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 205.

    Conspiracy--Theorist--Neww 4 u DT n MH

    on record--my username is gm (genetic/made?)...Vietnam Legalized Homosexuality b4 anyone (cept Japan, Korea) ( population control is legit?)

    but..I Was bourne before this new food

    Keeps the Tea Partiaires off the NSAcontrols for um forevah!!

    New Bourne Conspiracy..eh ...Luceh..nyahahahaha!

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    198 Friendly

    "Two questions to America-haters:

    Why are you so extreme?"

    Have you read the contributions of Solo here?

    "Can I take it that you don't own Levis, an iPad or an iPhone, don't buy American music and never go to MacDonalds?"

    Yes you can.

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    Friendlycard @198

    Between groups divided by marginal injustice, expect average indignation. When within those groups injustice is shared very unevenly, expect rather hatred from the most damaged & most taking offence, such hatred dual-targeted against those presumed primarily responsible in the other group, and those most failing to aid within own group.

    Common enemy missed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    Pffft: still see the values that made the USA great

    Its easy to get disillusioned with all the negativity

    It sounds like you have done a lot of good deeds
    and you should feel good about such
    as that is worth more than money

    There are a lot of great things Americans do that are not reported
    including the volunteering you mention

    The bad things some Americans do often overshadow the rest of us

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    Obama doesn't want boots on the ground in foreign wars, but he wants to run drone attacks, stage coups, run proxy wars, and start trouble which he then can't deal with. He refuses to respect international law. Everyone is aware of this massive contradiction and the colossal US budget deficit. That's why they don't do what he wants.

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.


    NEVER apologise? Not even to your President, having presumed guilt & called for impeachment, having impugned his own GOOD faith & implicitly the worth of INFORMED advisors? Do you KNOW that Bergdahl was NOT ill, NOT a special agent, NOT on a mission given by God, NOT important enough to see rescued or extracted as 'one of ours' or 'one of theirs'? Know only to impeach?

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    There is something of the surreal about the idea that Europe would go to war with the USA against Russia, in Europe.

    Europe wouldn't even go to war with the USA in Syria. Indeed, the people of the USA would not go to war with the USA in Syria.

    The only people who want this war are the generals and the folks who own the factories that supply them. And their lobbyists.

    ie, "the USA"

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    I'm not American or even pro-US, but I'm shocked by quite how much hatred of the United States is being expressed here.

    Two questions to America-haters:

    - Why are you so extreme?

    - Can I take it that you don't own Levis, an iPad or an iPhone, don't buy American music and never go to MacDonalds?

    "If we're so awful, we're so bad
    Go and try the night-life in Leningrad"

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    189. LucyJ
    "America has lost many of the values that made us great"

    Hey Lucyj,every time I've been involved with helping out,Moldova,for one,Romania just after Its dictator fell.I came across Americans,who unlike me for a short stay,they were in for the long haul.You could not meet more inspirational folk.Go join your fellow Americans volunteering & still see the values that made the USA great

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    Marg: great country cannot blame its fall and loss of values on the behaviour of a couple of men

    Its not their behavior, its their policies that have destroyed USA

    M: European civilisation has existed for thousands of years

    Yes such as the Little Ice Age, a climate change event not caused by man

    M: what would the world be like without European civilisation?

    There would be no USA and no me ;)

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    189 Lucy

    "Without America, there might not be a world today"

    European civilisation has existed for thousands of years and survived far more disastrous events

    It takes a more mature study of history to understand that the 20th century was just one of many pivotal events in our long existence

    After all what would the world be like without European civilisation?

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    Well now more is coming out


    "Within days of his disappearance, says Buetow, teams monitoring radio chatter and cell phone communications intercepted an alarming message: The American is in Yahya Khel (a village two miles away). He's looking for someone who speaks English so he can talk to the Taliban"

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    189 Lucy

    " under Bush Jr and Obama
    America has lost many of the values that made us great"

    A truly great country cannot blame its fall and loss of values on the behaviour of a couple of men

    They might just expose its underbelly or feet of clay

    It reminds me of an old German saying:

    "oben hui, unten pfui"

    which roughly translated means
    "outside swank, inside rank"

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    The USA has many problems of its own that need to be resolved to gain the full respect of its Nato allies. Obama is merely a figurehead of an ideal and the USA is appreciated more for its abundant resources than its practice of self righteous fundamentalism. Luck indeed for the founding fathers to come across such wealth and escape the pain suffered by the average hard working European .

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    186 Baron

    America plotted the Orange Revolution in Ukraine - trying to fill the vacuum left after the collapse of the Soviet Union

    Apart from the recent coups and regime changes they did the same in SAmerica usurping democratically elected governments - Hugo Chavez was their latest bete noire with Pat Robertson calling for his assassination - which would have been par for the course.

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    It is interesting that relatively few people are reacting openly to the grossly offensive and highly aggressive Americans on this thread.

    That speaks volumes about the real extent of US power. If push comes to shove, the USA might soon find itself alone.

    Aside from Australia and a few other allies, US favour is rented. At best.

    America may discover a vast alliance forms against its aggression.

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    Marg: After all America is but a blink of the eye of world history

    Without America, there might not be a world today

    Marg: it only ever rose to those 'lofty heights' because Europe momentarily lost its way

    We rose to such 'lofty heights' because we worked harder than anyone else to be the best

    Today though under Bush Jr and Obama
    America has lost many of the values that made us great

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    M Howard..everyone will remember Europes fall/wilt..after empire fund dried...

    Well,.. f o r e v e r!!!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.


    u r at least consistent..neveaire a flaw not pointed out--ouchie Pooooooo!

    The only reason Switzerland is neutral is They hold all World Hostage to Secrets Kept

    ..how up lifting! Dang 600 f**ing secds

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    It was Obama who plotted to overthrew the elected government in Ukraine and replace it with his own anti-Russian puppets, who would take orders from him and NATO. The US is an old hand at staging coups and implementing regime change around the world (Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria). Obama, Barroso etc are silent in the face atrocities by the new bosses of Ukraine


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