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Obama woos Europe

Mark Mardell | 14:25 UK time, Friday, 25 July 2008

I'm having one of those days off which doesn't really feel like it. I am still on watch and wait for the accused in a helicopter. But as it looks as if Karadzic won't arrive before Monday, I am back at home, for the first time in three weeks, rather than in The Hague. It means I am observing the other big European story on TV, rather than in person. I would have loved to have been among the crowds in Berlin to see Barack Obama. Democrat presidential candidate Barack Obama waving to crowd in Berlin

How much is this European enthusiasm for him, or just a chance to gawp at a celeb? Bit of both, of course. It is always dangerous to talk about "European attitudes towards America" (or anything else) when there are so many divisions of opinion within any of the 27 European Union countries, let alone between them.

But...I am going to anyway. It is broadly true to say that most leaders of the EU nations would like to see the United States engaged in the world, able to use its overwhelming military strength, but with an administration that is much more cautious about how and when it does this. This is probably the majority feeling even in countries like Poland, Britain and Italy, where the governments backed the Iraq war. The enthusiasm for an engaged US is stronger in "New Europe", the ex-communist East, than in the West.

As for the peoples of Europe, in France, Spain, Germany and of course other countries there is a strong feeling that the US has often not used its power wisely or well. Of course there are huge shades of grey within this coalition of the unwilling. At one end of this scale, those who would deplore all American military action, perhaps allowing that the intervention in the two world wars was a good thing. At the other end, those who would applaud most interventions, from the Balkan conflict to Afghanistan, but draw the line at Iraq.

Some, including some of my colleagues, call this "anti-Americanism", but I am not sure that being against a perception of a country's foreign policy, even over a long period of time, is the same as being anti the country. Of course it is true that there are many in France who dislike Coca-Cola and Hollywood movies, but both sell pretty well there and I haven't noticed even a Left Bank distaste for blue jeans, American music and literature. It seems pretty clear that one could be against present-day Irish neutrality or German militarism of the past without being viscerally anti-Irish or anti-German. Indeed, isn't it the same as those who argue that someone can be anti-EU without being anti-European?

Still, Obama's speech was a mixture of tough and tender that many Europeans would applaud.

It is no wonder that the spotlight is trained relentlessly him, and a recent fascinating article in the FT highlights an electoral barometer that suggests he can't lose. It would justify this sometimes monocular view of the presidential race. Republican presidential candidate John McCain

Still it is surprising there hasn't been more European reaction to Obama's rival John McCain. I"ve just been reading a fascinating, if highly critical, analysis of his politics called "The myth of a maverick" by Matt Welch. He concludes that McCain wants the States to "embrace its role as global cop", putting more money into the US military and increasing troop numbers by 150,000. This would be so there could be more Americans on foreign soil to back the mission of "rogue state roll-back". Welch writes this is driven by the assumption "that America should hit the accelerator on the drive to further global dominance... this approach borders on expanding US power for its own sake".

Whether or not this overstates the case, McCain wouldn't get as warm a welcome in Berlin, let alone Paris, as Obama. More, I hope, on the uncertainty of this unspecial relationship, next week.

Just to clear up a couple of points: for those who want me to say sorry for calling The Hague the capital: yes, I am sorry and kicking myself for stupidity, so another sorry for not saying sorry (I have learnt something from the McCain book). But no-one has yet answered my question "What makes a city the capital?" Just government declaration or something more definable?

"How long did it take the BBC to find out the Karadzic website was a fake?" someone asked rather scornfully. Less than an hour. But I was busy doing radio and TV and didn't have time to post that fact here: it was quite clear I wasn't prepared to treat it at face value. But wait, there's more. My colleague Christian Fraser, who is in Belgrade, interviewed Zoran Pavlovich, who says he helped to set up this website for Dr Dave, and this does appear to be genuine.


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