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Barack Obama's European Tour: The President Must Protect the Transatlantic Alliance

Nile Gardiner

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Barack Obama begins his first overseas trip as President when he arrives in London on March 31, where he will meet with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Conservative Party leader David Cameron, and Queen Elizabeth II before attending the G-20 summit on April 2. He will then travel to Strasbourg and Kehl for the 60th anniversary NATO summit, followed by meetings with European Union leaders in Prague. His European tour concludes with a visit to Turkey on April 6-7.

The President's trip to Europe has been heavily overshadowed by a major transatlantic rift over U.S. calls for Europe to pledge significantly more funds for a global stimulus package, a proposal that has been strongly resisted (with good reason) by most European leaders. There are already signs that the Obama Administration will back down in the face of intense European opposition when world leaders meet at the G-20, with many decisions likely to be postponed for a future meeting.

The G-20 aside, this trip will be an important opportunity for the new President to demonstrate clear U.S. leadership in Europe on an array of key issues, including:

  • The war in Afghanistan. Alongside the British prime minister, President Obama must call on European allies to help bear the military burden of the fight against the Taliban by sending more combat troops to the battlefields of Helmand province and by removing the dozens of caveats aimed at keeping their personnel out of harm's way.
  • The Iranian nuclear crisis. President Obama should declare that the West will not accept the ugly spectre of a nuclear-armed Tehran and will do all in its power-including the possible use of force as a last resort-to prevent it from becoming a reality.
  • The transatlantic alliance. President Obama must reaffirm the United States' commitment to the two main pillars of the transatlantic alliance-the Anglo-American Special Relationship and the NATO alliance.

Finally, President Obama must also confront a resurgent Russia over NATO expansion and third site missile defense, as well as the continuing threat posed by Islamist terrorism.

Washington Must Preserve the Special Relationship

While wooing strategic competitors such as China and Russia, the new U.S. Administration has been largely indifferent to the Anglo-American alliance, with an appallingly handled reception for the British prime minister when he visited the White House in early March and the recalibration of the special relationship as a "special partnership." Even a bust of Sir Winston Churchill was unceremoniously thrown out of the Oval Office. A distinctly undiplomatic State Department official involved in the planning of the Obama-Brown meeting was quoted as saying that "there's nothing special about Britain. You're just the same as the other 190 countries in the world." [1]

It would be a huge mistake for the new U.S. Administration to look away from Britain for its most important strategic relationship. There has scarcely been a more important period since the Second World War for joint U.S.-British leadership with a major war in Afghanistan, a global battle against al-Qaeda, an increasingly aggressive Russia, and the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran.

The Special Relationship is vital to American and British interests on many levels, from military, diplomatic, and intelligence cooperation to transatlantic trading ties. If President Obama does not invest in the preservation of this relationship, the end result will be a weaker United States that is less able to stand up to terrorism and tyranny and to project power and influence across the globe.

Consequently, when he visits London, it is imperative that President Obama acknowledges and pays tribute to the tremendous sacrifice of Britain's armed forces alongside American troops in both Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as two world wars, something he has never done in a major policy speech. Great Britain is America's most reliable friend: As nearly every post-war President has found, there is simply no alternative to U.S.-British leadership in securing the free world. President Obama should maintain the Anglo-American Special Relationship as the centerpiece of the transatlantic alliance

The United States Should Be Wary of a Federal Europe

Barack Obama heads across the Atlantic as the leader of the first U.S. Administration to wholeheartedly back the creation of a federal Europe. In contrast to earlier U.S. Administrations, including those of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, the Obama Administration is avowedly Euro-federalist in its outlook and is keen to help build a European Union defense identity as well as support the foundations of a European superstate in Brussels.

The Bush Administration was sharply divided over Europe: Although then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice backed the European Constitution, her pro-Brussels instincts were strongly opposed by key figures in the White House and the Pentagon. President Bush himself worked hard to build up a counterweight to the Franco-German axis, one comprised of pro-American nations among the new EU members from Eastern and Central Europe.

In contrast, President Obama's government is strongly backing the European Security and Defence Policy, the Lisbon Treaty, and the Common Foreign and Security Policy. Obama will seek to strengthen French and German leadership at the heart of a united European Union. President Obama has appointed several prominent supporters of European federalism to key positions in the Pentagon and State Department, including the new undersecretary of defense for policy and the next assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs.

The Obama Administration has already made major concessions to Paris over President Sarkozy's decision for France to rejoin the NATO integrated command structure. The French have been given two major positions at the helm of the alliance, a move that will significantly enhance the drive towards a European defence component within NATO.

Vice President Joe Biden has clearly indicated that the United States will support "the further strengthening of European defense" and an "increased role for the European Union in preserving peace and security." [2] Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also expressed her support for key provisions in the Treaty of Lisbon-a rehash of the old European Constitution-including a European Union foreign minister. [3]

This dangerous shift in U.S. policy is a betrayal of both U.S. and British interests that will threaten the long-term future of the Anglo-American Special Relationship, weaken the NATO alliance, and undermine the defense of British sovereignty in Europe. It will also undercut opposition across the EU to the Treaty of Lisbon-including in countries such as Ireland, Poland, and the Czech Republic-and may set the scene for a major confrontation between the Obama White House and a future Conservative administration in London.

President Obama Must Project Leadership in Europe

When he visits Europe, President Obama has a major opportunity to show that he has the maturity, strength, and conviction to lead on the world stage. He must project a clear vision for U.S. global leadership, one that is anchored firmly in the transatlantic alliance with Britain. The Obama Administration currently lacks a clear foreign policy direction, and against the backdrop of an increasingly dangerous world, America seems rudderless and at times unwilling to lead.

Washington must stand up to the Iranian nuclear threat, the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the global menace of al-Qaeda, and Russian intimidation in Europe with strength, resolve and conviction. This must include a willingness to wield maximum force where necessary, deploy a comprehensive missile shield in Europe, and increase military spending in the defense of the United States and the free world.

The President must be careful not to fall into the trap of undermining America's most important alliances, including the U.S.-U.K. Special Relationship and NATO, by supporting the rise of a federal Europe. There is no evidence to suggest that Europe is capable of shouldering the burden of global leadership with America. The European Union is a grandiose emperor with no clothes, and its track record in confronting dictatorial regimes such as Iran has been a dismal failure. The EU is obsessed with challenging American global pre-eminence rather than working with the United States, and the European Project is ultimately all about building a counterweight to American world leadership.

As they approach the transatlantic alliance, President Obama and his aides should heed the advice of a former prime minister and great friend of the United States who fought to defend the Special Relationship and maintain British sovereignty in Europe. As Margaret Thatcher put it, "that such an unnecessary and irrational project as building a European superstate was ever embarked upon will seem in future years to be perhaps the greatest folly of the modern era."

Nile Gardiner Ph.D. is Director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation.

[1] Tim Shipman, "Barack Obama 'Too Tired' to Give Proper Welcome to Gordon Brown," The Sunday Telegraph , March 7, 2009, at http://www.telegraph .co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/barackobama/4953523/Barack-Obama- too-tired-to-give-proper-welcome-to-Gordon-Brown.html (March 30, 2009).

[2] Vice President Joseph R. Biden, speech at the 45th Munich Security Conference, February 7, 2009, at http://www.securityconference.de /konferenzen/rede.php?menu_2009=&menu_konferenzen=&sprache=en& id=238& (March 30, 2009).

[3] Denis Staunton, interview with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, The Irish Times , March 21, 2009, at http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/world/2009/03 21/1224243196950.html (March 30, 2009).

Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow

Over the past decade, Europe’s security and prosperity has declined due to poor economic decisions, bureaucratic overreach, and other issues.

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Barack Obama set to visit Switzerland this April as part of European tour

Barack Obama set to visit Switzerland this April as part of European tour

During his tenure as US president between 2009 and 2017, Barack Obama was not fortunate enough to visit Switzerland. Thankfully, Swiss fans of the former politician will soon be able to catch a glimpse of him at the Hallenstadion next month, as the ex-US president heads to Zurich as part of his latest tour. 

Tickets for An Evening with President Barack Obama on pre-sale

Tickets for the event are currently on pre-sale, with prices ranging from 59 Swiss francs right up to 564 francs for any mega-fans who want the VIP experience. The former president will arrive and deliver his show in Zurich on April 29, and will then head to Amsterdam on May 1 and Berlin on May 3. 

The now-61-year-old is set to speak on a number of interesting topics such as creativity, corporate responsibility, leadership and transformation, according to a press release. The statement also says that former President Obama will invite a number of surprise guests to speak and perform during the night, as well as give guests the opportunity to listen and have a “moderated conversation” between the former president and the audience.

Image: Shutterstock.com / Frederic Legrand - COMEO

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Watch CBS News

President Obama's final tour of Europe

Updated on: November 17, 2016 / 2:14 PM EST / CBS News

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President Barack Obama toured Greece ’s most famous ancient monument, the Acropolis citadel, and delivered a speech to the Greek people Wednesday as he finished up the first leg of his final foreign tour as president before handing over the White House to President-elect Donald Trump. 

President Obama lingered at the base of the Parthenon, gazing at the columns and glancing around at the panoramic view of Athens as he chatted with his guide, Eleni Banou of the Culture Ministry’s antiquities division.

In this photo, U.S. President Barack Obama passes the Parthenon while touring the Acropolis with Banou in Athens, Greece November 16, 2016. 

State dinner in Greece

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The last visit to Greece by a U.S. president was by Bill Clinton in 1999, which was also marred by clashes between anarchists and riot police.

In this photo, U.S. President Barack Obama listens as Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos speaks during a state dinner in Obama’s honor at the Presidential Mansion in Athens, Greece November 15, 2016. 

Protesters in Greece

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Greek riot police used tear gas and stun grenades Tuesday in Athens to disperse about 3,000 left-wing marchers protesting a visit by President Obama after they tried to enter an area off-limits to demonstrators.

Mr. Obama’s visit comes just two days before the country’s main annual anti-American demonstrations, which commemorate the bloody suppression, by military authorities, of the Polytechnic pro-democracy uprising.

In this photo, protesters from the Communist-affiliated PAME trade hold a banner reading “EU and NATO a War syndicate” during a demonstration against the visit of U.S President Barack Obama, in Athens, Greece, November 15, 2016. 

Obama in Athens

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Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (2nd L), U.S. President Barack Obama (3rd L), Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos (C), U.S. Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt (R) and others listen to the US national anthem during a state dinner at the Presidential Mansion in Athens on November 15, 2016. 

Obama arrives in Athens

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Secret Service agents stand beside the U.S President Barack Obama’s limousine following his arrival at the Eleftherios Venizelos International airport in Athens, Greece, November 15, 2016. 

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U.S. President Barack Obama and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras listen as Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos speaks during a state dinner in Mr. Obama’s honor at the Presidential Mansion in Athens, Greece November 15, 2016.

Refugee women listening to Obama

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Refugee women listen to the speech of U.S. President Barack Obama at a opera house in Athens on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016. 

Obama tours Acropolis Museum

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U.S. President Barack Obama tours the Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece November 16, 2016.

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As  anti-American protesters took to the streets  to mark President Obama’s arrival, CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan said Mr. Obama praised Greece as the birthplace of democracy, but warned there is a dark side to the type of populist movement led by President-elect Donald Trump.

“We are going to have to guard against a rise in a crude sort of nationalism or ethnic identity or tribalism that is built around an ‘us and a them,’” Mr. Obama said.

In this photo, a petrol bomb explodes next to riot police during a demonstration against the visit of U.S President Barack Obama, in Athens, Greece, November 15, 2016. 

Obama tours the Acropolis in Athens

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A sightseeing trip to the Acropolis gave President Obama a break Wednesday from the primary mission of his European trip; assuring European leaders that President-elect Donald Trump won’t abandon them. 

In this photo, U.S. President Barack Obama tours the Acropolis in Athens, Greece November 16, 2016. 

Obama visits Athens

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U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a press conference with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at Maximos Palace in Athens, Greece November 15, 2016. 

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Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (L) welcomes U.S. President Barack Obama before their meeting in Athens on November 15, 2016. 

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Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (R) welcomes U.S. President Barack Obama before their meeting in Athens on November 15, 2016. 

Obama meets with Greek president

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U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos at the Presidential Mansion during his visit to Athens, Greece November 15, 2016. 

Welcome ceremony in Athens

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U.S President Barack Obama inspects a Greek guard of honor at a welcome ceremony, in Athens, Greece, November 15, 2016. 

Refugee children in Athens

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Refugee children from Afghanistan react as U.S. President Barack Obama’s motorcade passes by following his arrival in Athens, Greece, November 15, 2016. 

Athens airport

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President Obama’s next stop on his final foreign tour is Germany, followed by Peru.

In this photo, U.S. security members secure the area at the Athens Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport, prior to the departure of U.S. President Barack Obama, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016. 

Obama in Berlin

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On the second leg of his last foreign trip, U.S. President Barack Obama reviews an honor guard upon his arrival on Air Force One in Berlin, Germany November 16, 2016. 

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U.S President Barack Obama arrives at the Tegel airport in Berlin, Germany, November 16, 2016. 

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U.S. President Barack Obama, left, is welcomed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel prior to a meeting in the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016. 

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President Barack Obama meets with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the German Chancellery in Berlin, Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016. 

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U.S. President Barack Obama and Chancellor Angela Merkel attend a private dinner at the famous Adlon hotel in Berlin, Germany, November 17, 2016.

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A member of a security detail keeps watch as President Barack Obama and Chancellor Angela Merkel meet in the German Chancellery in Berlin, Germany November 17, 2016. 

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U.S. President Barack Obama arrives at the Chancellery where he is welcomed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel on November 17, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. 

The President’s Spring 2014 Trip

Netherlands, belgium, italy, the holy see, and the kingdom of saudi arabia.

President Obama will travel to the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, the Holy See, and Saudi Arabia from March 24 to March 29 to mobilize the international community — and some of our most important partners in the world — at a time when the United States is dealing with a number of important challenges. The President’s trip highlights the fundamental strength and significance of our alliances and partnerships, and the importance of investing in our allies and building strong and flexible coalitions.

Video of the Trip

March 27, 2014

Travels with The President - Rome & Vatican City

President Obama meets with His Holiness Pope Francis at the Vatican and then tours tour The Colosseum in Rome.

March 25, 2014

President Obama Speaks at the Nuclear Security Summit

President Obama discusses progress made at this year's summit toward improving nuclear security around the world, and lays out work to be done over the next two years, prior to the 2016 summit in Chicago.

President Obama Holds a Press Conference with Prime Minister Rutte of the Netherlands

President Obama and Prime Minister Rutte of the Netherlands take questions from the press following the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague.

On the Rhodes - The G7 & Beyond

Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communication, takes us "On The Rhodes" in the Netherlands. The President was in Holland for the third of the Nuclear Security Summits. He also convened the G7, toured the Rijksmuseum, and held bilateral meetings.

March 24, 2014

On Board With President Obama

President Obama arrived in The Netherlands, toured the Rijksmuseum, and held a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Rutte. Later participated in a bilateral meeting with President Xi Jinping of China and then arrived at the World Forum to participate in the Nuclear Security Summit.

President Obama's Bilateral Meeting with President Xi of China

President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China speak to the press before a bilateral meeting at the U.S. Ambassador's residence in The Hague.

President Obama's Bilateral Meeting with Prime Minister Rutte of the Netherlands

President Obama and Prime Minister Rutte of the Netherlands speak to the press after a bilateral meeting a the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Trip Schedule

obama european tour

On Monday morning, President Obama tours the Rijksmuseum with Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands in Amsterdam, the Netherlands

President Obama participates in a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands

In the afternoon, President Obama travels to The Hague, where he participates in a bilateral meeting with President Xi Jinping of China

President Obama participates in the Nuclear Security Summit

President Obama attends a G-7 leaders meeting

In the evening, President Obama attends a reception and working dinner with King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands at the Dutch Royal Palace View a wrap-up of the day's activities

obama european tour

On Tuesday morning, President Obama participates in the Nuclear Security Summit

Following the conclusion of the Nuclear Security Summit, President Obama participates in a joint press conference with Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands

In the afternoon, President Obama participates in a bilateral meeting with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates

President Obama participates in a trilateral meeting with President Park Geun-Hye of the Republic of Korea and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan

In the evening, the President meets with employees and families of the U.S. Embassy

President Obama travels to Brussels, Belgium and takes part in an arrival ceremony View a wrap-up of the day's activities

obama european tour

In the morning, President Obama participates in a wreath laying and tour of Flanders Field Cemetery with His Majesty King Philippe and Prime Minister Di Rupo of Belgium

President Obama participates in a EU-U.S. working lunch

In the afternoon, President Obama participates in a press conference with President Herman Von Rompuy, President of the European Council, and President Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission

President Obama meets with employees and families of the U.S. Tri-Mission to Belgium, the EU, and NATO

The President participates in a meeting with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen

President Obama delivers a speech at the Centre for Fine Arts (BOZAR)

President Obama travels to Rome, Italy and takes part in an arrival ceremony View a wrap-up of the day's activities

obama european tour

In the morning, President Obama has an audience with His Holiness Pope Francis at the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City

President Obama participates in a meeting with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin

In the afternoon, President Obama takes part in an arrival ceremony at Quirinale Palace

President Obama participates in a meeting and working lunch with President Giorgio Napolitano of Italy

President Obama participates in a meeting with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy at Villa Madama

President Obama participates in a joint press conference with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy

President Obama takes a tour of the Colosseum

In the evening, President Obama meets with employees and families of the U.S. Tri-Mission to Italy, the Holy See, and the UN Agencies in Rome View a wrap-up of the day's activities

obama european tour

President Obama participates in a bilateral meeting with King Abdullah of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

obama european tour

President Obama meets with employees and family members of the U.S. embassy

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What Did Obama's European Tour Accomplish?

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President Obama made his way home Tuesday after a whirlwind tour of Europe and a quick, surprise stop in Iraq. During his trip, the president met with the leaders of the world's 20 biggest economies and even held a town hall meeting where Europeans asked the president questions.

Was the trip a success? How did it play in Washington and the rest of the country? What does it say about Obama's foreign policy approach? Political Junkie Ken Rudin and Michael Tomasky, the Guardian 's American editor-at-large, take your questions.

If you have any questions or comments in advance, feel free to leave them in the comments section below.

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Obama Begins European Tour in Ireland, Discovers His Irish Roots

Ireland Obama

May 23: U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama step off Air Force One as they arrive in Dublin, Ireland. President Barack Obama opens a six-day European tour with a quick dash through Ireland, where he will celebrate his own Irish roots and look to give a boost to a nation grappling with the fallout from its financial collapse. (AP)

DUBLIN -- President Barack Obama opened a six-day European tour Monday in Ireland, where he planned to celebrate his own Irish roots and give a boost to a nation grappling with the fallout from its financial collapse.

After an overnight flight from Washington, Air Force One touched down Monday morning in a rainy and very windy Dublin. It was Ireland's worst storm in months and threatened to derail portions of the president's itinerary, which was to begin with a meeting with Ireland's political leaders.

The centerpiece of the president's largely ceremonial one-day visit with his wife, Michelle, is a jaunt to Moneygall, the tiny village in County Offaly that is the ancestral homeland of Obama's great-great-great grandfather on his Kansas-born mother's side.

As the story goes, Falmouth Kearney, a shoemaker, left Moneygall for the United States in 1850 at the height of Ireland's Great Famine. Obama's roots in the town were discovered during the 2008 presidential campaign.

Residents in the village of about 350 have been eagerly anticipating Obama's arrival, applying fresh coats of paint to their homes, patching up the roads and hurriedly building a coffee shop called -- what else? -- Obama CafDe.

More On This...

  • Obama to Seek Help From Old Allies in Europe for New Challenges in Middle East

White House aides say the president shares their excitement and may even raise a pint at a local pub and connect with a few distant relatives.

"It's certainly quite likely that in a town of that size that is so deeply rooted in that part of Ireland that there are people who share those ties," said Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser for strategic communications.

Obama was to wrap up his trip here with an open-air speech -- weather permitting -- at College Green, the same spot in the center of Dublin where President Bill Clinton drew a massive crowd for a speech during his 1995 trip to Ireland.

Obama's remarks will be part of a larger rally that includes musical performances and appearances by popular Irish actors and athletes. In keeping with the festive mood, Obama aides said the president's speech would not be political, instead focusing on the deep ties that bind the U.S. and Ireland.

"It's also a chance to talk about the enormous affinity, frankly, that the American people have for Ireland that's rooted in part in the huge population of Irish-Americans here," Rhodes told reporters before the president left Washington.

Obama arrived just days after Britain's Queen Elizabeth II visited the Emerald Isle, the first trip to Ireland by a British monarch in about 100 years.

The back-to-back visits have given the Irish a much-needed reason to celebrate as they struggle to climb out of the financial hole created by the collapse of the country's banks and housing market.

Gripped by debt, Ireland was forced to take a bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund in November that could total $100 billion. The rescue package came with stringent conditions that will lead the Irish to slash 25,000 jobs from the state payroll, leaving many in this country of 4.5 million with deep uncertainty about their financial future.

Heather Conley, a Europe expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said she hopes Obama's visit includes "a moment of reflection to see the personal impact and toll" the economic crisis has levied on Ireland and other countries in the region.

After spending the night in Dublin, Obama heads to London for a two-day state visit at the invitation of the queen. He'll then travel to Deauville, France, to meet with the heads of leading industrial nations, before ending his Europe trip with a visit to Poland, a strategically important Central European ally.

An overarching theme of Obama's trip -- his eighth to Europe since taking office -- will be to reassure the region that it still has a central role in U.S. foreign policy, even though Obama has put a premium on boosting U.S. relations with Asia and emerging markets elsewhere in the world.

The president is expected to emphasize the need for the U.S. and Europe to be in lockstep against the backdrop of sweeping unrest in the Middle East and North Africa, not only in the NATO-led bombing campaign in Libya, but also as financial backers for countries in the region, like Tunisia and Egypt, that are pressing forward with democratic transitions.

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Barack Obama waves to the crowd in Berlin. Photograph: Carsten Koall/Getty Images

US elections: Obama wows Berlin crowd with historic speech

For the man who has brought rock-star charisma to electoral politics, today saw the campaign rally as pop festival, a summer gathering of peace, love — and loathing of George Bush.

Taking what he calls his "improbable journey" to the heart of Europe, Barack Obama succeeded in closing down one of Berlin's main thoroughfares tonight, luring the city's young in their tens of thousands to stand in the evening sunshine and hear him spin his dreams of hope, not for America this time, but for the whole world.

The young and the pierced, some with guitars slung over their shoulders, others barefoot, jammed up against each other to cheer on a man who in less than a year has become the world's most popular serving politician, even if, as yet, he has been elected to no office grander than the junior Senate seat for Illinois.

Expectations had been impossibly high, with predictions of a million-strong crowd filling the Strasse des 17 Juni, the wide avenue that links the Brandenburg Gate with the looming, gold-topped Victory column of the Siegessäule.

The candidate himself had sought to lower expectations, telling reporters on the plane from Tel Aviv that he doubted he would be greeted in Berlin by "a million screaming Germans".

Once the Glastonbury-style warm-up bands and DJs had quieted, the Democratic nominee almost floated into view, walking to the podium on a raised, blue-carpeted runway, as if he were somehow, magically, walking on water. Even from a distance, the brilliant white of his teeth dazzled.

It was a reminder that the latest edition of Stern magazine features Obama on the cover, above the line "Saviour — or demagogue?"

The speech was not one of Obama's masterpieces, but it certainly cleared the exceptionally high standard he has set himself. Poetically, he reminded Berliners of what they would surely regard as their finest hours, their resilience during the blockade some 60 years ago — when the Soviet Union tried "to extinguish the last flame of freedom in Berlin" — and the fall of the wall in 1989, an event which opened the "doors of democracy" all over the world.

But the loudest applause came when Obama, however subtly, offered himself as the coming antidote to all that Germans, Europeans, indeed most non-Americans, have disliked about the Bush era.

After listing a series of global problems, from genocide in Darfur to loose nukes, he declared: "No one nation, no matter how large or how powerful, can defeat such challenges alone." It was a promise to end the unilateralism of the early Bush years, and the crowd could not contain their delight.

There was no less warmth when Obama explained his belief in "allies who will listen to each other, who will learn from each other who will, above all, trust each other".

Again and again he uttered sentences that could never have come from the mouth of George W Bush, and Berlin could not have been more grateful.

"This is the moment to secure the peace of the world without nuclear weapons," he said. On Iraq, the aim was "to finally bring this war to a close". He asked if today's generation was ready to seize the moment that was at hand. "Will we reject torture and stand for the rule of law?" he asked. "Will we welcome immigrants from different lands?"

As for the threat of climate change, he spoke in language that could not have been more sweeping or more epic: "This is the moment we must come together to save this planet." (Was that saviour or demagogue — or both?)

He didn't spell out that he would reverse much of the course of the last eight years, but that was only because he didn't have to.

"This is an anti-Bush rally," said one man, an employee of the German government, reluctant to reveal his name because of his job.

The last time he had seen such a crowd in the same place was for the Love Parade music festival, "and you can see the similarities", he said. There was only one dissonant note, but Obama's mood music covered it nicely.

Invoking the spirit of the airlift of 1948, he called for there to be more "sharing the burden" between Germany and America, code for his request for Germany to send more troops for the Nato mission to Afghanistan. "We have too much at stake to turn back now."

Germany's politicians had given their response to that earlier in the day, with Chancellor Angela Merkel telling the candidate there were "limits" on how many troops Germany would send. The move came after the German cabinet had voted to increase the number of troops from 1,000 to 4,500.

Overall, though, the mood was warm, even joyful, a sign perhaps of just how deep the yearning outside the US is to end the current era — and to have an America non-Americans can believe in again.

Andreas Wernicke, 27, a computer salesman, said the idea of an African-American US president was "just totally cool", if it happened, he said, "you could tell yourself that, yes, the world does advance".

By common consent, tonight and the entire Obama week has been a huge success, generating priceless images for TV consumption back home and helping Obama cross the credibility gap — making it easier for Americans to imagine him as a player on the world stage.

The Obama camp is hoping the notion that the US will regain the respect of the world under a President Obama will persuade many American voters to back him.

Tonight's pictures from Berlin will have further discomforted Obama's Republican opponent, John McCain, who has struggled for media oxygen during a week of near-constant coverage of the Democrat's grand tour.

He complained on Fox News yesterday that he was barely getting a look in. "All I can do is be amused," he said manfully.

  • Barack Obama
  • US elections 2008
  • US politics

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