– 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.