Obama's Trip: Boom or Bust?
Barack Obama had plenty of disappointments to contend with on his first international foray as president. Europe rejected his call for more stimulus spending and made it clear that the U.S. is no longer calling all the shots unilaterally. The NATO allies refused to commit to more troops for the war in Afghanistan, and they agreed to take only a few of the prisoners now being held at Guantanamo. North Korea publicly defied Obama's calls not to test a missile. And the president was mocked by critics at home for calling for nuclear disarmament and even accused of dishonoring the U.S.
But in little more than a week, Obama actually accomplished a lot more than most people would have dreamed possible.
He refurbished the U.S. image on the world stage and earned respect for his ability to listen and more important, to hold his own with other world leaders. He won added contributions to the IMF for developing nations, which few expected and which will serve as a backdoor stimulus of sorts. He won plaudits for personally bridging differences between China and France over tax havens, an issue that almost threw a monkey wrench into the summit. He also single handedly averted an embarrassing Turkish veto of the next NATO secretary general.
Obama showed he can defend U.S. interests without alienating the allies. He refused to yield on calls that he sacrifice control over financial institutions to a world body, a demand that could have led to a walkout at the London summit if handled less adroitly.
He made real progress on nuclear nonproliferation, despite the unavoidable setback in North Korea. He and the Russian president agreed to negotiate an arms reduction treaty starting in July. And he made it clear he's serious about reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the U.S. and Russian arsenals.
Obama stepped up his efforts to improve relations with the Muslim world and was generally greeted with plaudits. He also made a good start at repairing our broken relationship with Turkey, a country that is key to progress in the Middle East in general, and Iraq in particular.
The president was almost in campaign mode, reaching out directly to the public with two major speeches and two town-hall style meetings -- clear demonstrations that he's set on making his own impression on the public overseas as well as at home and changing the face of the U.S. abroad in more ways than one. Regardless of what the critics say, the public seems to be pleased. A New York Times poll taken near the end of the trip gave him high marks for his performance both at home and abroad.