Accessibility links

Mixed Reviews in Europe, Middle East for Obama's First Year


Barack Obama's election victory in November 2008 was greeted with enormous enthusiasm around much of the world. Most Europeans looked to the new president to restore the transatlantic partnership, work for peace and spearhead the fight against global warming. While in the Middle East, people hoped he would focus on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But a year later, enthusiasm has faded.

Barack Obama's inauguration as America's president one year ago was greeted with enthusiasm around much of the world. Europeans looked to him to restore the transatlantic partnership, work for peace and spearhead the fight against global warming. In the Middle East, people hoped he would focus on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But, enthusiasm has waned.

U.S. President Barack Obama has drawn crowds wherever he has gone. Visiting Europe last year, he was treated almost like a rock star.

For many, he was a symbol of hope and inspiration. British students, Nina and Simon at King's College in London were no exception.

"I think he put it on the pedestal that people from anywhere could actually achieve a dream," Nina said.

"His whole demeanor is actually quite impressive as well, and that does have an effect," Simon said.

Promise of change brings benefits

Mr. Obama's promise of change, of reaching out to the world resonated with a wider public and won him the Nobel Peace Prize - less than a year into his first term of office.

Europeans liked the change in tone, but also wanted specifics, says Tomas Valasek, Director of Foreign Policy and Defense at the Centre for European Reform in London.

"We have a real stake in who runs the United States and Obama because he is so popular worldwide because he says he wants to try to bring in other actors - Chinas, Russias of this world - into the running of the global system," said Valasek.

Many issues unresolved

But after a year in power problems linger. The war in Iraq is winding down, but violence continues. The United States is sending more troops to Afghanistan and wants NATO partners to do the same. Iran and North Korea show no sign of giving up their nuclear ambitions. And at the climate change conference in Copenhagen, a bid to forge a broad alliance against global warming fell short.

Too many issues unresolved have dimmed public enthusiasm for the American president, says Valasek.

"He has opened an awful lot of issues, an awful lot of problems, an awful lot of challenges, and he does not seem able to bring any of them to close," he said.

Much the same sentiments can be heard in the Middle East. President Obama's June speech at Cairo University, reaching out to Muslims, was welcomed.

Support for Israel problematic

But, the crux was always the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and many hoped for a change in U.S. policy.

Radi and Jumana Jara'i in the West Bank city of Ramallah say those hopes were dashed when Mr. Obama backed down after Israel's prime minister refused to halt all West Bank Jewish settlements. They say that has let the Israeli occupation continue as before.

"A year ago, we were hopeful," said Radi. "Now we do not. Now actually we blame the United States by [for] supporting Israel without any limits, without any conditions."

"I admired him [Obama] as a man," said Jumana. "So I am disappointed now, but I can say only one thing - it is all the American policy that will never change."

There is concern that opportunities are slipping away. But maybe expectations were just too high, says Tomas Valasek.

"In some ways this was a mission impossible," said Valasek. "We expected too much of him. Even if he walked on water he still would not be able to deliver."

President Obama's emphasis on diplomacy still has strong appeal and gets high marks, especially in Europe. But, all eyes will remain on the American president to see if he can deliver the change he promised.

XS
SM
MD
LG