Can Obama's Overseas Popularity Translate Into Results?

(AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)

When Barack Obama visited Europe 8 months ago as a presidential candidate, he was selling himself to voters as someone who could look presidential while also selling himself to the world as someone who would engage other nations differently – and less unilaterally – than President George W. Bush did.

While his opponent, John McCain, took the opportunity to skewer the rock-star aspect of that trip, his already high popularity rating in Europe skyrocketed after his visit.

Now, Mr. Obama's about to embark on a return trip to Europe, his first overseas trip since taking office, and his sales pitch has shifted due to the current conditions – the global economic meltdown and the war in Afghanistan.

The president's challenge? To take advantage of the Europeans' high regard for him and to persuade them to follow his lead on rescuing the economy and to offer more help with the war in Afghanistan.

And the burning question: Can Mr. Obama's popularity in Europe translate into results?

First up, the president will attend the Group of 20 summit in London, where he'll try to convince world leaders that they should emulate the United States by enacting economic stimulus and financial bailout plans in their own countries.

"In all countries there is an understandable tension between the steps that are needed to kick-start the economy and the fact that many of these steps are very expensive and taxpayers have a healthy skepticism about spending too much of their money, particularly when it is perceived that some of the money is being spent not on them but on others who they perceive may have helped precipitate the crisis," Mr. Obama told the Financial Times in an interview, fully aware of some of the sentiment brewing at home and the resistance he's been receiving from abroad.

Both the leaders of Germany and France have given the government-assisted economic stimulus idea the cold shoulder and the Czech Republic's troubled prime minister went as far as calling it "the road to hell."

As a result, Mr. Obama is trying to forge a middle ground – acknowledge that government-backed stimulus isn't the only answer.

"The press has tended to frame this as an 'either/or' approach," Mr. Obama told the Financial Times. "I have consistently argued that what is needed is a 'both/and' approach. We need stimulus and we need regulation. We need to deal with the problems right in front of us and we also need to make sure we are taking steps to prevent these types of breakdown from happening again."

While in London, the president will meet with the leaders of Britain, Russia, China, South Korea, India and Saudi Arabia as well as with Queen Elizabeth II.

On Friday, Mr. Obama heads to Strasbourg, France for the NATO summit, where he'll meet directly with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy – ostensibly to continue discussions about their opposition to his stimulus ideas.

But the main item on the agenda at the NATO summit is for the president to gin up support for his recently unveiled Afghanistan plan – something that has been a tough sell to this point, something Mr. Obama's been pitching since his last trip to Europe.

"The Afghan people need our troops and your troops; our support and your support to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda, to develop their economy, and to help them rebuild their nation. We have too much at stake to turn back now," he said in Berlin last July.

And last week when announcing his plan for Afghanistan, the president said, "As America does more, we will ask others to join us in doing their part. From our partners and NATO allies, we will seek not simply troops, but rather clearly defined capabilities: supporting the Afghan elections, training Afghan security forces, a greater civilian commitment to the Afghan people."

Perhaps there are glimmers of hope, however, as it seems European leaders are publicly saying they may be amenable to helping the U.S. in Afghanistan, at least as training forces, not necessarily combat troops.

"We want to make this mission a success and that means giving Afghanistan the means to take care of its own security," German Chancellor Merkel said, according to a Reuters translation of her weekly podcast released over the weekend. "In particular, it means that we must do more qualitatively in the training of soldiers and police. Germany is ready to do its duty."

And European Union Ambassador to the U.S. John Bruton told CBSNews.com's "Washington Unplugged" on Friday, "There may be some additional troops for some purposes. Particularly training was mentioned by President Obama, and I've no doubt that we would be willing to provide training for the Afghan army and the Afghan police. The development of the Afghan police is very, very important."

Following the NATO summit, the president will head to Prague for a meeting with the European Union nations and to deliver a speech on nuclear proliferation.

He wraps up his trip in Turkey – a country that is virtually entirely Muslim – and given his direct call to Muslims during his inaugural address ("To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect") his moves and comments there will be heavily scrutinized.



Steve Chaggaris is CBS News' Political Director. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here.
  • Steve Chaggaris

    Steve Chaggaris is CBSNews.com's Executive Editor, Washington.

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