Opinion

The Great Debate

Obama honeymoon ends in Europe

Robin Shepherd

– Robin Shepherd is Director, International Affairs at the Henry Jackson Society. His areas of expertise are transatlantic relations, American foreign policy, Middle Eastern relations with the West, Russia, eastern Europe, NATO and the European Union. The views expressed are his own. –

It is to be hoped that President Obama has a developed sense of humour. The man heralded by many as the new Messiah of political renewal lands in London this week not to the chorus of approval he might have expected on his first official trip to Europe but to crowds roaring with anger and frustration at the global economic system which his country underpins.

It isn’t personal – yet. Few but the most unreasonable would hold the new American president responsible for woes that he inherited. Nonetheless, Obama campaigned on a platform of change. The implicit claim that his election was a grand, indeed poetic, instance of the time finding the man will be explicitly rejected – in Europe as well as at home – if he fails to deliver. We know he can give a pretty speech. But at the G-20 summit in London this week, that simply won’t be enough. For the first time at a major international gathering the blinding lights of international scrutiny will pour over Obama’s credentials on substance. His mettle is about to be tested.

It is true, of course, that there is tremendous accumulated goodwill towards the new American president in Europe. But time may yet show that much of that was merely the counterpoint to a hostility felt by so many against his predecessor. That, at least, is the risk. Obama can no longer play good cop to George Bush’s bad cop. He alone now has the stage, and when people are losing their jobs and homes they will want to see results. As leader of the Western world, the buck stops with him.

What applies to the economy will also apply to the great issues of international affairs. Obama will be given a chance over his new strategy on Afghanistan, though murmurings of discontent are not hard to detect in liberal-Left circles across the continent even now.

Obama and the Afghan narco-state

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

To understand why the war in Afghanistan, now in its eighth year, is not going well for the United States and its NATO allies, take a look at two statistics.

One is Afghanistan’s ranking on an international index measuring corruption: 176 out of 180 countries. (Somalia is 180th). The other is Afghanistan’s position as the world’s Number 1 producer of illicit opium, the raw material for heroin.

Obama: plus ça change?

Robin Shepherd is a senior research fellow at Chatham House in London. The opinions expressed are his own.

robinshepherd-cropped1Which part of the word “change” did Barack Obama not understand? A year from now it is a question that many outside America will be asking about his foreign policy.

American forces will still be in Afghanistan; the handover in Iraq will continue, with some  troops coming home as they would have under President Bush; U.S. support for Israel will remain unchanged, while the Annapolis process begun under Obama’s predecessor continues to take its course.

Obama must redefine success in Afghanistan

Paul Taylor Great Debate– Paul Taylor is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

Barack Obama says he will make Afghanistan the central front in his fight against terrorism but the incoming U.S. president will have to scale back the war aims he inherits from George W. Bush and redefine success.

Bush ordered the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 to oust a Taliban government that was harboring al Qaeda militants blamed for the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

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