On the campaign trail, Barack Obama promised that he would “reboot America’s image” around the world. Indeed, many Americans who voted for Obama believed that his global popularity would somehow reverse the tide of anti-Americanism that so vexed his predecessor. Echoing this sentiment of Obama as savior of America’s image abroad, presidential advisor David Axelrod recently asserted that “anti-Americanism isn’t cool anymore.”
In Europe, where anti-Americanism was elevated to the status of a religion during the presidency of George W. Bush, the “chattering classes” have, by and large, toned down their criticism of the United States since Obama was elected. In general, European media coverage of Obama has been quite favorable and the vehemence of the anti-American rhetoric has been notably more muted than in recent years. But now, five months into the age of Obama, the highly vaunted transatlantic honeymoon may be coming to an end. During the past several weeks, European media have started publishing stories that criticize Obama and once again cast the United States in a negative light. Could this be a harbinger of things to come?
What follows is a brief selection of European news stories that typify what seems to be a general trend toward a return to more negative reporting about America, its people, and its president.
In Britain, the left-leaning daily newspaper The Independent asks: “Has Obama been exposed as an innocent abroad?” It continues: “Barack Obama’s foreign policy honeymoon may be petering out as events around the globe, whether in Israel, Iran or North Korea, conspire to expose some inconvenient realities about his vaunted olive-branch approach to international relations. A nicer America does not a nicer world immediately make. It would help if the ‘Obama Effect’ could be demonstrated actually to exist, even just a little.”
In Germany, the news media have been especially angry over Obama’s failure to close the prison for terrorist suspects at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. The Financial Times Deutschland, in a commentary titled “World’s Hopes Dashed By George W. Obama,” writes: “This decision [to revive military trials for some Guantánamo Bay detainees] isn’t a belated insight, but the pathetic faltering of a man forced to confront a disastrous legacy. … No one who defends these institutions ought to criticize Islam’s Sharia courts.” The Munich-based center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung, in an editorial titled “Obama’s Great Mistake,” writes: “Obama’s people certainly imagined things differently. But reality has caught up with them. … Bush light, so to speak. … Obama is discrediting both himself and the United States.”
German newspapers have also been fiercely critical of Obama’s refusal to release more photos of alleged torture at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The Berlin-based left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung writes: “With his decision to prevent the publication of the photos, Obama, who promised transparency … is practicing opacity. … That the president is abdicating leadership on this question is a tragedy.” In another commentary, Die Tageszeitung writes: “Whenever [Obama] takes a step forward, he stumbles backwards as well. That will likely be enough to disappoint all those Europeans who had expectations that Obama would be an almost messiah-like healer. It was expected that he would demolish all of the ugly monuments from the Bush era and then, together with Al Gore, plant a Garden of Eden over the top, through which he would drive fuel-efficient compacts from Chrysler.”
The Financial Times Deutschland writes: “Obama promised that, under his leadership, politics in the U.S. would be both more ethical and more transparent than ever before. The dark chapters of the Bush era would be illuminated as quickly as possible. But since Obama assumed a position of responsibility, it has become increasingly obvious that he cannot live up to these promises.”
The Hamburg-based left-leaning Der Spiegel, which was one of the most hyperactive purveyors of anti-Americanism during the Bush presidency, has lately been back in full form. In recent weeks, the magazine has published a series of articles that are unusually critical of Obama. Some titles include: “From Mania to Distrust: Europe’s Obama Euphoria Wanes,” “Torturing for America,” “American Gays and Lesbians Feel Betrayed by Obama,” and “GM Insolvency Proves America’s Global Power is Waning.”