The Limits of a Popular American President
The popularity of Barack Obama as a presidential candidate in 2008 rivaled rock stars in Western Europe. His election as president of the United States suggested that he would open a new chapter in the U.S.-European relationship. This is certainly true, to a degree. The desirability of American leadership greatly improved in Europe, together with European approval of the American president, after years of strain under the previous administration. But Europeans' initial euphoria about the Obama presidency, reflected in early polling data and his 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, was a product of his inspirational rhetoric and spoke more for the hope they put in him rather than for any real achievements.
Now, 18 months into the Obama presidency, the European public has issued its first meaningful report card on Obama's accomplishments. It describes the limits of a still very popular American president.
The new 2010 Transatlantic Trends survey of 11 European Union countries and the United States by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Compagnia di San Paolo, and several European foundation partners, shows that Obama's overall approval remains high in the EU countries surveyed (78%), despite a slight decline from last year's 83%. The endurance of his high approval in Europe is good for America's image. But does this confirm a new era of transatlantic cooperation on today's most pressing foreign policy concerns such as Iran and Afghanistan? Did this Obama-mania in Europe lead to converging opinions about how to address the specifics of a host of global challenges? Unfortunately, a popular American president might be a necessary first step toward transatlantic convergence, but is clearly not sufficient.
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