Obama has fun in Ireland

  • 23 May 2011
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Irish commentators feared the media would indulge in resurrecting old cliches

DUBLIN - US President Barack Obama seems to be having fun.

Waving a hurley, a gift from Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, in the direction of the press, suggesting he would like to "paddle" certain members of Congress.

Joking about the weather, as gusts of wind blew the first lady's hair all over the place.

In Moneygall, the rains started as he landed, but the sun came out as he arrived in this tiny village.

The visit was to celebrate his shoe- and wig-making ancestors, and he seems to have shaken hands with the all of the 298 people who live there.

"The president pays his way," said Mr Obama as he slapped down some money on the bar at a local pub, just after taking a healthy sup of his Guinness, raising his glass high.

The Irish media are really impressed about how natural he seemed as he recounted how he first ever tasted the world famous beer, at an Irish airport on a stopover.

"It tastes better here," he explained.

This was not really a day about substance, but Mr Obama did say that the Irish punched above their weight in the world, with their humanitarian aid and peacekeeping efforts.

In a sense that is the thrust of the whole trip, both flattering allies and persuading European countries including the UK to do more in the world, even at this time of financial cut backs.

There is something of a worry among Irish commentators that the president's trip may be an opportunity for the world's media to indulge in resurrecting old fashioned cliches.

I do not just mean the rain. One worried about "shamrocks and shillelaghs", another that Moneygall would fit more into a "pig-in-a-blanket" stereotype than the image of a dynamic, modern Ireland.

'Special relationship'

All countries fret about their image from time to time, and the visit of foreign dignitaries is a good focus for them. In Britain ours is about those words "special relationship".

President Obama next travels to London, where preparations are under way for a state visit

As if to stress that it is stronger than ever, British government sources say a new joint US-UK National Security Strategy Board is to be set up headed by Sir Peter Ricketts, the prime minister's national security adviser and Tom Donilon, his White House counterpart.

Its job will be to look ahead and spot threats and challenges further down the road.

Excuse my cynicism and suspicion of spin, but it is questionable if there is really a need for this when there is already so much detailed top-level contact.

If there is, it is certainly being announced now as a signal to the British media of the strength of the special relationship.

That indeed will be one message from Tuesday's leg of the trip, when President Obama travels to London.

But so will his enthusiasm for the UK and the rest of Europe to take the lead in some parts of the world, with Libya as a precise example of the way he is thinking - France and the UK to the fore of military action, the US deliberately hanging back.

Part of the reason is economic - the US can no longer afford to police the world, whether it wants to or not.

The trouble is that everyone lives in a world of cutbacks, and no country may be willing to shoulder more of the burden.