Home / Obama’s Promise of Renewing American Diplomacy With Europe: D.O.A.

Obama’s Promise of Renewing American Diplomacy With Europe: D.O.A.

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The bells of all Europe’s cathedrals seemed to ring in unison as the polls closed on Election Night in America earlier this month. In his rhetoric on the domestic campaign trail, President-elect Obama asked Americans to respect the judgment of Europeans that Bush’s foreign policy had been an abject disaster, not a leap of faith in that most American voters opinions coincided with those across the pond.

So, too, on his controversial summer world tour, Obama acknowledged to a crowd of 200,000 in Berlin that the prevailing attitude in Europe was that America was “part of what has gone wrong in our world, rather than a force to help make it right”, validating their animosity toward American values without stipulation.

Therefore, it was no surprise that, as results of the American election began appearing on televisions across the European continent, celebration was spontaneous and jubilant.

In Leicester, England, in the days following Obama’s victory over Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Kwame Boyce-Deacon, a fourteen year-old black Briton went to his barber to have the image of Obama shaved into the hair on the back of his head. His reason and purpose were clear. “Obama is the first black President of America and I'm the first black model of Obama in Leicester – which is special for me,” Boyce-Deacon said.

The euphoric reaction to the idea of America’s first black president was not confined to capricious Brit teens.

Lady Patricia Scotland, Britain’s Dominican-born attorney general, said, “This wonderful election demonstrates that the dream of Martin Luther King that there would come a time when people would be judged not by the colour of their skin but the quality of their character has arrived.”

In sync with the waves of political and social ecstasy, Rama Yade, France’s Senagal-born junior minister for human rights, said, “This is the fall of the Berlin Wall times ten. America is re-becoming a New World. … On this morning, we all want to be American so we can take a bite of this dream unfolding before our eyes.”

The election represented more than just a repudiation of the Bush Doctrine and validation of European desires to have America resume a partnership role in world affairs, rather than one of leadership. For many Europeans it was a symbol that barriers to minorities were falling further, and for the president-elect, his status as an icon in Europe must have encouraged him to feel that his goals of working with Europe to achieve his foreign policy objectives were attainable. The unfortunate irony is that the rallying of Europe’s citizens around a symbol of ethnic minority achievement will be the precise undoing of Obama’s European agenda.

At first consideration, the idea that at a time when Europe’s citizenry – for the first time since 9/11 – are claiming solidarity with Americans, Obama might have any difficulty repairing alliances seems ill-conceived. After all, with Obama’s election to the American presidency, Europe has forgiven us for our sins and given us an opportunity for redemption.

What a relief. Now I can visit Auschwitz and not feel ashamed of my country.

There is hypocrisy, however, in Europe’s treatment of America, evident in their over-loud feedback to our politics. European condescension of their little American cousins has a history equal in bulk to that of America’s rescuing their lard from so many wars rooted in squabbling over what crowned head of Europe would dominate the people of [insert name of darker-skinned and resource-rich region here].

Underscoring this typical European blind arrogance, an unnamed Frenchman was quoted on Election Night as saying, “Finally, a victory over racism in the whole world.”

The entire world? Are we to conclude that America’s election of a black man eradicated racism the world over? Surely, Europeans do not have to look all the way to America for an example of diversity in the highest of government offices. Can they not refer to the history of German chancellors, French presidents and British prime ministers to find minority role models? No? Let us expand our query to include Spain, Italy, Austria, Switzerland the Benelux nations. Still none? Scandinavia? Greece? The Balkans?

USA: 1 – Europe: 0.

Although Europe’s leaders and heads of state most certainly did lean down from their perches of moral superiority to pat the United States on the head and tousle our hair a bit, statements on Obama’s election ranged from guarded to non-substantive.

German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, called Obama’s election a “historic victory”. French President Nicholas Sarkozy proclaimed that his presidency “raised enormous hope in France, Europe and beyond.” Russian Federation President Dmitry Medvedev’s comments post-election did not even mention President-elect Obama by name. No commendations from Europe’s top tiers of power for the defeat of racism, just restrained and generic statements of support, typical of those made during any presidential power transition.

With Obama’s approval ratings in Europe riding higher than those of the continental heads of government, why would these leaders choose to ignore an opportunity to jump on coattails and hail America’s black champion? To answer that question requires understanding the European climate concerning ethnicity and race. As stated by Trevor Philips, a black politician in the United Kingdom who now heads the British Equality and Human Rights Commission:

“It would be very difficult for somebody like Barack Obama to find their way through the way we do things. I don’t think that the public of this country would be at all resistant to electing a black Prime Minister … My point is that it is very difficult for people who don’t fit a certain mould – to do with gender, to do with race and to do with class – to find their way into the upper reaches of politics.”

A Labour party representative to the British Parliament, Sadiq Khan, addressed the political conditions in a way that shines more light on the quickening that worries Europe’s establishment.

"In Britain you can't make a brilliant speech and get noticed in the way Barack Obama did. You have to rise up through the ranks in parliament. Our history is different. Mass migration – slavery – took place to America 400 years ago. Condoleezza Rice is the fourth generation of her family to go to university. Our mass migration has only happened over the last 40 to 50 years. But our recent progress has been far steeper than in the US – we have been much quicker."

The fluorescent pink, green and yellow-striped elephant – bound, gagged and stuffed in the water closet during  Europe’s mid-November Obamafest – has been Europe’s own problems with immigrant populations and a lack of cultural integration. America has shattered the illusion that it could not elect a minority person to our highest executive office. The spotlight now shines on Europe, and that kind of light cascading through its mirrored halls of power must be blinding to the elite establishment that wants to preserve their own history and traditions while maintaining social harmony.

Despite trivial and anecdotal statistics of interracial and same-gender couples walking down the streets of Paris or Amsterdam without causing a stir, most large European cities have developed ghetto districts of immigrant populations – many from North Africa the Middle East and Central Asia; many culturally Arab, Berber and/or Muslim. These communities are typically isolated and dominated by poverty, consume a disproportionate amount of public resources and often choose not to assimilate into their host country’s culture. In many such places – as cited by Bruce Bawer in his controversial book While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within, governments grapple with Muslim populations that openly defy Western democracy and the rule of non-Sharia law.

Therefore, when considering its European strategy, the Obama administration must consider the following question: Will the European establishment allow Obama to lead the world when to do so would create an upsurge of potential energy within ethnic communities to fight for proportional representation in government, energy that could quickly become active and transform Europe in ways that the establishment is unprepared to handle?

There is every reason to believe that Europe will eventually overcome its institutional biases concerning race, ethnicity and culture. It is, however, not a change that can be forced and societies have sometimes alarming reactions to change that moves too fast.

The widespread popularity of Obama among the European people – combined with the plug-and-play compatibility of his self-assessed “mutt” heritage – could become a fuel source for minority movements, some of which will openly challenge the legitimacy of the status quo. Obama is already a poster-child for minority movements. With his crowning by some as a world leader, it may simply not be in the interest of Europe’s power elite to grant him greater status by allowing him to stand as a leader on the international stage. From a Machiavellian perspective they would be alienating themselves from their own bases of power, thus making re-election less likely. Even if their motives are less self-preserving and more concerned with the continuation of their forms of government, an ascendant Obama could be used as a symbolic leader of a broad range of anti-establishment movements.

It would seem then, that Europe will have no choice but to allow the waltz of diplomacy to be conducted while finding ways to bar Obama from taking the lead or the spotlight. President Obama will be forced to operate within the same box as President Bush, pursuing America’s interests without the support of European leaders. Obama knows that he must resist the temptation to gain the approval of the Old World Order to appear strong at home. Doing so will mean favoring policies that promote American interests and alienate our allies in Europe and those allies, because of their own domestic concerns, will be more than glad to conduct relations with a style that tips toward adversarial.

If an adversarial dialogue is inevitable, Obama will have little choice but to adopt a more unilateral approach to foreign policy. To pursue any other course would find his 2012 re-election campaign rummaging the drawers for fancy clothes to dress up a set of mediocre achievements.

The results of Europe not letting Obama 'in the room' could be real and disastrous. NATO expansion, Russian aggression and Middle Eastern tensions will all force us to work in some way with Europe to bridge gaps and broker agreements. The emphasis of Obama's foreign policy team should be to formulate strategies that coerce or triangulate Europe, but which do not require voluntary agreement on their part.

Of course, Europe could set it itself on a different course. Instead of fighting against minority inclusion and proportional representation they could begin conceiving of ways to reshape a society restrained by so much ivy and stone. When we can read in the New York Times that a person of color has assumed the helm of France, Germany or Britain, only then will a minority American president be truly welcomed into the clique of Europe’s elite.

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About Bryan Myrick

  • STM

    B-tone: I just read your post of December 10 … sorry I didn’t see it before and didn’t reply. I was too busy fuming at Bryan’s nonsense (I notice he didn’t have the bollocks to reply to anything).

    You are right about Austria … their politics have taken a decided swing to the right of late – too far to the right – the one place along with Germany where you’d think given history’s recent sorry lessons that they’d be really aware of that. But no. Germans, however, ARE aware.

    On the welcome mat: Europeans, especially the British who still consider Americans as kind of long-distant rebellious colonial cousins made good, aren’t down on Americans generally, and the French aren’t except in that way where all our cultures are inferior … but you’ll always get the odd loony who wants to make trouble (same as I’ve struck Americans when I’ve been in the US who gave me grief for being Australian … and therefore obviously terribly uncouth. On that score, they were probably right though :). I remember one guy back in the ’80s in SF sniffing about Aussie wines and letting everyone in hearing distance know.

    Anyway, you guys are probably as welcome down here as anywhere. Since IMO all Americans are as mad as cut snakes, and have a wire loose between their brains and their mouths, they fit in perfectly.

    And Brun … I couldn’t work out what he was getting at either.

  • Brunelleschi

    That was a terrible article. If anyone got the point, please post it. I fell asleep on page 2.

    I’m glad Obama is popular overseas, and it’s real.

  • STM

    Bryan (do people really spell Brian with a Y?) writes: “America’s rescuing their (European) lard from so many wars rooted in squabbling over what crowned head of Europe would dominate the people of [insert name of darker-skinned and resource-rich region here].”

    LOL. Here we f.cking go again. The myth of American exceptionalism … Freedom-loving anti-imperialist America (check with the Filipinos and half a dozen other dark-skinned rsource-rich nations on that) rescues eveyone’s arse since before time began, perhaps earlier.

    Name all these wars Bryan.

    I can think of one – that’s it, ONE – but only at a pinch: WWII – as the First World War was nearly over when the US joined in and historians even in the United States discount that it played any kind of decisive role beyond being a small part of the final allied offensive in 1918.

    I’ll give you a nod towards WWII, except: the only problem with WWII was the US wasn’t the only one “rescuing lard”.

    On this, it’s also an eye-opener to look up Stalingrad + eastern front sometime too to see how the US rescued Russian lard.

    I realise in regard to Americans we’re not dealing with an entire nation of complete f.cking idiots, but it honestly feels like it sometimes, especially when someone claiming to have a university degree writes this kind of nonsense.

    Perhaps Bryan could try reading a few books instead of depending on Hollywood for his skewed version of history. A degree in politics is just about useless unless you know and understand history.

    Patently, you don’t; believing your own bullsh.t just isn’t a history lesson. Besides, it helps to be right when you publish a story with your name on it.

  • I believe that tensions regarding Turks are even greater in Austria. Austria, even more than Germany, moves to the sound of its own drummer.

    While supposedly Americans are not in favour in much of Europe, during our trips to Vienna and various locations in Germany over the past few years we encountered virtually no open hostility (with the exception of an apparent skinhead on a train to Berlin who regarded us under his breath as “fucking Americans.” Most of the people we encountered were friendly and courteous – in part I suppose that many of them knew my son who has made numerous friends with the natives over the years.

    If Obama does in fact meet any particular resistance from world leaders, I doubt that it will stem from any perceivable racial or ethnic problems. Hell, even Iran has made some positive overtures to Obama in recent weeks. North Korea remains pretty much mute, but it’s not altogether a certainty that North Korea has any idea what’s going on in the world outside their borders. They might as well be on another planet.

    I don’t believe that N. Korea’s problems stem from differences in colour, but rather that they harbour political flavours quite different from those we savour. But one can certainly hope that bloke, Kim Jong Il will die or otherwise disappear leaving the country in the control of someone less barmy. Otherwise, they can all just kiss my bloody arse.


  • STM

    Thanks for sticking that “U” in there B/tone old boy!! Nice to hear from you, especially speaking the Queen’s English 🙂

    The problem with Bryan’s premise here (and there are other really offensive statements in that puff piece too) is that because certain sections of the new multiracial Europe don’t want to assimilate, everyone who’s not Dulux white will be tarred with the same brush by those naughty, angry, ingrate surrender-monkey Europeans (pardon the brush pun).

    Nothing could be further from the truth. Europeans are like anyone – largely, beyond a few nut groups, they don’t care who comes from where and does what, provided they embrace their new lives (which of course, most immigrants do) and try to fit in (which of course doesn’t mean sacrificing your old culture, either, as all these things bring their own riches).

    But Europeans are smart enough too to recognise that the ones who don’t want to assimilate and are causing trouble are actually criminals, rather than simply either black/muslim/Paki/Asian/Polakdotted/Zogite/Calathumpian/jihadist, or a combination of any of the above.

    Bryan’s stirring the pot. But his soup’s got no fucking meat in it.

    On the Turks and Germans, mate – that’s been going on for some decades. As long as I can remember.

    Largely, the Turks (and in the great scheme of things, the numbers aren’t huge) have tried to fit in, but Germans – especially the older ones – given their whole history aren’t REALLY noted for their welcoming stance and a desire to assimilate with anyone who’s even a smidgeon different.

    Although they had, ahem, colonial designs on a couple of separate occasions last century, they remained quite isolated as a people and still are compared to much of Europe.

    All of which, of course, can and DOES lead to people feeling disenfranchised, perhaps even fearful.

    Spain’s biggest problem is the huge influx of our Pom brethren. It must be galling for the Spaniards. The British spent centuries fighting them and everything they stood for under absolutism and the de facto rule of Rome. No Nelson needed now – they can just jump on an Easyjet flight from Birmingham and walk in and take over the place. Is this the real legacy of Trafalgar – curry paella with chips and a holiday joint on the Costa del Sol?

    However, I can’t work out how Obama’s been stitched into this and forms the main thrust of the writer’s post.

  • Stan,

    Of course you are right, especially as regards Britain and France. I suspect Bryan is responding more to situations in say, Germany or perhaps as he mentions, Spain. I know there are tensions in Germany mainly regarding immigrants from Turkey (which is kind of Germany’s Mexico) and of course there have been rustlings from most European countries including Britain and France regarding their growing Muslim populations.

    As I see it, though, it is the Muslims who have made the choice not to assimilate into the various cultures into which they have migrated. Otherwise, the natives would likely take little note of them.

    Regardless, I don’t see how Obama is likely to have any particular problem gaining the confidence of European leaders or their citizens -regardless of his or their color (or colour, if you prefer.)


  • STM

    It’s a load of old bollocks, but nice try anyway Bryan. At least you had a go, even if it’s wrong – and offensive.

    Where on earth did you come up with the notion that Europeans would be trying to keep Obama “out of the room” … a phrase that’s as loaded as hell?

    I’d think the opposite would be true. He’d be getting the best seat at the table.

    Perhaps you should keep your focus on America’s social ills and its considerable, ongoing racial tensions.

    It won’t matter diddly squat about what colour Obama’s skin is, or what kind of tensions there are in Europe about the influx of immigrants. It’ll be about whether he wants to engage other nations as equal partners in any consultative process and whether the ideas he comes up with are good or bad.

    Last time I was in Britain, there were black folks everywhere, on the bus, the train, shops, banks, all with English/Welsh/Scottish/Irish/West Indian/African accents, running businesses, holding down jobs, doing well at school, teaching, going to Oxford and Cambridge, joining the armed forces, involved in mainstream politics …

    I’d suspect most of them are British citizens, too, which entitles them to the same rights and priveleges as any other British citizen.

    There’s a black Englishman sitting four desks away from me at the moment. The only time I think of him as being black rather than an Englishman (which is his real failing) is when I read stuff like this.

    It shows a huge lack of understanding about European politics and social issues to even think this will be an issue.

    The British and French, both empire states (although not just them), have had immigrants around for centuries, and people from the colonies coming and going in their thousands for all that time. They’re not shocked by the colour of someone’s skin. It’s normal there to see people of all races, colours and creeds interacting socially.

    Back to the drawing board Bryan, and something less muddle-headed next time.

    I suspect you’ve just made this up as you’ve gone along.

  • B-tone. I notice that in some ways the article is working at cross-purposes with itself. Did you notice that most of the European politicians quoted in the article are highly placed blacks? That would seem to suggest that some of the top European nations have been making good progress when it comes to moving blacks up politically, which seems to argue strongly against this premise that Europeans are not welcoming blacks into positions of power.


  • I think your entire construct is flawed and presumptive. As I believe you noted, the influx of minority populations in most European nations is relatively recent – most within the past 50 years or less. You also note that many of those minorities have chosen NOT to assimilate into their host countries socially, culturally or religiously. It may well be a goodly long time before any ethnic minority achieves the top level political job or any substantive political power in any European country.

    However, as the history is briefer and the conditions far different there than here in the US, the pressures and expectations are also far different. It is far from an analagous situation.

    Ergo, I don’t see that Obama will encounter any substantive resistance from European leaders owing to any ethnic/racial pressures from within.

    It just seems to me that a great number of people are digging down further and further into the abyss to find some platform upon which to predict Obama’s failure. It is my opinion that Obama’s race will be a non-factor both here and abroad. His presidency may prove to be a phenomenon that few of us will have imagined.