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Torch passed to Obama, 44th President; top 8 transatlantic relations issues for 2009

Obama took the oath of office yesterday to become the 44th President of the United States.  The swearing-in was followed by his inaugural address, historically an opportunity for incoming presidents to be visionary and inspirational.  Some of the most famous quotes in US political history are from inaugural addresses, such as JFK's "ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country" (1961) and FDR's "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" (1933).

So how did Obama do? Was it a new landmark in the US rhetorical hall-of-fame?  If you were looking to be inspired, this speech probably fell short.  He covered all the key issues and took a "it's busines time" tone, but it did not quite carry the poetic and inspiring overtures that an inaugural address could. Or perhaps like many Americans and citizens of the world I have come to expect miracles from Obama at every turn, and have thereby set myself up for disappointment.  The full text of the speech can be found here.

Obama did have powerful words for non-Americans around the globe:

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.  Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. 

Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expediences sake.  And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born:  know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.
Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions.  They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please.  Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy.  Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort -- even greater cooperation and understanding between nations.  We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan.  With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. 

We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.  We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and non-believers.  We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace. 

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.  To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their societys ills on the West -- know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. 

To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.  And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the worlds resources without regard to effect.  For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

Now that President Obama is official, what are the big transatlantic relations issues he will face in 2009?  Soeren Kern of the Madrid-based Strategic Studies Group argues there are eight major transatlantic relations issues in the coming year, a list that will not come as a surprise to regular Atlantic Review readers (World Politics Review):

1. Afghanistan

2. Iran

3. European-based Missile Defense

4. NATO

5. Climate Change

6. Global Economics

7. Arab-Israeli Conflict

8. Guantanamo

Do you agree with this list?  My feeling is that Russia-West relations will continue to be one of the most divisive issues in transatlantic relations, though maybe less caustic in 2009 than 2008 considering a) there may be an Obama-Russia honeymoon period,  b) there is unlikely to be any big moves to bring Ukraine and Georgia closer to NATO membership after an exhausting and testy 2008, c) Obama doesn't seem as keen on European missile defense as Bush, and d) it is plain scary to imagine Russia-West relations falling even lower than they are now.  It is broadly recognized that 2008 has been the worst in U.S.-Russia relations since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, as asserted by a recent Brookings report, "Reversing the Decline: An Agenda for U.S.-Russian Relations in 2009."

I also wonder what Obama policies Europeans are most concerned about?  The other day a Belgian friend explained to me that the average European is not concerned about Obama asking for more troops in Afghanistan or how he will handle Iran, but rather how he will address the economic crisis.  Perhaps the famous words of another American president will define transatlantic relations in 2009: "It's the economy, stupid". 

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Marie Claude on :

We are a nation of Christians "and Muslims", Jews and Hindus precisely, this sentence is significant for lots of my american fellows, means that he sets his interests for the Muslins before the Jews, that are 2 or 3 time more numerous in the US as the discourse was written he must have acknoledge it before and endorsed it isn't he a skilled author, so he is aware of the composition of a sentence and its meanings

Zyme on :

"We are a nation of Christians "and Muslims", Jews and Hindus" So they are no nation for nonbelievers? Hardly news.

David on :

Zyme, you didn't read the speech. Here are the exact words: "We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers."

Pat Patterson on :

I thought that passage was very gracious and addressed exactly the heart of the American experience. Putting the interest of Muslims first has to be one of the worst interpretations possible considering the cadence sounds better just the way it is. Not in any order of importance.

Zyme on :

I'm surprised - seriously hadn't expected that.

Pat Patterson on :

Expected what?

Marie Claude on :

that Hamas was so "important"

Zyme on :

I hadn't expected that non-believers are mentioned in this context. Normally its like this - believers find that one or another organisation represents their beliefs best and outfit them with money. Then this organisation does its best to use this base in politics. But non-believers usually do not have such organisations - so they are usually excluded. This I had expected especially from the modern USA, where religiosity is still very high compared to Europe.

David on :

Yesterday was an amazing day. I couldn't make it to DC, but at the college where I teach we put up a giant screen in the student center and over 1000 students, faculty and staff came together to watch the speech. There were cheers and not a few tears (of joy) during and after the address. This scene was repeated at tens of thousands of locations across America, for people wanted to be together for this historic event. I thought it was an excellent, substantive speech. President Obama made a clear break with the past eight years and pointed to the hard work that we face as a nation if we are to recover from this current crisis. The passage you quote above was, for me, the most important, since the president affirmed the rule of law and the end of lawlessness (torture, rendition, illegal surveillance, etc). Significantly, his first act as president was to suspend the military tribunals at Gitmo. I think the list of international priorities is pretty accurate, but your Belgian friend is correct: solving the economic crisis trumps everything else.

joe on :

Kyle I think it an excellent list of those things which the euro's and the left in this nation have found to be wrong with America. All of this is of course America's fault. It use to be that evil Bush but now that he is off center stage it is the shame of every American who does not fully support B Hussian O and his fellow travlers to bear. As to place Muslins in such high regard is not at all surprising given the background of the speaker even if they fail to make up even 2% of the population. Equally what should warm your heart as well as the euro's is this call for peace. There was no memtion of freedom, just peace. This is a bit of a break from the positions of past POTUS but this is change and change is what we will have. Kennedy was admired for his speech about freedom, O Hussian B will be admired for his speech about peace. What is interesting is you failed to list an acceptance of a multi polar world. I think that should be added as it gives the euro's more status and a bigger (over sized) role and decision making power that they have not enjoyed for some time, even before that evil Bush became POTUS.

David on :

"there was no mention of freedom" Unlike most Americans, you didn't bother to listen to, or even read, the speech. Freedom is constant theme throughout the speech, which ends with these words: "Let it be said by our children's children that ... we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."

Pamela on :

I have a question. I don't pose it in a snide/snarky attitude. I am honestly curious about how citizens of the EU think about this. The topic of this thread is premised on a unified EU. But is the EU really unified? There seems to be a bit of posturing about the 'role' of the European Union - but is there really a union politically? ------------------ EU's divisions show as it embraces Obama era The tug of love over the summit meeting illustrates one of the central concerns among policy makers as Obama takes power: that the EU's enthusiasm for the new U.S. administration will be hampered by divisions and a lack of serious commitment. Next week, European foreign ministers will face their first test of the new trans-Atlantic era when they discuss whether to help Obama close the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, by taking some of those interned there. Work is also under way to try to respond to U.S. calls for greater European involvement in Afghanistan, and to the possibility of tighter financial sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program. But some experts in Europe fear the worst. "It is possible that Obama as an instinctive multilateralist will look to the EU," said Charles Grant, director of the Center for European Reform, a research organization in London. "I think he may be disappointed by European divisions, impotence and lack of capabilities." ------------------- Here is the link: http://www.iht.com/articles/2009/01/21/europe/union.4-412977.php

Joe Noory on :

They aren't unified every way on [url=http://no-pasaran.blogspot.com/2009/01/affable-donut-or-crushing-vise.html]internal matters[/url]. Not by a longshot. If they all agree about temporarily holding a widespread honeymoon attitude for B.O., what does it matter? It's an externality that in reality has very little bearing on them. In a few weeks for a great many people it will go back to the usual attitude where they find themselves saying "Was tut diese Schwartzer?"

Zyme on :

"The topic of this thread is premised on a unified EU. But is the EU really unified? There seems to be a bit of posturing about the 'role' of the European Union - but is there really a union politically?" No. It is as simple as that. I am always astonished when Americans take European "Union" for granted and are then disappointed by its disunity. Maybe the name of the EU is misleading? It may be the long-term goal for many politicians in the core countries, but is not very popular among most peoples. They are afraid of losing their identity in a EU melting pot or empire. Basically it is a Union only in the sense of a very close political alliance. Think of it like the German states before 1871. This alliance may one day lead to one nation (or an empire, more appropriately), but this is very far in the future. By now especially the biggest nations are far too busy securing the most possible influence and projecting their ideas upon the Union. So a common EU position in foreign policy only evolves when all of their critical national interests are touched in the same way - which understandably happens rather rarely.

joe on :

Pamela, I will jump in and have a sip of that Kool Aid you seem to have been sharing with David. Of course our allies in Europe are going to pony up with more combat forces on the ground in Afghanistan. All that is required is a request from the new POTUS. We all know it is about style and sincerity. Sipping Kool Aid has made you a very silly woman. These are the same legions once presidential candidate John Kerry, who once fought in Viet Nam and looks very french, promised he could rally only if the American people would elect him. The American people did not and the legions remained in their garrisons. Now that Americans have seen the light, someone the euro’s can relate to and shares their view of both America and the world, they will become more than willing allies. America will march along side the euro’s toward a socialist utopia. David could not be happier.

Pamela on :

Are you nucking futs? Have you not read what I have been writing here for who knows how long? Did you not read the piece I wrote on the EU constitution? Did you not see everything I posted on that fraud Obama? Jesus god, man, I am what every EUnich hates about Americans. And more than proud of it. And the next time you put me in the bin with that pathetic David, I will call you out. Don't bother bringing a knife to the gunfight either.

Pat Patterson on :

I can only assume that "legions" is being used here as an euphemism for another EU study group assessing the situation from the inside of an orbiting Danish C-130? Pres Obama has actually painted the US into a corner that allows more foot dragging by NATO. When you promise to make Afghanistan the main TO, approve Bush's planned 30,000 soldiers and Marines and promise to do whatever it takes to capture Osama(Is that still one of the plans?). The other nations of NATO can now simply sit back, make another round of serious promises and let the Americans take care of it. No skin of their noses if everything goes sideways now. I trust Pamela, and myself, will not exhibit the same desperation that David has over the last eight years. In fact now that he has his life's dream accomplished, what's next?

David on :

Pat, henceforth I intend to heed President Obama's call to "put aside childish things" and refrain from name-calling. You and your friends here can mock me all you like, but I'm more interested in creating political facts. Here in frigid New England we Democrats control every House seat, but only 9 of 12 US Senate seats. So there is still work to be done :). More importantly, we need to leverage the grassroots (and netroots) organization we built for the 2008 election to help President Obama realize his change agenda. For personal reasons, I want to see universal health care get done. I'll be working with my terrific new Congresswoman (Chellie Pingree) to get local and state support so we can achieve access for all in President Obama's first term.

Pamela on :

"Here in frigid New England " What the hell happened to globular worming? Oh. And about that 'universal health care' bit? How's that working out in Massachussetts? And what exactly is it you teach? ------------ "Pat, henceforth I intend to heed President Obama's call to "put aside childish things" and refrain from name-calling" Henceforth, I intend to note your slavish (a term used deliberately) heeding of anything Obama does. I note that your aversion to 'name-calling' conveniently fails to address the facts. From Rev Lowery who gave the benediction: ---------------- Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around -- (laughter) -- when yellow will be mellow -- (laughter) -- when the red man can get ahead, man -- (laughter) -- and when white will embrace what is right. Yep. We’ll get to the post-racial America in just a sec. ---------- As for that ‘Poetess’, Elizabeth Alexander. What a bright light! Here are some of her more inspiring lines: Is funky, is leaky, is a soggy, bloody crotch, is sharp jets of breast milk shot straight across the room, is gaudy, mustard-colored poop... { ] the baby farts, we laugh. The baby burps, we smile, say “Yes.” The baby poops, his whole body stiffens, then steam heat floods the pipes.... The spirit lives in your squirts and coos. Your noises and fluids are what you do. []Monsieur Cuvier investigates between my legs, poking, prodding, sure of his hypothesis. I half expect him to pull silk scarves from inside me, paper poppies, then a rabbit! He complains at my scent [] If he were to let me rise up from this table, I’d spirit his knives and cut out his black heart, seal it with science fluid inside a bell jar, place it on a low shelf in a white man’s museum so the whole world could see it was shriveled and hard, geometric, deformed, unnatural. http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/Read.aspx?GUID=368944FA-5FDC-4E02-85F1-6E1F6F71653B ------------------ Good luck David. You're gonna need it.

Pamela on :

"More importantly, we need to leverage the grassroots (and netroots) organization we built for the 2008 election to help President Obama realize his change agenda." Straight out of Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals" ----------------------- Then there’s the launch of Organising for America, an extension of the community activism Obama encouraged, after he was elected, through a network of informal ’house parties’ to discuss pressing issues. Now it’s to be a formal infrastructure of activism. People may see this as smart but essentially benign politics, merely a bold and imaginative way of cementing a grass-roots Democratic base. On this video by team Obama, both campaign manager David Plouffe and the director of Organising for America, Mitch Stewart, deny in terms that this is to do with winning a second term. This is clearly nonsense. As the Atlantic points out Stewart, a veteran campaign organizer who oversaw Virginia during the general election for Obama, has been designated the key operative in the campaign to re-elect him. But as I pointed out here, such use of community organisation also follows to the letter the template for social revolution laid down by Saul Alinsky, the Marxist ideologue and activist who set out in his book Rules for Radicals how capitalism would be overthrown by the mobilisation of the masses and the whipping up of their discontent. The strategy revolved around creating apparently moderate local organisations that would be manipulated by community organisers -- effectively deniable political agitators -- to foment grievance and dissent. Alinsky’s thinking permeates ACORN and other community groups that in the past were associated with or funded by Obama, and which push an agenda that is as coercive and corrupt as it is seditious. America's First Community Organiser promised ACORN during his campaign that within his first 100 days in office he would invite them in to discuss how they could help him change America. It has started already. -------------------- http://www.spectator.co.uk/melaniephillips/3288631/ruling-by-a-radical.thtml

Pat Patterson on :

I was reminded of the groups formerly known as Bolivaran Circles, which proved unreliable, and what they are currently known as Communal Councils in Venezuela. And of course they are autonomous and are only interested in boosting civic participation in democracy. Or else!

Joe Noory on :

Abosulutist control in my experience, has always been the "progressives'" idea of progress. If you're looking to "set aside silly things" why not push for the suicidal fringe of your own party to not try to prosecute everyone they disagree with for war crimes? Why not advance the idea that someone stop calling miscellaneous political patronage monies and general fund items as "stimulus". I forgot - those aren't "silly".

joe on :

Pamela I really was trying to discover the reason for your post especially the topics of taking former Gitmo detainees and more troops for Afghanistan. I would have hoped you already knew the answer to both of those questions. The probably of obtaining an outcome that you would deem satisfactory has about the same probability as the Germany GDP for 2009 being upwards 0f 3.5%. But I do have a request. To keep David happy I do not thing you should use the word fraud. Remember this is David’s long awaited messiah. Pat As to David, he is working hard doing his patriotic best to insure you pay the most taxes possible so he can help bring social justice to America.

Pamela on :

" really was trying to discover the reason for your post especially the topics of taking former Gitmo detainees and more troops for Afghanistan" My reason for posting that was as stated - I wanted the opinion of EU citizens on the article. No secret agenda and no implied approval. And I doubt Obama will ever provide an opportunity to declare him anything other than a fraud. NOTE TO PAT: " trust Pamela, and myself, will not exhibit the same desperation that David has over the last eight years." EIGHT years? Giving up so soon? But you're right. Watching Joe Scarborough rip a new one in Mika Brezhinsky's moral vanity every weekday morning does wonders for my morale.

Pat Patterson on :

Wasn't David at least completely happy between 1992 and 1994 then partially happy till succumbing completely to that Black Dog in 2000? So David will extend courtesy to Pres Obama that he couldn't find in his heart for Pres Bush? Is that called situational Christianity or merely I've got mine, go Fish!

joe on :

Pat Well as least David had admitted his behavior for the last 8 years has been childish. That is truly a rather remarkable statement by such an individual of David's character.

Pamela on :

Kyle, you might want to show this article to your Belgian friend. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123267029592108287.html It's by Ian Bremmer (Pres., Eurasia Group) and Nouriel Roubini, the economist. Some snippets: --------------------- Politics will make matters worse, primarily because governments in both the rich and the developing worlds are intervening in their economies more broadly and deeply than at any time since the end of World War II. Policy makers around the world are hard at work crafting stimulus packages filled with subsidies and protections they hope will breathe new life into their domestic economies, and preparing to rewrite the rules and regulations that govern global markets. Why is this dangerous? At the G-20 summit a few weeks ago, world leaders pledged to address the crisis by coordinating their economic policy responses. That's not going to happen, because politicians design stimulus packages with political motives -- to satisfy the needs of their constituents -- not to address imbalances in the global economy. This is as true in Washington as in Beijing. That's why politics will drive the global economy more directly (and less efficiently) in 2009 than at any point in decades. Its politics that is creating the biggest risk for markets this year. ----------- Read the whole thing - it's going to get a lot worse.

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