President Barack Obama is back in the United States after a six-day trip to Europe that from start to finish was carefully planned to quell criticism from opponents that he is a lightweight on the world stage. With his poll numbers at all-time lows in the United States, undiscerning Europeans dutifully turned out in droves to fawn over Obama, thus handing the president (who has mostly ignored them since taking office) enduring images that his campaign managers are sure to use as political fodder in the months ahead.
Book-ended by picture-perfect visits to Ireland and Poland in an effort to reach out to important political constituencies back home, Obama also visited France and Britain, where he upgraded the relationship from “special” to “essential.”
Obama began his European tour in Ireland in an ostensible effort to “rediscover” the roots of his great, great, great grandfather. To cheers from an exuberant crowd numbering 25,000 in Dublin, the American president began his evening address with the greeting: “Hello Dublin! Hello Ireland! My name is Barack Obama of the Moneygall Obamas, and I’ve come home to find the apostrophe that we lost somewhere along the way.”
Writing for London’s Daily Telegraph, columnist Cristina Odone said Obama’s trip to Ireland was “naked electioneering.” Wrote Odone: “Barack Obama is no more O’Bama than I am O’Done. And the Irish know it. They’re watching, bemused, as the most powerful man in the world comes to visit their President and Taoiseach, then visit Moneygall, home of his great-great-great grandfather. They know it’s not their smiling eyes he’s visiting for — but for the 35,975,855 Americans who claim Irish roots. That’s a sizeable chunk of the electorate and geographically strategic, too: Irish-Americans are numerous in precisely those states, like Ohio and Pennsylvania, that often prove to be decisive during presidential elections.”
She continued: “Obama’s O’Bama act will strike Irish Catholics on both sides of the Atlantic as highly hypocritical not only because, as his autobiography ‘Dreams from My Father’ shows, his Kenyan heritage, not the Irish one, shaped his vision; but also because as President, Obama has pursued an anti-Catholic agenda that has been unapologetically pro-abortion and pro stem cell research. His stand on the death penalty is no different from previous administrations, and his U-turn on Guantanamo Bay betrays a disregard for human life that offends Catholic teaching. For Catholic Ireland, his trip is not so much the return of the Prodigal Son as the photo-op of the wayward cousin.”
Odone suspects Obama’s “Machiavellian tactic” will backfire: “The Irish will spin it as a PR triumph capable of regenerating their tourism rather than as a politically momentous occasion; the Irish Americans will quite rightly view the trip as a desperate, last ditch appeal to them. O’Bama, oh why sink so low?”
With the sought-after photos of adulating Irishmen in hand, Obama left Ireland as quickly as he arrived amid fears that Air Force One could be grounded by a volcanic ash cloud blowing down from Iceland. But not before posing for one last photo, of Obama sipping a pint of Guinness beer with ordinary folks at Ollie Hayes pub in Moneygall.
Obama’s next campaign stop was Britain, where analysts said the president was hoping to piggyback on the popularity of the British royal family in the United States after 23 million Americans tuned in to watch Prince William and Kate Middleton marry. To be sure, Obama remains highly popular in Britain despite having ejected Sir Winston Churchill from the White House in what was the first foreign policy decision of his presidency.
Letting bygones be bygones, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip welcomed the Obamas to Buckingham Palace with pomp and pageantry and a 41 gun salute and a state dinner. Obama returned the favor by botching a toast to the queen and refusing to drink the royal tap water. But he regained control of his image by becoming only the fourth foreign dignitary to address Parliament at Westminster Hall since World War II.