So when he has delivered so little, why do Europeans love him so much? Many of the original reasons still stand. He still isn't George Bush, although how long that negative qualification remains meaningful is a moot point....
Smart, charismatic, telegenic and unencumbered by sleaze Obama still, by comparison [to Europe's leaders], represents the possibility of a popular form of electoral politics led by intelligent and public-spirited citizens as opposed to opportunists, egomaniacs and sleazemongers. It's as though his proven ability to articulate the source and scope of problems has enabled some people to look past his inability to provide a solution for them.
But in many ways Europe's Obamaphilia has always been as much a reflection of its weaknesses as his strengths. Like royalists in search of a benevolent monarch in whom they could invest great hopes but over whom they had no democratic control, they have sought not to leverage their own power but instead to trust in somebody else's....
European's attitudes towards Obama tell us more about Europe than they do about the US president. And what they say about both is not particularly impressive.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well, all quiet on the English front......AH has asked me to pass on any comments I hear about Obama's visit. None whatsoever to report. Most people I asked looked bemused when I asked them what they thought of it. Nothing to say, apart from when prompted for something, they hope Michelle wears some more jazzy cardigans. Big fans of those, we are! Personally, I hope Mrs Obama doesn't wear high heels again at the Palace - it made our Royal Family look like hobbits! Maybe the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will make their first appearance since their honeymoon ended and even the line-up out though.....

Anyway, my reasoning for no comments is, dear American friends, that the Icelandic volcanic ash is heading our way again carried by the strong winds we are experiencing, (indeed Air Force One has left the Emerald Isle early so as not to be grounded in Dublin), and frankly, anything weather-related gets us buzzing! We are obsessed with whether we will get all flights grounded again, particularly those of us who live on the flight path to Heathrow - the total lack of aircraft noise was pure bliss last year. Why, one could hear the birds tweeting in one's back garden. Ahhhhhh.......

AHLondon said...

M&M, you have posting rights around here. You can post that comment properly, you know. Speaking of the ash, what if Obama gets stuck here?
And Yasha is back in the ME. What if he gets stuck there?