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The Obama Manner

April 06, 2009

The G-20 in London at the end of last week to try to curb a global economic crisis; followed by a stop in Strasbourg to convince the United States' European NATO allies to do more in Afghanistan; then the appeal from Prague, imagining a world without nuclear weapons; finally, this week, two days in Turkey included in this trip through the Old Continent as though to demonstrate that Turkey - in Washington's eyes - belongs to Europe and should adhere to the European Union.

Could Barack Obama live up to the media enthusiasm and sympathy he arouses in Europe in just a week? Undoubtedly not. Even though it's too soon to offer a definitive judgment, the diagnosis of this trip cannot but be qualified.

The G-20? A beautiful - and important - unanimity between the great economies of North and South to relaunch activity, certainly. But there was still nearly nothing on cleaning up the banks - without which the recovery will not happen. On Afghanistan and Turkey, disagreements persist between Americans - the only ones to send reinforcements - and some Europeans reluctant to see Ankara join the Twenty-Seven club. On these two last points, France is not the last, much to the contrary, to express its disagreements with the United States, as though Nicolas Sarkozy had his heart set on showing that Paris's return to NATO's integrated command does not in any way impede its ability to set itself apart. Finally, the Prague speech outlined a beautiful prospect - one of a world without nuclear weaponry - that remains distant.

Nonetheless, something has changed in the relations with the United States. Something about Mr. Obama, that could be sensed, but which this trip has confirmed. There is an Obama manner that expresses a new type of American leadership, less arrogant, less hectoring, less peremptory. We are a thousand miles away from the "You're either with us or you're against us" of George W. Bush's first term; a thousand miles away from an imperial manner that contributed in no small way to fostering anti-Americanism in the world.

"Mr. Obama listens a great deal to those who are around the table," one participant at the London summit confided; he impresses a "resolve to work together" that reflects a well-conceived multilateralism. This is not purely a matter of personal behavior. It's a way of being that is much more consistent with the reality of a world where several power centers must coexist.

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