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So, will Obama actually listen?

by Jerome a Paris Sat Apr 4th, 2009 at 07:26:16 AM EST

A lot has been made about Obama being greeted to supposedly rapturous audiences in Europe (as described by obviously love-struck journalists amazed that a US President actually sounds coherent, and about his desire to listen to allies, as opposed to dictating them around:

“In essence, President Obama managed to identify himself with a form of American statesmanship that recognises the difference between being a leader and being a boss.”

Having listened to Obama's speech in Strasbourg (which you can watch in full here), there's a lot that can be said about how he seems to "get" a lot of the issues of the day (see this good summary by Crazy Horse), but I wonder if he will have noted the none-too subtle messages sent by the public in the course of his speech, in the form of silence or applause for bits of his speech:

  • he thanked his hosts, President Sarkozy and (socialist) mayor of Strasbourg Roland Ries. Sarkozy's name was met with a cold silence, whereas Ries's name was wildly applauded. First message: our leaders don't necessarily speak for us. They tend to be a lot more supportive of US goals than the general population;
  • he had nice words about Strasbourg, as a symbol of European peace and reconciliation. But he then went on to insist on how NATO was similarly important, on how the mission in Afghanistan was vital to European interests. His ode to Europe was greeted with massive applause, while his invocation of NATO and terrorist threats to Europe was met with stony silence. Europeans are deemply skeptical of military force and proud of its peaceful, if bumbling, way of solving conflicts by talking them to death (pun intended). Again, our leaders support for the Afghan adventure is not shared by the population;
  • he has a few words about US being arrogant and dismissive of Europe, followed by a (much longer) tirage about "insidious" European anti-Americanism, clearly equating the two. His conclusion, that "America cannot reach its goals alone, but Europe cannot reach its without America" was similarly assymetrical and was greeted with more silence;
  • what did get sustained applause was his words about closing Guantanamo, stopping torture, restarting negotiations with Russia to bring an end to nuclear weapons, bringing down the bankers and ushering back "a new era of responsibility." He did get applause for stating that climate change had to be tackled as a priority (although it was a lot less enthusiastic than it could have been because he talked about "protecting God's creation", a formula that visibly did not go well).
Altogether, the message was "it's nice to see America with a leader who's no longer an immediate danger to the planet, and who's obviously smart and emphatic, but that does not mean that we'll agree with everything he brings forward." I hope that the second part of that will not be ignored. America's president no longer being completely hubristic does not imply that he's always right, or that opinions coming from Europe can now be safely ignored or dismissed as "insidous anti-Americanism."


In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Apr 4th, 2009 at 07:31:20 AM EST
Phew... I dived into that thread, but by the time I got to the guy who thinks Strasbourg doesn't like Sarko because Alsace is France's Quebec, I got enough...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Apr 4th, 2009 at 07:03:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I have to confess that I didn't pay much attention to the whole thing (G20, the Strasbourg town hall, or anything else).  What little I can cobble together seems to be a mix of Good and, to borrow a bit from Colman, Sane Evil.  He seems to have demonstrated some genuine desire to listen.

Certainly I think his "debt" to Brown has been repaid.  As I understand, he brokered a compromise between Hu and Sarko that ended their little pissing match.  Brown seemed like he almost couldn't contain his joy in that lame-ass press conference.  Alas, Brown's poor heart must have been broken when Obama confessed his love for Lula.

And come on: Michelle owns Jackie Kennedy.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sat Apr 4th, 2009 at 07:41:27 AM EST
I also wouldn't take the "insidious anti-Americanism" crap too seriously.  One of the annoying things about these big shows is that the domestic agenda of each leader always enters into it, and there was no way he was going to go on about our fuck-ups without pounding a little bit of sunshine up the US's population collective ass with reassurances that We're All Fuck-Ups, Though!

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sat Apr 4th, 2009 at 07:44:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you answered your own question when you destroyed Obama's first foregn policy statement over 18 months ago.

He is a politician, an American one. Therefore his first, second and third thoughts on every issue will be about how any issue can be played to america's advantage and his fourth thought will be about how he can manage the presentation for beneficial media coverage back home. this does not make him different from any other politician, I've read enough about UK prime ministers to know that's exactly what they're thinking too. Heck, all I'm doing is projecting their cynicism onto Obama.

The difference being that we here wish our politicians weren't so reflexively deferential to the needs of the US, while hoping that american politicians might assume a little less about our servility and try to win our favour instead.

So he has said that which he considers will get him what he thinks America needs and has got him favourable coverage at home. Mission Accomplished

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sat Apr 4th, 2009 at 08:50:25 AM EST
So, will Obama actually listen?

I thought, "Of course he will, but to whom?" As of right now, Wall Street.  For now.

I never realized it before coming to ET but the citizens of other countries REALLY DO feel like conquered nations in the shadow of the US, much like I was taught that the Eastern Bloc felt before the collapse of the USSR.  

Question: Why SHOULD Obama listen to YOU?  Does he even listen to US, his own citizens?  And when are your cowardly leaders going to listen to YOU?  Isn't that why they're there?  Helen is right on.

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.

by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Sat Apr 4th, 2009 at 09:20:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Gosh, twank. Idealism? Wash out your mouth-- with American bourbon.  
They're there for mostly the same reasons eptitomised by K-street.
I think Obama, a bit better than that---but I admit to idealism. In fact, I embrace it. Along with some cold, hard realism. The two are NOT mutually exclusive.

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.
by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Sun Apr 5th, 2009 at 06:31:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hale geezer well met.

I made the mistake back in the late '70s thinking that "the problem was solved" when we got our asses thrown out of Viet Nam and Tricky Dick was sent packing.  While Carter was getting screwed over I was concentrating on being Mr. Solar Energy in graduate school.  The political thing would sort itself out, right?  Big mistake.  Not again.  Going to take an active hand this time.  The kids deserve better than slavery from the get-go.

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.

by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Sun Apr 5th, 2009 at 09:28:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
was how he repeated in several different forums this week that aid to the developing world was not just charity but opening new markets.  That made me cringe.

But after thinking about it, I am sure it was meant for domestic consumption to head off any argument about giving aid when the US is hurting.  It did make me scratch my head though.  He seems to be a strategic thinker as well as pragmatist is my hopeful interpretation.

But is it continuing neo-liberalism?  Enlighten self-interests?  Goal of establishing a middle class in developing nations?


"Schiller sprach zu Goethe, Steck in dem Arsch die Flöte! Goethe sagte zu Schiller, Mein Arsch ist kein Triller!"

by Jeffersonian Democrat (rzg6f@virginia.edu) on Sat Apr 4th, 2009 at 10:16:00 AM EST
There's a lot of populist talk again in the Netherlands to wholly scrap developmental aid and undo, in potential, years of slowly crafted work. I don't know if a similar debate is present in the States, but I am of the opinion that any talk to reduce or scrap developmental aid should be vigorously attacked.

Trade is aid. But: trade is also self-interest. Finally, as far as my non-economic brain understands it, growing a middle class in developing nations seems one of the best stabilising factors to prevent a nation spiralling back into poverty again.

It all depends on what framework of trade is achieved between countries, and in the nitty-gritty in the agreements. Neo-liberalism might be far from dead, still, sustainable, honest trade looks, to me, a boon to both "the west" and developing nations.

by Nomad on Sat Apr 4th, 2009 at 10:40:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
From another angle: growing a middle class in developing nations is also the best way to starve the planet of vital resources at an even faster rate than we're starving it now. I don't see how sky rocketing commodity prices would help Western economies... or societies.
by vladimir on Sat Apr 4th, 2009 at 11:23:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think I've written in my one-two with Deanander how Living Energy Lite is (almost) not a matter of concern for a  nation still in development like South Africa.

There is a lot of talk about frogleaping developing nations into sustainable commodities use, and I'm all for stimulating it. Yet I turn up the heat in my house in my neighbourhood in the Netherlands, where there is little insulation, a mediocre recycling scheme, a new coal plant being built in Rotterdam, a flush toilet wasting 10 litres of drinking water.

The development for reduction and recycling resources is in the first place in the court of the western nations, and not the developing nations who still look to western nations as an example how to get out of debilitating poverty - which is their right.

by Nomad on Sun Apr 5th, 2009 at 04:57:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I agree, Nomad. The key, however, is not to create another "Middle Class" of resource hogs, but to redefine "Prosperity". Ivonne and I just insulated our boat six ways from Sunday. Giant, complex job- no simple flat walls, a zillion hatches and ports, steel structure, huge leaky sliding doors- an energy sieve.
Last winter we burned three thousand liters of oil heating the thing. This year to date, seven hundred.

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.
by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Sun Apr 5th, 2009 at 06:42:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd be a lot happier if he'd stop continuously linking financial resurrection with "growth". Very soon that linkage will be indefensible, and if it's his mantra, it will come back to haunt him.

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.
by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Sun Apr 5th, 2009 at 06:35:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A brilliant analysis - how representative was the audience?  They seem remarkably discriminating as opposed to star struck.

On the wider political issue raised by Drew/Helen/Twankie what I find absolutely remarkable is how good a leader Obama is considering the political culture he comes from.  The more I read/view US media the more I am reminded of a Deutschland Uber Alles of a previous era - an absolute xenophobia/jingoism and apartheid like Boss mentality which is simply staggering.

In that context the quality of his speeches - and Afganistan/wall street bail-out apart - the quality of his policy initiatives, is staggering.  How much longer can he survive - given even the nature of his Blue dog dependent congressional majority?

In that context I will accept a few faux "balancing statements" inserted into his speeches to appeal to the home political market.  The question is how much he can shift the Overton window before he is rendered powerless...

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Apr 4th, 2009 at 10:20:46 AM EST
Will events overtake him and render him powerless?  Or more powerful?  Remember all of those great new dictatorial powers put in place by W, just waiting to burst forth?

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.
by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Sat Apr 4th, 2009 at 10:35:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I am probably more optimistic on the economy than many here, but even I acknowledge that Obama will pay a huge political cost for the economic damage the USA will suffer.  As such his election to a second term, and his ability to get progressive measures through Congress for a longer period of time is anything but assured...

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Apr 4th, 2009 at 10:44:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As long as his approval rating is 60%+, he's not going to be powerless.  As it is, it looks as though he's going to basically get what he wants in the budget.  He basically got what he asked for in the stimulus.

Whether he gets what he wants in the future depends on how feared he is by the opposition.  At this point, he's probably as likely to gain seats as he is to lose them in the midterms.

Looks like Harry Reid will (unfortunately perhaps) be alright since the Reps can't seem to find a decent candidate.  The Nevada GOP is in chaos.

I know Chris Dodd's approvals blow, but I have a tough time seeing Connecticut voting for a winger.

Arlen Specter has probably sentenced himself and his party to death by turning on EFCA.  He needs moderate Reps to win the general, but the moderate Reps in Pennsyltucky are almost all Democrats now, so the GOP is more extreme there than it was last time when he nearly lost the primary.  He'll probably lose the primary, and his opponent will probably lose the general badly.

The Florida Senate seat depends wholly on whether Charlie Crist wants it or not.  If he's in, the Reps will keep it.  (Not a total loss for us, as Crist will be a better Rep to deal with than Mel "Eet wuhs CAHSTRO!" Martinez.)  If Crist wants to stay in the governor's mansion, the Senate race will be competitive.

Ohio will be competitive.  New Hampshire should be a Dem pick-up now that Gregg isn't running.  North Carolina will be competitive.  There are some others.

The point is that, right now, the Reps can bitch and moan, but Obama's generally going to get what he wants, because he's popular and the election math still favors his party.  And if the Dems do pick up seats -- even just 2 or 3 -- in 2010, they can obviously do whatever the hell they want until 2012.

If the economy recovers for 2012, then forget it: The Reps are done.  Obama will roll to reelection, and despite the structural advantage swinging to the Reps in Congress, the Dems will probably lose few, if any, seats.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sat Apr 4th, 2009 at 10:55:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Obama's approvals are in slow decline - as we knew they would.  I see little evidence that many congressional dems have bought into any kind of radical change.  Obama has hardly put a foot wrong and still there is massive opposition in the media, business etc. As the economy continues to tank a lot of Obama's more fairweather friends will find reasons to distance themselves from him.

I agree that the early dynamics of the midterms are still very favourable to generic dems and all other things being equal they are still likely to consolidate their position.  But what if Obama dramatically cuts military expenditure, aid to Israel, increases taxes/regulation on the rich or fails to refloat the economy?

We are still at the honeymoon/formative stage of his reputation formation.  The GOP is still struggling to find any narrative which can attack him from a new angle or help them garner fresh support.  So far they are even having difficulty holding on to their base support.  But all that could change v. v. quickly if OBama doesn't deliver on economic regeneration, and given how huge the debts he is taking on, it is difficult to see how he can deliver in the short term.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Apr 4th, 2009 at 12:12:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I watched parts of it; my impression is that the speech was intended for Americans back home. That would explain the reference to God, the wallowing on European cynicism about the US, and the "dumbed-down" language of the speech.
by glacierpeaks (glacierpeaks@comcast.net) on Sat Apr 4th, 2009 at 11:36:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's the real give away.  The "dumbed-down".  Surprised he did it without hand puppets.

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.
by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Sun Apr 5th, 2009 at 09:32:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Clearly it's a mistake to define the cultural environment in the US by the media- they represent an elite culture that project their view of the "American People" thru their purchased media- and Fox news is a mortal insult to Americans since it represents that incredibly contemptuous view of their mental capacities and insight. He survives because so far he's better in tune with the real world, in some ways, and his popularity has so far prevented the corporate media from sharpening their knives and carving him up into fishbait. Perhaps Chris Cook is right- he's just biding his time.
He better get a better grip on the media- his netmobile just threw a rod.

The response to his attempts to mobilize popular support for the budget was tepid.

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.

by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Sun Apr 5th, 2009 at 06:54:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Now that there is no Bush to blame, can Europe start acting like a major player in world politics with moral responsiblity for its own actions, or will it continue to pretend to be a hapless victim of the USA as it continues to devastate the environment and loot the third world?

As just one example:

Bush made them, do it, and besides rich nations in Europe are not responsible for the actions of the client states they have set up in ex-colonies.

Or let's consider whether, at the moment that the US government is split over fundamental exposure of the Bush torture effort, what Europe is doing to help?  Apparently, European nations are expressing humanitarian concern about whether revelations will expose the extent of their own complicity. Bravo.

by rootless2 on Sat Apr 4th, 2009 at 11:11:06 AM EST
Der Heilige Obama will certainly lose from some of his policies.  Though he does seem to be learning to roll with the waves.

But he has a trump card.  Very astutely, he hasn't played it yet.  "Remember, I inherited this crisis.  I'm doing all I can to ease the pain, but I didn't create it."  For sure he's waiting 'til he truly needs it.  But when he needs it, he WILL remind everyone of what preceded him.

Me senses the possibility that he will grow with the times.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Sat Apr 4th, 2009 at 01:07:11 PM EST
I saw him speak here in Strasbourg. He's a good orator.

The problem with his whole foreign policy is that it hangs on "winning" the West's military adventure in Afghanistan.

His language on this conflict (dropping the Bush "axis of evil" nonsense on Iran) is certainly more European, emphasising "nation building" and civilian police training.

But the problem remains. Regardless of any initial casus belli against the former Taliban government, the present war in Afghanistan is no more just than Iraq.

Western military intervention is Western military intervention. Imperialism, liberal or otherwise, is still imperialism.

The continuing reorganisation of Nato around this mission (originally based on a spurious call on its article 5) seems to have consolidated the dubious idea that West knows best.

On something else completely different. Anyone read this Stiglitz piece on "Obama's Ersatz Capitalism"?

"What the Obama administration is doing is far worse than nationalization: it is ersatz capitalism, the privatizing of gains and the socializing of losses."

by Bruno Waterfield (brunowaterfield(at)gmail(dot)com) on Sat Apr 4th, 2009 at 01:26:18 PM EST
Obama is good at listening, and he is just as good as  organizing those he's listened to. What's more, Barrack Obama may be the first President who sees no contradiction in being the presiding executive of a republic founded during the early discourses of human rights, law, and state sovereignty, and being the de facto emperor of transnational polity that is the closest thing to a world government that history has yet seen.

Unlike Bush, he sees Europe as a part of the American/world polity, and as such he recognizes that Europe must not be ignored.  But he also understands that his power -- America's power -- rests primarily on other countries' willingness to surrender their own individual interests to those of the larger group's, which are ultimately America's interests.  So expect to see Obama surrender minor, but high profile, American interests to further global goals in exchange for the surrender of major interests of other world powers.  That's how community organizers do their jobs.

by santiago on Sat Apr 4th, 2009 at 06:53:45 PM EST
America's interests.

Do you see any US interests superior to energy security?

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Sat Apr 4th, 2009 at 07:14:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Energy security is important, but I think that even more important is not being subject to a nuclear attack or being free of major risks of disaster from something like a nuclear attack.  So, for example, building a bunch of nuclear power plants is not an acceptable way to ensure energy security.

Other priorities, in which, as an empire, the US faces rather unique challenges, is to guarantee the individual liberty of its citizens and residents, which includes the liberty to make mistakes, break rules, and perform immoral acts in private.  No imperial power has been very good at protecting these rights, historically, and I think this is ultimately more important than energy security.

by santiago on Sat Apr 4th, 2009 at 08:18:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
brilliant politician. A type of modern Lloyd George. This speaks volumes about vitality and vibrancy of American system which can adapt to changes. (Though in my opinion he was the most persuasive when talking about climate change, the mediocre and simply reassuring on economy and the least convincing on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and Iran's nuclear problem).

The anger and frustration of public is enourmous and western politicians have to take steps like reform IMF, be more nice with developing countries and Russia or even Iran, be more tough with bankers, etc only because they are like fireteam trying to diffuse building tensions. (Who would think that Brown would proclaim the end of Washington Consensus when he was adept and most ardent supporter of it over many years). They essentially try to save Wall Street's and City's fat cats from lynching by violent mobs.

Actually Obama's policy did not change much from George W Bush's. This tells us how Americans at large perceive their national interests. It means that to change disastrous American foreign policies one needs to change public discourse first. As internet challenges the role of traditional media in shaping such discourse not all is lost, it's possible to change it, but I suspect it will be difficult and lengthy process.

Mr Obama honestly admitted that he is American supremacist. The only change from Bush's neocons was (slight) change in tone, he allows that other people may also be (French, Russian, Japanese etc) supremacists and have their own interests. Thus he may be more opened to compromises than his predecessor. That's why the world has more hopes for his presidency.

by FarEasterner on Sun Apr 5th, 2009 at 08:01:38 AM EST

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