THE TELEGRAPH: The US President has to explain why he is sending more troops into Afghanistan and his Nato allies won't, says Irwin Stelzer
Fugedaboutit. For those of you who don't speak New York, that's "forget about it", the most emphatic of the negatives in a New Yorker's repertoire. But it has nothing like the power to influence events that the "non", "nein" and "no" that capped Barack Obama's tour of Europe have. It is one thing to attract a crowd in Berlin, a city in which politicians have historically been successful in attracting mass audiences, or to wow several hundred adolescents in Strasbourg and thousands of adults in Prague with talk of a nuclear-free world, and quite another to get the elected representatives of those crowds to shoulder a fair share of the burden of the fight against Islamist terrorists.
The leaders of Europe came naked to the Nato meeting last weekend, shorn of the cover provided by Bush-hatred. As the American commentator Robert Kagan puts it: "George W Bush did the Europeans a great favour by giving them the best excuse for inaction in transatlantic history." Europe's leaders have always claimed they would co-operate with America in all things, were it not for that toxic Texan with his unilateralist belief in spreading democracy and free markets.
Well, George W Bush is safely back in Texas, Barack Obama wants to listen as well as lead, and Michelle Obama, after a touchy-feely visit with the Queen, proved to have more crowd-appeal than Carla Bruni. One astute observer told me that British and European crowds "went weak-kneed in the presence of the Obamas". But popularity on the streets means little in the conference room.
At the Nato meetings, "weak-kneed" took on an added meaning – no significant permanent deployment of fighting troops to aid the Americans. Obama was prepared for the turn-down, although he did harbour the illusion that in the end Gordon Brown would come up with more than a few poll-watchers. After all, the President had gone out of his way to sprinkle some of his stardust on the embattled Prime Minister. Unfortunately, Obama had not been briefed by Tony Blair on Brown's capacity for gratitude.
Turkey was a somewhat better stopover for the travelling President, who had no specific requests that could be turned down. The persistently fawning New York Times reported that the President was "showing more self-confidence each day on his maiden overseas trip as President", although how Obama could show more self-confidence than he already has is difficult to imagine: this is a man confident in self to a point that is slightly unnerving.
Obama had won favour with European audiences by proclaiming that America has shown inadequate respect for Europe's accomplishments. So he carried his I-am-not-George-Bush campaign to Ankara by implying that the US bears responsibility for "the difficulties of these last few years" between Muslim countries and America. No need to mention the World Trade Centre, Khobar Towers, the USS Cole or his support in the Senate for labelling as "genocide" the killing of Armenian Christians by Ottoman Turks. More politic to support Turkey's application for membership in the EU, despite a mind-your-own-business warning from President Sarkozy, who earlier agreed to accept one – yes, one – of the 245 Guantánamo detainees because that is "what being allies is about".
After having spent an entire presidential campaign playing down his full name and early years, the President had himself introduced to the Turkish parliament as Barack Hussein Obama, and pointed out that "Many other Americans have Muslims in their family, or have lived in a Muslim-majority country. I know, because I am one of them." This, on the heels of his deep bow to Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah (the Queen of England merited what can at best be described as a deferential nod). There is more to come: the President will soon travel to an as yet unnamed Muslim country to deliver a major speech laying out his views on Islam. President Barack Obama Is Going Home with Non, Nein and No Ringing in His Ears >>> By Irwin Stelzer | Wednesday, April 8, 2009