By J. D. Heyes
When elected to his first term, President Obama was as popular in Europe as he was in the United States – a popularity that stretched into the 2012 election cycle. European leaders extended their good will after Obama won reelection:
“Your re-election is a clear choice in favor of an America that is open, unified, completely engaged in the international scene and conscious of the challenges facing our planet: peace, the economy and the environment.” – French President Francois Hollande
“One of the first things I want to talk to Barack about is how we must do more to try and solve this crisis (in Syria). Above all, congratulations to Barack. I’ve enjoyed working with him, I think he’s a very successful U.S. president and I look forward to working with him in the future.” — British Prime Minister David Cameron
“The bond between Europe and North America, based upon the shared values on which our alliance was founded over 60 years ago, remains as strong, and as important to the preservation of Euro-Atlantic peace and security, as ever. President Obama has demonstrated outstanding leadership in maintaining this vital bond.” — NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen
“The trust that the American people wanted to renew in you will allow the international community, Europe and Italy to benefit from your leadership without interruptions. … With your confirmation at the White House, Italy knows it can count on a strong and united America.” — Italian Premier Mario Monti
‘The world’s fantasies about Barack Obama are crumbling’
That was then. Now, in the wake of revelations that the National Security Agency, under Obama’s guidance, has been conducting massive electronic surveillance of all of Europe – nations which are supposed to be America’s allies – the sentiment has changed dramatically.
Now, Obama is not seen as someone who can build bridges and lead the free world. He is seen as a liar, a charlatan and a power-mad tyrant who abuses his own citizens and treats allies like enemies.
“It has taken a long time, but the world’s fantasies about Barack Obama are finally crumbling. In Europe, once the headquarters of the global cult of Obama, the disillusionment is particularly bitter. Monday’s newspapers were full of savage quotes about the perfidy of the Obama-led U.S.,” writes Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times.
Hollande, who sang Obama’s praises following the November election, has now angrily denounced the U.S. spying and has demanded it come to an end. “Le Monde, Mr. Hollande’s home-town newspaper, has even suggested that the EU should consider giving political asylum to Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower,” Rachmann noted.
German magazine Der Speigel incorrectly blamed the agency itself, writing that “the NSA’s totalitarian ambition … affects us all … A constitutional state cannot allow it. None of us can allow it.” I get why the magazine is angry with the NSA, but the NSA does not operate in a vacuum; the spying conducted by the agency was permitted by congressional oversight committees in the House and Senate and, more importantly, ordered and approved by Obama, all under our “constitutional” system. So the spying buck stops with him.
‘It was bound to happen’
Others are simply disillusioned. “Obama talks like the president of the American Civil Liberties Union but he acts like Dick Cheney,” Hakan Altinay, a Turkish academic, told Rachmann recently.
But really, the disillusionment was bound to happen. Obama – especially in Europe – was elevated to the status of a demigod when he was first elected in 2008. Some 200,000 Berliners turned out to hear him speak shortly before he won his first term. Obama-mania blossomed into full-blown hero worship. It was historic.
But then, as in 2012, nobody wanted to listen to anyone who tried to bring the world’s expectations back down to a manageable level. No one wanted to believe that a man who spoke of such lofty goals as unity, brotherhood and “change” with such conviction could, in fact, ever reveal himself to be just another U.S. politician.
They see now, through the actions of the NSA, that Barack Obama is no demigod. He is no hero. He is no savior. And the only “change” he has brought about for Europeans is a shift in their attitudes about him.
It was bound to happen.
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