Deja vu again: All aglow, anti-Bush in Europe


Deja vu again: All aglow, anti-Bush in Europe

Jul 24th, 2008 3 min read
Helle C. Dale

Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy

Her current work focuses on the U.S. government’s institutions and programs for strategic outreach to the public of foreign countries.

Did we enter a time warp and somehow miss the general election? Or are the numbers so overwhelmingly in Sen. Barack Obama's favor that he might be thinking that he was in the time warp and already won the presidency of the United States? Time warps belong in science fiction and, of course neither is true. Nevertheless, what we are witnessing in the Democratic presidential candidate's astonishing tour of the Middle East and Europe is an unprecedented foreign victory lap that, at the very least, violates the spirit of the U.S. Constitution. The country really can have only one president at a time.

Having stopped in Afghanistan and Iraq over the weekend, where he met with President Hamid Karzai and Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, Mr. Obama issued policy pronouncements. He promised the Afghans more U.S. troops, and he seemed to have agreed with the Iraqi prime minister about a 16-month timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, paving the way for said redeployment.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain correctly pointed out that Mr. Obama's presence in Iraq has a certain paradox: "It is based on conditions on the ground and that we have to maintain the progress we have. The major point here is that Senator Obama could not have gone to Iraq as he did because he opposed the surge. It was the surge that succeeded. It was the surge that is winning this war. He opposed it. He said it would not succeed." But never mind.

Mr. Obama said in an interview that the purpose of his trip was to get acquainted with foreign leaders that he fully expected to deal with in the next 8-10 years. So, Mr. Obama believes he has not just won the November election, but the 2012 election and possibly been appointed secretary of state in the Hillary Clinton administration following his own.

Of course in Europe, no one will mind very much if Mr. Obama was elected king by the Americans and threw the entire Constitution out the window. The level of adulation exceeds even that which attended the candidacy of Sen. John Kerry. A recent British poll suggested that 53 percent of Europeans favor Mr. Obama for president while only 11 percent would like to see Mr. McCain in the White House. With stops in Germany, France and Britain, he will be soaking up the adulation.

In Europe, Mr. Obama is not just viewed as the potential first black American president, but also as the anti-George Bush, the man who will slay the U.S. president that Europeans have despised most in human memory and whose policies they expect Mr. Obama will reverse.

Interestingly, no European country has ever allowed an ethnic minority to hold a position so powerful, and is hardly likely to do so in the foreseeable future.

Of course, Mr. Bush will have to leave the White House because of the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, put in place after Franklin Roosevelt's four terms, which limits American president's to two terms. But it is not likely anyone in Europe knows or even cares. Now, some Europeans have caught on to the multifaceted policy approach of the Democratic candidate, and therefore encountered disillusionment.

In Germany, the government registered disapproval at the Obama campaign's plans to tape a campaign commercial in front of the Brandenburg Gate, and as the CSIS trans-Atlantic media blog recently reported, the senator's changing positions on the Second Amendment and the death penalty have given some European editorial writers cause to suspect that he is just another American opportunist on the road to the White House.

More typical, though, is the overwhelming popular adulation for a Democratic candidate, about whom Europeans know little (this could be said of many Americans as well). Few know that Mr. Obama was the head of the Senate Subcommittee on Europe for two years without ever holding a hearing on Europe, or know that he is asking Europeans to contribute more forces to Afghanistan; or that his positions on trade are likely to cause severe disruptions in the World Trade Organization negotiations, which will affecting relations between the United States and Europe.

In fact, as in the 2000 election, most Europeans will conclude that the Democratic candidate has already won and be grievously disappointed and indignant if Mr. McCain wins in November. One gets a depressing sense of deja vu all over again.

Helle Dale is director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation.

First appeared in the Washington Times