The long-standing esteem for the United States, which had characterized European relations since the end of World War II through the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, had sunk to new lows during the Bush administration. President Bush narrowly defined the role of European nations as relating to his ill-considered military adventures: You’re either for us or against us. So, President Obama set about mending fences with European leaders during his recent visit and the G-20 summit.
Observers say Mr. Obama was embraced during the visit with more enthusiasm and warmth — from ordinary citizens and leaders alike — than any other president since Dwight Eisenhower. If so, he must not take that goodwill for granted, and not squander it the way his predecessor squandered the post-Sept. 11 international support.
Of course, there is no European consensus on the issues of importance to the U.S., and Europe is hardly a homogenous entity. But Mr. Obama seems to have chosen his itinerary well.
After speaking with the G-20 leaders in London, primarily about concerted efforts to shore up the global economy, he met with French leaders. It was France that notably opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Then it was on to the Czech Republic, an apt choice, given its status as a former Soviet bloc country. And finally, the president traveled to Turkey, a nation with a strong Islamic heritage. There Mr. Obama asserted that the U.S. was not, nor would ever be, at war with that religion.
The hat-in-hand, please-forgive-us tone of the trip may have been necessary, but it must be an opening gambit, not a continuing theme. The U.S. must be prepared to lean on European countries for diplomatic help, for contributions to multinational military efforts and for concessions on economic and other matters.
Mr. Obama launched his political career on his opposition to the Iraq War. But his agenda has been more focused on domestic economic issues, and certainly the economic crisis of the fall and winter has sharpened that aim. Still, foreign policy often has a way of forcing itself to the forefront of the Oval Office. Those issues tend to strain and remake alliances.
The president ought to save up the capital he earns in trips like the European tour, and he ought to spend it wisely in the months and years to come.