- The Washington Times - Friday, April 3, 2009

President Obama on Friday took advantage of his massive popularity in Europe to speak bluntly to the continent, challenging “insidious” anti-Americanism and calling on allies to do more in Afghanistan.

The president, suffering from a persistent head cold, left the two-day economic summit in London and headed to Strasbourg in the morning, where he met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who had been a harsh critic of U.S. policies leading up to the G-20 meeting.

The president also met in the afternoon with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the quaint German town of Baden-Baden, and then headed to a dinner there with the heads of state of the NATO alliance.

Mr. Obama went to the dinner intending to call on NATO countries to contribute “more civilian and military support,” after announcing in recent weeks the addition of 21,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.


Obama makes pitch to French youth

But his most remarkable comments came during a midday event where he spoke to several thousand young French and Germans at a campaign-style town hall event in Strasbourg, addressing the broader cultural attitudes in America and Europe have about each other.

“In America, there’s a failure to appreciate Europe’s leading role in the world. Instead of celebrating your dynamic union and seeking to partner with you to meet common challenges, there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive,” Mr. Obama said.

“But in Europe, there is an anti-Americanism that is at once casual but can also be insidious. Instead of recognizing the good that America so often does in the world, there have been times where Europeans choose to blame America for much of what’s bad,” he said, calling these attitudes “not wise.”

Mr. Obama said he had come to Europe “to renew our partnership, one in which America listens and learns from our friends and allies, but where our friends and allies bear their share of the burden.”

He stressed the need for Europe to increase its military capabilities and to, in the president’s words, continue their commitment to Afghanistan, where the NATO-led coalition fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda now comprises 58,000 U.S. troops and only 32,000 troops from all other countries.

“We do expect that all NATO partners are going to contribute to these efforts. They have thus far,” Mr. Obama said during a press conference with Mrs. Merkel following private meetings.

“Europe should not simply expect the United States to shoulder that burden alone. We should not because this is a joint problem and it requires joint effort,” he said during the town hall event.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs hammered home the point, speaking to reporters early in the day.

“The responsibility is there for Europe to step up,” Mr. Gibbs said. “This is more than the concern of the United States, but rather the concern of the world.”

Both Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Sarkozy, along with many other NATO allies, have strong anti-war sentiment in their own countries to overcome if they are to commit more troops to Afghanistan. One of the thousands who flocked to see Mr. Obama’s motorcade wind through the narrow streets of Baden-Baden held a rainbow-colored flag aloft with the word “peace” emblazoned in white as the president passed by.

With Europe’s aversion to armed conflict in mind, Mr. Obama talked throughout the day about the need to persevere in Afghanistan.

“We would not deploy our own troops if this mission was not indispensable to our own common security,” Mr. Obama told the town hall audience. “If there is another al Qaeda attack, it is just as likely, if not more, that it will be here in Europe in a European city.”

But he also sought to counter attitudes about war and conflict in general.

“It is important for Europe to understand that even though I’m now president and George Bush is no longer president, al Qaeda is still a threat, and that we cannot pretend somehow that because Barack Hussein Obama got elected as President, suddenly everything is going to be OK,” he said.

“Don’t fool yourselves, because some people say, ‘Well, you know, if we changed our policies with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or if we were more respectful towards the Muslim world, suddenly these organizations would stop threatening us.’ That’s just not the case.”

He even called the war in Afghanistan “just,” a term usually reserved for theological debates about whether state-sanctioned bloodshed can be morally justified.

“I understand that after a long campaign in Afghanistan, people can feel weary of war, even a war that is just,” he said.

Mr. Obama did not specify what he is hoping for out of NATO allies, though Mr. Gibbs talked about the need to ensure security for Afghan elections in August, increase training for Afghan police, civilian assets, healthcare aid, and provide financial assistance to neighboring Pakistan.

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