Obama in Europe shows the limits of US power

Obama and Donald Tusk, Polish PM Obama, shown with Polish PM Donald Tusk, will warn Putin to curb his territorial ambitions, but is unlikely to give a rousing speech

Whether he likes it or not, President Barack Obama's trip to Europe will be about Ukraine, Vladimir Putin and American power.

He may not stoop to pick up the geopolitical gauntlet thrown down by the Russian leader. He probably will set out new red lines - warning Mr Putin not to mess with Nato.

But it should worry the White House that nobody is expecting anything much more than words that will be blown away by the next wind. No "tear down that wall", no "Ich bin Kyvian".

By Friday, he'll be on a Normandy beach marking the anniversary of D-Day. There could be no starker reminder of what America means to Europe. Without US power, Hitler might have won. And if he'd been beaten it would have been by the Soviet Union, and most of the continent would have been under Moscow's sway.

As it was, Europe ended up the main chess board for the Cold War game, a contest for strategic supremacy between the US and Russia.

President Obama's first stop was Poland, to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of the Solidarity movement which led the country in shaking off communism and foreign domination.

It is a reminder of the earthquake that happened at the end of the last century, the background to the Ukraine crisis that must not be forgotten.

Three former Soviet states are now independent countries, part of the European Union. Others, like Ukraine, are eager to join.

Red lines

Just about all of the Soviet Union's key allies, which used to be behind what Churchill called "the iron curtain", are now leading members of the EU. All of the countries that made up the Soviet anti-Nato alliance, the Warsaw Pact, are now in Nato - apart from Russia itself.

It is little wonder that Mr Putin, who regards the collapse of the Soviet Union as the greatest tragedy of the last century, doesn't want any more of the East joining the West.

So Mr Obama's tone is important. He will warn Putin that there are clear limits on his ambition to claw back territory and influence. Speaking in front of US warplanes, he said, "As friends and allies we stand united together."

He's promised to ask Congress for $1bn to beef up the defence of Europe. So far, so tough.

But his West Point speech made it clear that while defending allies was a core reason for taking action, "a willingness to rush into military adventures" was to be avoided even when events "push the world in a more dangerous direction but do not directly threaten us".

That is perhaps an eminently sensible place to draw a red line. But it is not of very great comfort to people in Ukraine, let alone Georgia and Belarus, which are outside the Nato alliance and are likely to stay outside - precisely because existing Nato countries don't want to fight on their behalf.

That is a reflection of the will of their citizens - foreign fighters may be going to Syria out of faith and passion, but I see no one raising an International Brigade to fight for the Western cause in Ukraine.

After Iraq, few leaders want to get ahead of the will of the people when it comes to war. Few can sound the trumpet like President Obama - but he doesn't blow those resounding notes much these days.

In tailoring his rhetoric to reflect reality, he shines a light on the limits of American power.

Mark Mardell Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell Presenter, The World This Weekend

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  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    apologise to
    Obama or Bush Jr"

    Cry instead "impeach" or crucify? How likely that a President the son of a President, or a President heir to Martin Luther King would purposely betray the USA? How much more likely their hopes & power for good have been constrained by not quite enough public support for progress, locked-in by a rigged Constitution & by a captive press. And you Lucy?

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    "so moved"

    Righty so, when thousands of young men & women, volunteers for uniformed or charitable cause, unwittingly or not risk and give their years if not their lives to defend the peace, to advance democracy, to help the casualties of democratic deficit & of natural disaster wherever. A cruel folly to mistake selfless atonement as endorsement of the chief amongst Mammon's Quislings.

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    EasternEuropean @216
    "limit of US power"

    Deepest damage to capability & 'soft power' (morale in self-respect & mutual respect worldwide), has been by those intent on profit without sense, bribing gullible electorates with trickle-down alternately from munitions jingoism & privatisation peace dividends, thinking the human struggle against injustice, real and pretended, 'all over'. Mammon to reign.

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    236 skamble

    "Japan and Germany are democracies and our allies"

    Do you usually spy on your allies and their leaders?

    221 Mr W

    Like most contributors here you seem to get your news solely from the Fox/Murdoch corporation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    #236 skamble

    I refer you to my # 231

    Japan and Germany have Pacifist constitutions --accepted ( and demanded by USA ?) after WWII.

    That you appear to have no moral dilemma that this be changed to suit the present situation -- is morally suspicious.


Comments 5 of 245



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