Remember during the presidential campaign how Barack Obama was the choice of everyone across the world. Those days are gone. Last week he upset the entire country of Great Britain by dissing their Prime Minister; no state dinner, no press conference and to top it all off President Obama gave the Prime Minister a crappy take-home gift, old DVDs.
Apparently Britain is not the only country upset at President Obama. Much of Western Europe is a bit ticked off at their former hero also. Just about everything he has done internationally since he has been inaugurated has been an insult to Europe. Pissing off some of your closest allies, now that is change you can believe in:
By Wayne Merry
First, European governments and elites were shocked and offended when Secretary of State Clinton made her first foreign trip to Japan, Korea, China and Indonesia rather than to Europe. Note this was the first time in half a century that a new U.S. foreign minister crossed the Pacific before crossing the Atlantic, and damn right too. Clinton’s trip signaled the true priorities of U.S. interests in the new century, especially in dealing with the global financial crisis which has provoked national and even provincial responses from most European governments.
Then, Europeans had to swallow the image of the first non-North American to visit the Oval Office of the new administration coming from Asia rather than Europe, with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown later delivering an embarrassing variant of the “special relationship.” Next, the most important meetings Secretary Clinton added to her agenda concerned the Middle East and Russia, with Europe clearly playing backup.
Now, with the planning for Obama’s first trans-Atlantic foray well advanced, the balancing act continues. Prague made the cut, as the Czechs have the rotating presidency of the European Union, thus giving the White House a chance to visit a non-Big Country on the first trip. Adding Turkey to the schedule was clearly important, not for its European role but rather in relation to U.S. interests in Iraq, Iran and the Middle East (with almost certainly some effort to prepare Turkey for eventual Obama administration recognition of the Armenian genocide). However, the Greeks have their noses out of joint at the “snub” by Obama in visiting Ankara but not Athens. Greek diplomats now are working overtime to get a bilateral meeting for Prime Minister Karamanlis with the President at the NATO summit in April, before Obama arrives in Turkey.
Childish, you might ask? A constant in Aegean diplomacy, say I. The efforts to balance new Secretary of State James Baker’s visits to Ankara and Athens in 1989 were painful (truth in advertising: I was the control officer in Athens for that event, a true diplomatic comedy of errors). Later, there was a major brouhaha over Bill Clinton’s state visits to the two countries, as anti-American riots in Athens caused the White House to reduce a planned three-day visit to one day, while maintaining a multi-day visit to Turkey (truth in advertising again: some of the rioting was in response to an Op-Ed of mine about the very real problem of Greek official tolerance of anti-American terrorism). The Greeks then complained about the imbalance, which was due to their own inability to provide a suitable environment for the visit.
Stay tuned. When President Obama actually lands in Europe in April, the contrast between European expectations that he must be a Europhile social democrat and the reality of American statesmanship will increase. Twas ever thus.