Friday, November 7, 2008

Opinions vary

Setting aside Prime Minister Berlusconi's unfortunate comment to and about President Obama's appearance, there has been a certain amount of uncertainty about European reactions. Naturally, the newly elected President of the United States has to be welcomed by all, though I do not recall complete punctiliousness in this respect either in 2000 and 2004.

Over and above that, there is less euphoria than one would have expected, largely because now that it is too late, people are beginning to look at Obama's actual statements (the ones he did not flip on more than about twice) rather than be overwhelmed by the hope and change mantra. One can see the same process taking place on the other side of the Pond as a number of supporters are waking up with a hang-over and Obama fills his transition team with lawyers. My guess is that it is going to get a lot worse but, perhaps, The One will surpise us.

AFP via EUBusiness is, naturally enough breathless: "EU applauds Obama victory - hopes for new deal". What kind of a "new deal" one asks oneself. After all, many European countries remained on very good terms with the United States throughout the Bush administration, no matter what the various pundits said in the media.

Do they mean that President Obama will, in their opinion, promote European integration more than President Bush did? Perhaps. And perhaps not. After all, he has more important problems on his plate than worry what Europeans with unpronouncable names will say. Or do they mean that the new President will submit to the Franco-German demands and drag his country against her interests and contrary to the constitutional arrangement into organizations like Kyoto and International Criminal Court? Maybe they should actually read the American Constitution (I know the Vice-President-Elect has not read it, but that is not an excuse). These things are not so easy in that country.

For all of that, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Unelected Commission President Barroso, fresh from their attempts to grovel to Russia, have expressed great joy and great hopes that the "present crisis" would now end and there would be a new beginning in the relationship between America and Europe. Since there is no crisis, one wonders what the new relationship will be. In any case, come end of December France will stop being the rotating president and it will be the Czech Republic, who might have very different views on the subject. I wonder if the President-Elect understands this.

On the other hand, the same Unelected Commission President in a peculiarly stupid interview (how can you ask whether a man who has just been elected and has done nothing so far is a better president than the others?) admitted that a number of people, particularly among the developing countries are worried by the protectionist noises The One has been making.

This affects developed countries as well, as Glenn Reynolds pointed out almost immediately after the election. Asian exporters who, for obvious reasons, been looking a little more closely at what Barack Obama actually said than did European politicians, are uneasy about the possibility of protectionism being introduced.

Shutting down international trade would be a sure way of prolonging the present crisis and turning it into a world-wide depression. Then again, having thought it through, not all analysts seem to believe in the change, which, in this case is quite a relief:

Other analysts said that despite Obama's pre-election comments, he was likely to follow the example of previous U.S. presidents and take a moderate line in office to preserve important trade relations with Asia.

"He may have talked tough, but based on past experience, that's just a tool to win over voters," said Qiang Yongchang, a professor at the Economy Institute at Shanghai's Fudan University.
How old-fashioned mercantilism and protectionism can be seen as "hope and change" is something of a mystery.

Meanwhile, Powerline blog points out that, while a number of world leaders, including President Ahmadinejad, expressed great satisfaction at Obama's election, not all of America's allies are pleased.
The leaders of key allies seem less taken with the president-elect. Thus, as John also observes, Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the less hard-line of the two main contenders for the job of Prime Minister, has warned against the kind of dialogue with Iran's leaders that Obama promised during the campaign. And French President Nicolas Sarkozy has attacked Obama's approach to Iran as "arrogant."
Actually, Sarkozy's comment was made several days before the election but there does seem to be some disagreement between the French President and his Foreign Minister. Or, maybe, neither of them means a word of what they are saying.

Paul Mirengoff of Powerline, a highly regarded American right-of-centre newsblog, has doubts as to whether that famous dialogue will take place:
I'm actually not convinced that Obama is committed to the dialogue he promised. My guess is that Obama took this position in the Democratic primary solely for the purpose of getting to Hillary Clinton's left. When the general election rolled around, Obama sensed, or determined through polling, that voters would not be too put off by the notion of talking to Iran (what's the harm in talking), and thus that he didn't need to flip-flop. Now that he's president, he can talk or not talk, without or without preconditions.
True but much depends on Obama's hubris. It now having been proved to him that he really is The One (though the results are a little more ambiguous than some commentators make out) he may well decide that he can tackle an old hand like Ahmadinejad. That is a worrying thought. Remember what happened when a similarly cocky, glamorous new President decided to tackle that old hand, First Secretary Nikita Khrushschev. A disaster, all round.


Rebecca said...

You know, if it weren't people's lives at stake, it would almost be funny to imagine Obama reacting to a terrorist attack by charging off and starting a worse thought out military conflict than anything Bush has done - just think of all the disillusioned and infuriated hippies and college students who thought he was going to wave his magic wand and bring world peace (myself and a couple other young people here and there excluded, of course). Then again, if he were to shrug his shoulders and say "Oh, well, our chickens are just coming home to roost," everyone else except the hippies and the college students would be infuriated.

Ugh, I wish they could vote this guy out again before he does some damage like that, but, unfortunately, that will only happen after he'll have bumbled into some trouble. I just hope they get rid of him in four years from now. The college students are frightening, as I seriously don't know whether most of my age group will ever notice anything wrong with Obama.

Helen said...

College students do change Rebecca. I remember being in much the same situation myself when I was at university. Amazing how many people caught up. Then again, it is also amazing how many didn't. But, one way or another, they will notice that something is wrong.