[Viewpoint]Europe embraces ObamaU.S. President George W. Bush must have felt the fleeting nature of power when he found himself in the position of a setting sun on his farewell tour of Europe in June. Bush used to be met with anti-American demonstrations whenever he went, but this time, they were nowhere to be found. Thanks to the quiet reception, he could enjoy his visit.
For the Europeans who detest Mr. Bush, the American president is already history. Their attention is on the next president of the United States. More precisely, they are focusing on Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate.
An overwhelming number of Europeans think that Senator Obama is a more suitable choice to be the 44th U.S. president than Republican Senator John McCain, not only for the United States but for the entire world.
Europe has grown tired of President Bush’s unilateralist foreign policy that ignores international opinion. The antagonism against President Bush has translated into enthusiasm for Obama.
The British newspaper Daily Telegraph surveyed 6,200 Europeans from five countries including the U.K., France and Germany, and 52 percent of the respondents said they would vote for Senator Obama if they were American voters. Only 15 percent said they would support Senator McCain.
For every six Germans who like McCain, 67 would pick Obama. In France, the numbers are eight and 65, respectively.
As the most popular candidate among Europeans, the Democratic presidential candidate is touring three European countries in three days. He was in Berlin yesterday, is going to Paris today and then moving to London on the 26th. He is traveling like a rock star.
It is symbolic that Senator Obama starts his tour in Berlin. In 1963, U.S. President John F. Kennedy chose the city as the first stop of his European tour. He gave a speech at the Brandenburg Gate.
Looking at the symbol of the Cold War, the Berlin Wall, Kennedy evoked passion by saying, “Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was ‘civis Romanus sum.’ Today in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’”
With the speech, he established a solid image as the leader of the free world.
In Berlin, Senator Obama was to give a speech in front of the Victory Column in Berlin. He planned to tell Berliners about the trans-Atlantic vision and foreign policy plan using the 70-meter-tall landmark celebrating Prussian victory against Austria, Denmark and France as a backdrop. It is a symbolic move to project Obama as the black Kennedy of the 21st century.
Senator Obama’s biggest weakness is a lack of experience in foreign policy and security. He is clearly inexperienced compared to his rival, who is a Vietnam War hero. Before the European tour, Obama visited the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq to imprint an image of himself as commander in chief. He also paid a visit to Israel and Palestine because he knows where U.S. foreign policy is tested.
Just like in domestic affairs, Obama has proclaimed an intention to pursue cooperation rather than conflict in foreign policy. He would respect international organizations such as the United Nations and count on the goodwill of new global players such as China, India and Russia.
He is emphasizing soft power. He also expressed a willingness to personally meet with the leaders of rogue states such as North Korea and Iran, if necessary.
One of his key campaign promises is to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq in 16 months after he takes office.
No one knows whether Senator Obama will be able to overcome his weakness and be elected president, as Europeans wish. Also, even if he is elected, time will tell if he will meet expectations.
What is Obama’s position on the Iranian nuclear issue, over which the United States is divided on whether military intervention is appropriate? Will he really reconsider free trade agreements as he promised and bring the specter of protectionism to a global economy already in crisis? These two issues are expected to become important measures to judge Mr. Obama.
The bigger the expectation is, the bigger the disappointment can be. However, Europeans have consoled themselves with the faith that no matter who becomes the next president, he will be better than President Bush.
*The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.