Monday, 23 May 2011

Why is the President in Europe, anyway?

Obama spoke today to a seething crowd of over 25,000 enthusiastic Irish people in Dublin. You can watch the full, fiesty and funny speech here. It's a lovely speech, but I don't think I'm doing it a terrible disservice if I summarise it thus: "The history of America has been the history of our Irish immigrants. We totally heart the Irish."

And we do!

Now, as Barack and Michelle's 2011 European tour gets under way, you may be asking (as Danish and French TV have already asked me on camera) why are they coming?

Fortunately, senior members of the White House foreign policy team have done a helpful on the record briefing a few days ago to set the scene - having reviewed the transcript on the tube today, I can now tell you that the trip comprises visits to 4 countries: Ireland, the United Kingdom, France (where the President will participate in the G8 meeting in the town of Deauville) and finally Poland.

Touching on the underpinning meaning of the trip, one official described it by returning to the President's campaign promises:
He as a candidate made a strong commitment to revitalizing our alliances, as Ben said, and to repairing America’s leadership and moral standing in the world.  And this trip very much underscores the extent to which he has achieved that with our closest allies and partners in Europe.
She went on to say that there are essentially 3 key themes or purposes underpinning the trip. In summary, these are:
  • Highlight America's ongoing commitment to Europe. Ireland, the UK, and continental Europe remain American's most lasting, reliable and important allies. Amongst other things, some of the ceremonial aspects of the trip - like today's public address in Dublin and the pomp and circumstance associated with the UK state visit - serve to reaffirm that friendship. In short, sometimes you just have to come and spend time with your friends. 
  • The second theme is to work on the European institutions which form the more formal aspects of the American-European alliance. Most notable in this is NATO, and the effort to bring the NATO project up to date with the modern world. Similarly, continuing to build the relationship with the European Union as it too continues to change and grow. This will be most important, perhaps in the Polish leg of the trip.
  • And finally, our joint activity in working together WITH Europe to advocate for western values on the world stage. This will be especially critical in light of the ongoing joint actions in Libya and Afghanistan, and as we strategise together about the an appropriate response to other international crisis as the Arab Spring and Israeli-Palestinian situations continue to await resolution. 
So there will be some stuff to talk about. I'm just glad Barack managed to get in a pint right at the start.

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