- The Washington Times - Friday, April 3, 2009

STRASBOURG, France — President Obama arrived in France on Friday and challenged a crowd of several thousand Europeans to rethink their anti-American biases, telling them that the United States itself is turning a new page to become a better partner to the world.

The president then pivoted from his cultural message to tell the audience that the war in Afghanistan is a necessary fight, a prelude to the challenge he plans to give European leaders on Friday night to do more to help the war there.

Mr. Obama, speaking to an audience of more than 3,000 young people from France and Germany in a sports arena, said that Americans have at times “shown arrogance and been dismissive” of Europe, due to a “a failure to appreciate Europe’s leading role in the world.”

“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 have chosen to blame America,” he said.

“On both sides of the Atlantic these views have become all too common,” Mr. Obama said, but added that “America is changing.”

“But it cannot be America alone that changes,” he said. He said that he had come to Europe “to renew our relationship,” but said that the trans-Atlantic partnership must be “one where our friends and allies bear their share of burden.”

“Europe should not simply expect the United States to shoulder that burden alone. This is a joint problem. It requires joint effort,” he said, to which the crowd responded with applause.

The crowd, which cheered wildly as Mr. Obama and first lady Michelle Obama entered the arena, and at other points during the speech, was silent during this portion.

Mr. Obama planned later in the day to press Europeans to contribute “more military and civilian assistance” in Afghanistan, following his recent announcement that he will send 21,000 more U.S. troops to fight in the war there.

The U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan now stands at about 58,000, compared to 32,000 from other countries, in what is supposed to be a coalition run by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Mr. Obama is in France for the NATO summit at which the coalition celebrates its 60 anniversary.

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

Mr. Gibbs said that Mr. Obama is specifically looking “to make progress on ensuring security for the upcoming elections in August, ensuring that we have in all of thee the resources now to match the [new U.S.] strategy, and hopefully progress on things such as police training…the civilian side, health, and also developmental aid for Pakistan.”

Mr. Obama sought to persuade the crowd of college-age young people that the war in Afghanistan is something their countries should be committed to.

“Some ask questions about why are we still in Afghanistan: ‘What does this mean? What is its purpose?’” he said.

“We would not deploy our own troops if this mission was not indispensable to our own common security,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Obama also said earlier in the day, following a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, that he would like to “see Europe have much more robust defense capabilities.”

“We’re not looking to be the patron of Europe. We’re looking to be partners…the more capable they are defensively, the more we can act in concert on the shared challenges that we face,” he said.

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