Obama has European 'bounce' in his step
US President Barack Obama left Europe Saturday telling Americans that despite budget-busting economic blight, they must not cede their role as a promoter and guarantor of global freedom.
Obama ended a six-day tour of Ireland, Britain, France and Poland, reflecting on modern Europe's historic political torment and subsequent rise, and its lessons for the turmoil ripping across the Arab world.
Along the way, he sipped a pint of Guinness, met an Irish eighth cousin, went head-to-head with world leaders, basked in Britain's royal pageantry and hailed Solidarity pioneers, in a trip that reinvigorated US Europe policy.
Obama said veterans of the country's revolt against communism and those scarred by the North Ireland peace process had made it clear American leadership was vital.
"It solidifies, it fortifies peoples' impulses that change is possible," Obama remarked in Poland in comments clearly aimed at a US audience and to boost his foreign policy goals at a time of sapping domestic crises.
"Even at a time when we have fiscal constraints, even at a time when I spend most of my day thinking about the economy and how to put folks back to work, not to mention reducing gas prices .... "
"I want the American people to understand we have got to leave room for us to continue our tradition of providing leadership when it comes to freedom, democracy and human rights," Obama said.
Obama's Europe tour, with its mixture of camera-friendly pressing the flesh, roaring crowds and summitry, aimed to reaffirm ties with Europe which perhaps feared Obama's heart was set more on rising Asia than its old allies.
But his beaming smiles in a rickety Irish pub in his ancestral village Moneygall and the white-tie dinner with Queen Elizabeth II also seemed calculated to show US voters, with a re-election fight looming, that Obama was a very traditional president.
Though the trip will be long-forgotten when the election rolls around next year, it may have subtly helped reshape Obama's political image, and draw venom from attacks by his foes that he is "exotic" and "un-American."
Obama's second goal was to gather support for his plan to cement reform in the Arab world, which the president sees as a generational challenge vital to future US national security.
He saw parallels to the challenge the Arab world faces, in the way nations such as Poland emerged from oppression and built stable, even prosperous, free-market democracies.
"What we have is a process that is not always smooth, there are going to be twists and turns, occasions when you take one steps forward and two steps back and occasionally take two steps forward and one step back," Obama said.
"You have to institutionalize this transformation ... it is not enough to have the energy, the initial thrust of those young people in Tahrir Square."
American political commentators have sometimes quarrelled at the way Obama's trips abroad -- now 30 countries as president -- have been framed by the White House, while his foes have hammered his leadership credentials.
But this trip may go down as one of Obama's most successful.
Its simple and striking imagery appeared effective, and he achieved a political synergy between his goal in re-engaging Europe and a desire to focus on the issue that may be the dominant one of his presidency -- the wave of change in Middle East and North Africa.
"The most successful result was the commitment that came out of the G8 for the Arab Spring," said Jan Techau, who heads the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Europe operation.
At the G8 summit in Deauville, France, Obama joined leaders of top developed nations in committing to nurture the region towards democracy, with a promise to seek at least ê40 billion (28 billion euros) in funding and loan guarantees.
"Of course, they have to follow up on this," Techau said. But he argued that Obama's leadership in making a major speech on the Arab Spring days before leaving the United States had been instrumental in galvanizing action.
Obama also got what may have been an unexpected bonus, after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told him that he now accepted the US position that Libya's Moamer Kadhafi had to go.
The gesture may indicate Russia believes the Libyan strongman is doomed, and show Moscow's desire to maximise its potential engagement and business ties with a future Libya.
But it allowed Obama to tout another gain for his policy of "resetting" relations with Russia that were strained when he took office, and offset criticism at what opponents have said is confused leadership on Libya.
However, as he returns to Washington's poisoned partisan politics, polarized by budget battles and a looming presidential campaign, the European spring in the president's step, is not likely to last long.
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