Obama’s Europe Blindspot: Why Did He Skip Europe’s Institutional Heart?

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obama gordon brown.jpg
(Obama Does Brown but Not Brussels)
I’m strongly supportive of Barack Obama’s announced plans to spend some quality plane time with Senators Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and Jack Reed (D-RI) on a trip to Iraq. They need to help do for Obama what Samantha Power and others have done over the last couple of years on national security issues: tutor him.
But while I think that Obama’s raft of advisers — including folks like Susan Rice, Anthony Lake, Gayle Smith and more — who are experts on global justice questions, failed state dilemmas in the developing world, and a whole palette of tough, avant-garde 21st century challenges like transnational disease and climate change, Obama also needs some lessons on getting the classic, big state questions right.
That’s what European leaders will be trying to discern. Does he have deep insights into the evolving tectonic realities of great state competition, and does he have a plan? or not?
I’m worried. While some have become distracted by a silly discussion inside Germany on whether Obama should speak at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and whether he should defer to Angela Merkel, most seem to have forgotten that Obama’s celebrated European trip does not include Brussels.
He’s hitting France, Germany, the UK — and all of that is good.
But Brussels is the capital of Europe. It is the promise of what Europe is struggling to become that makes Brussels a vital stopover point. Obama is visiting some of the key, strategic nodes that give Europe some of its legs — but the trip looks like an “Old Europe” trip, not a new one.
Perhaps to teach us a lesson, we should have more world leaders visit San Francisco, Houston, Boston, New York, Chicago — and just skip Washington, D.C. It’s not a bad idea come to think of it.
But seriously, for Obama to neglect Brussels and the vital significance of what is going on in the evolving institutional heart of Europe may amplify doubt about him and his strategic template. Long ago, I broke the story that Senator Obama had not chaired any policy hearings of the European Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I thought that this got overplayed by some others — but still, it raised questions about the status of Europe in Obama’s world view.
This trip was and remains an opportunity to show that he has studied up and that he gets the fact that when it comes to Iran, Russia, China, the global economy, oil and energy strategies, and more — working with Europe behind the scenes and overtly is not optional.
I met with some of Obama’s Europe advisers recently and congratulated them for getting the Europe box checked off during the campaign. They told me that they worked hard to lobby for the trip — and to get him to underscore how vital the transatlantic relationship was to nearly ever classical and newfangled national security challenge the US and Europe were facing.
But while I still applaud his forthcoming journey, I need to underscore that the Europe box is not in fact checked off until he gets to Brussels. We’ll consider it half checked off — sort of like a spare in bowling perhaps.
Bur for now and for much of the rest of Barack Obama’s life — particularly if he wins the presidency — everything he does will have symbolic significance.
And what he is saying to Europeans, symbolically, is that their capital does not quite rank. Too bad in my book. I hope it’s something he can find ways to “symbolically correct.”
– Steve Clemons

Comments

59 comments on “Obama’s Europe Blindspot: Why Did He Skip Europe’s Institutional Heart?

  1. Women says:

    As an American with strong ties to Spain & perhaps a more European sensibility than a typically American one, I nevertheless find the comment by Ms. Bacharan that pleasing Europe is not a priority to be absurd. Of course pleasing Europe is not a priority! FYI: We have major problems here at home that urgently require the President’s attention. Not to mention that after the loss of a major Senate seat in Massachusetts, and with mid-term elections just around the corner, Obama can hardly afford to be viewed as frittering away in Europe at the potential expense of his own political party. And also, for a number of reasons, the U.S. does not have the warmest relationship with Zapatero’s government.
    Still, he’ll be missing out in one way, Madrid in May is perfect!
    Stephanie Mcnealy

    Reply

  2. Women says:

    As an American with strong ties to Spain & perhaps a more European sensibility than a typically American one, I nevertheless find the comment by Ms. Bacharan that pleasing Europe is not a priority to be absurd. Of course pleasing Europe is not a priority! FYI: We have major problems here at home that urgently require the President’s attention. Not to mention that after the loss of a major Senate seat in Massachusetts, and with mid-term elections just around the corner, Obama can hardly afford to be viewed as frittering away in Europe at the potential expense of his own political party. And also, for a number of reasons, the U.S. does not have the warmest relationship with Zapatero’s government.
    Still, he’ll be missing out in one way, Madrid in May is perfect!
    Stephanie Mcnealy

    Reply

  3. Will says:

    Obama Does Brown but Not Brussels and rejects Normandy trip to avoid offending Germany, British press says. There is a 75 year anniversary coming up this summer, hint, hint.
    Strange how President Obama forgot his History there just as he forgot the US Hospital in Ramstein during his campaign. How little he seems to know about Diplomacy while traveling around the World.
    Shows how little he knows of foreign relations while bowing to the King of the Saudis, Giving an iPod to the Queen of the English and DVDs to their PM that only play in Zone 1. He says about the Queen of England “Reminds me of my own Grandmother) and just a while ago said his Grandmother was a ‘Typical White Person who crosses the road to avoid Blacks’ implying there is such a thing as a typical White person as he discribes (Who elected him?) and it’s bad to be typically White? Sounds like some sour stuff in his craw to me.
    Anyways, I wonder who will bring a paper bag to the White House filled with Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer, a Bag of Pork Rinds and a Duncan Yo-yo for his kids, You know, things Americans like when they come visit Him?… Sheesh, what a life in America these days. A President who acts like a Hillbilly and gives crap gifts to Dignitaries and then calls his own fellow Countrymen Arrogant and worse while addressing the Europeans. He acts like a Kid and not like a President in my opinion. We can chalk it up to his Harvard Education or the Private Schools he attended as a kid or his time in Chicago with those politicians, including the one from his Church I guess. Whatever else could have kept him from studying American and/or European History during his early life?

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  4. Informed Counsel says:

    One other thing. There is an obnoxious blog out there that has taken a different direction on the Obama ‘pig in lipstick’ debacle and coupled it with a slam on Obama’s growing relationship with Europe which you write about above.
    Someone has to counter this type of cerebral opposition before it is too late.

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  5. Informed Counsel says:

    Not so fast. There seems to be more here than meets the eye. The ‘R’s have seized upon a number of connections between European policies and those of the ‘D’s.
    I recently came across a press release that raises both foreign and domestic policy issues that can haunt Obama and Biden.
    And what is worse, the press release is couched in McCain terminology of ‘putting country first’. I hope the Obama campaign picks up on this and slams the critics before it gets widely distributed.
    You will find it if you google,
    “Putting Country First Means Defending America’s Sovereignty, Constitution and Free Enterprise System Against Foreign Incursion”.

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  6. Gorgegirl says:

    I just want to know who is paying for this trip? Especially since he had to take his plane that he just painted with his name blazed across it. Seems to be it should have been a reasonable shot for some terrorist, but then I remember Obama’s Hamas connections and feel they feel he is on their side.
    Did anyone else notice that almost all the troops who came to see Obama were black? I just thought perhaps Hillary or McCain would have attracted all troops.

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  7. Howard says:

    How about focusing on who has the experience, judgement and
    character to protect us and bring prosperity to Americans … not
    someone who in the eleventh hour, finally tries to establish foreign
    policy credentials, in a one week visit, as a transparent political
    ploy to get himself elected. Where was Obama, when he was
    supposed to chair the congressional committee on Afghanistan,
    and never had a single meeting. Why did Obama vote ‘present’ over
    100 times in the senate? Even if he stages a political rally in the
    Roman Coliseum, he’s still just an inexperienced politician, who is
    not qualified to be President of the United States of America !!!

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  8. JIm says:

    Its possible that the Obama campaign didn’t want to have to navigate the delicate tightrope that is Belgian politics this year. Earlier in the week the prime minister Leterme had resigned, now he’s staying on… is it easy to visit Brussels and not meet with the belgians?

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  9. Kathleen says:

    Well damn, while we’re hopsctoching around Europe, why skip Rome? This is where the Niger Forgery first surfaced,… there’s an in absentia trial against CIA Agents… surely there are a few pressing questions to ask… the Aspen Insitute is conferring there, .. good cover for other activities in the area… Carroll.. are Michael Ledeen and Harrold Rhodes members of The Aspen Institute, along with Scooter and Judy and good old Revoltin Bolton?.
    Apart from that, Italy has the highest voter particpation of any nation…97%.. Obama should commend them on that and challenge Americans to match that…. and they sure know how to treat a dictator… this week at the beach I made an Italian woman laugh and laugh and laugh when I called Dopey, Busholini… qa brief feel-ggod moment on politics..

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  10. Kathleen says:

    Well damn, while we’re hopsctoching around Europe, why skip Rome? This is where the Niger Forgery first surfaced,… there’s an in absentia trial against CIA Agents… surely there are a few pressing questions to ask… the Aspen Insitute is conferring there, .. good cover for other activities in the area… Carroll.. are Michael Ledeen and Harrold Rhodes members of The Aspen Institute, along with Scooter and Judy and good old Revoltin Bolton?.
    Apart from that, Italy has the highest voter particpation of any nation…97%.. Obama should commend them on that and challenge Americans to match that…. and they sure know how to treat a dictator… this week at the beach I made an Italian woman laugh and laugh and laugh when I called Dopey, Busholini… a brief feel-good moment on politics.

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  11. jon says:

    Obama talks a tough game, but he’s quite fearful that a visit to
    brussels would enmesh him in the current, intractable meltdown
    of the government.
    He stands to lose the fractious support of the all-important Low
    Country voting bloc. That’s not change he can believe in.
    But in Berlin, I seriously think that Obama appearing before the
    Victory monument is a misstep. Not only does it commemorate
    jingoistic expansionary policies, and it has a certain phallic
    quality, and it was a centerpiece of Speer’s Germania plan, it’s
    also the focus of the yearly Love Parade – which is pretty much a
    naked bacchanal. I’m looking forward to right-wing mashups of
    all of these aspects of his visit. Realistically, anything he does
    will be criticized, but Obama doesn’t have to make it easy.

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  12. Mr.Murder says:

    British exceptionalism is not a new trait. It took centuries of empire to cultivate.
    Perhaps the idea of getting people like Cleese involved would help soften this perception.

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  13. Ivo Huber says:

    Nigel wrote: “Brussels is the objective correlative for what half of Europe is
    fervently hoping not to become.”
    Since when is the UK (or at least a significant portion of that country) “half of Europe”? The UK is the only country in the EU where a significant portion of the electorate is truely eurosceptic. Others may vote against European treaty reforms every now and then, but essentially remain deeply europhile (see Ireland). The vast majority of Europeans find British euroscepticism simply – in the best case – “very British” (but often bizarre or even xenophobic).

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  14. Ivo Huber says:

    It is true that “classic” foreign policy is still mostly made in national capitals in Europe. This is, however, not true for other important foreign policy issues such as trade policy and a host of other economic and environmental issues, such as climate change. These decisions are mostly made in Brussels. But, of course, this is campaign time. The trip is one made for the American domestic audience. And Paris, London and Berlin are simply much more glamorous than Brussels.
    PS: Somebody wrote he should have gone to Rome. I don’t think so. First, partly reflecting its inefficient political and administrative system, Italy has much less influence in Europe than Germany, the UK and France. Also: posing with Italy’s prime minister Berlusconi – whose main aim in government is to further his private interests by adopting immunity laws and the like – is not a good photo-op.

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  15. Mr.Murder says:

    The EU actually serves as a private interest way of shaping elections by fixing policy platforms as starting points and then sending it back to member states for the resulting political developments.
    The idea is for EU proposals to shape the electoral response in expected directions, including the contrapositive.
    Sarkozy’s right wing win doesn’t happen without the overall influence of the EU. Nor did Aznar’s time next to them. Italy might have still let the Niger forgeries get through, and France still would have reported them initially; but the Prime Minister of the UK and Spain’s membership and contributions of the EU director from that country, would of had less influence in shaping the Niger forgery to the extent they did alongside the Ledeen wing of policy at AEI.
    The EU is powerful enough. Follow the Money.

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  16. digdug says:

    Did you ever once ask if George Bush and Dick Cheney needed foreign policy “tutoring”? I doubt it. I challenge you to show one post if you did.
    And yet, they have led us into the greatest single foreign policy disaster our nation has experienced. One that will take at least a generation to rectify.
    Don’t fall into the memes the conservatives are pushing, Mr. Clemons. I am no Obama partisan, but I urge you, don’t reinforce the conservative memes.

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  17. Nigel says:

    “But Brussels is the capital of Europe…”
    Eh ?
    “It is the promise of what Europe is struggling to become that
    makes Brussels a vital stopover point.”
    Brussels is the objective correlative for what half of Europe is
    fervently hoping not to become.

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  18. Dan Kervick says:

    Let’s try to get some perspective here. The non-role of Brussels in Obama’s trip is going to be of miniscule importance considered relative to the whole trip, and the chief topics that he will be addressing.
    Obama is going to be visiting a number of important places in both Europe and the Middle East, where he will have a high-profile platform to make several very important speeches, fusing his existing messages to Americans about US foreign policy with new messages to Europeans about his hopes and expectations for US-European relations in an Obama administration.
    I suspect he is going to make a point of *both* assuring Europeans that they can expect a return to the more vigorously pro-Europe, multilateralist and internationalist America that preceded the woeful Bush administration *and* calling on Europeans to do more in certain areas. Some key topics:
    1. Russia policy, especially as this affects Germany. This is an excellent topic for a reflective historical speech at the Brandenburg gate, especially if it is combined with Obama’s promised activism and renewal in US non-proliferation policy.
    2. Nato and Afghanistan, tying his Iraq withdrawal agenda, which will no doubt be extremely popular in Europe, with calls for Europe and the US to step up efforts to address the Bush failures in Afghanistan. Maybe this is a topic for the trip to the UK.
    3. The general topic of Western rapprochement with the Muslim world, and moving toward a more united front with Europeans on Middle East policy. This is a great topic (but a challenging and thorny one) for his visit to France, where he will be addressing French Muslims, French Jews, and a variety of liberal, socialist and conservative interests in that country and throughout Europe who take a great interest in the issue of Muslim/non-Muslim relations in Europe and elsewhere. The French role in the Middle East, including Lebanon and North Africa, is still hugely important.
    In the end, I suspect he will nail these topics to Steve’s great satisfaction, and the fact that he didn’t stop to eat his Brussels sprouts won’t seem very important.

    Reply

  19. Ed Nigma says:

    Senator Obama sells himself as an agent of change, and a man of the people. Of course this contrasts with a tired and elite driven Brussels that no one in Europe pays attention to any longer.
    His decision not to visit Brussels demonstrates that he understands (thankfully) that the nation-state is still at work in Europe and that it’s people carry a generally negative view of the European Union.
    Bravo Phil Gordon.

    Reply

  20. Dan Hunt says:

    Brother. This little insight is only marginally less inane than the masterpiece of ignoramus that had Obama as deadbeat for, as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Europe, not holding oversight hearings of a military enterprise in Afghanistan, (for which it doesn’t even have tertiary responsibility).
    All apologies Steve, but your knowledge of Europe is no better, (and it always helps to spend a little time in the world before teaching it). In particular, Brussels is not ‘the capital of Europe’. It is in fact only the capital of a thoroughfare for panzer divisions. The best I can do for you is grant that Brussels can be described as ‘a’ capital of Europe, though that itself is pushing it, (perhaps if generously cracking Europe’s top five). And to publicly assert that Obama should go speak in front of diplomats and Belgians who are not representative of very much of Europe at all is just parading around your ignorance like so many Mardis Gras beads.
    You see, Berlin, London and Paris are all vastly more important power centers in Europe than Brussels which is regarded largely resentfully by the majority of Europeans to the extent they don’t laugh up their sleeve at it, (i.e. its power is mostly resented- see recent referendums- to the limited extent Europeans don’t all agree it is the home of powerless institutions). So if anyone needs to go somewhere Steve, it’s you.

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  21. gabriella brand says:

    I assume this criticism comes from an American. Only an American
    who does not understand the role that Brussels plays in the
    European mentality could make such a silly suggestion.
    We Europeans don’t regard Brussels as our “capital”. In fact, with
    all due respect to Belgians, Brussels is now even less interesting a
    capital NOW than it was BEFORE the EU headquarters etc.

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  22. Chris says:

    Steve, He’s going to Afghanistan, Iraq, Berlin, London and Paris, and this BEFORE he’s even received the nomination or won the election. It’s a pretty big trip and, really, the first time something like this has happened in the middle of a hotly contested presidential campaign. The judgment here in Europe is that the trip is a bold stroke. No one, I repeat, no one, over here has even mentioned Brussels (nor Andorra nor San Marino for that matter.) — Chris

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  23. Paul Norheim says:

    “But Brussels is the capital of Europe. It is the promise of what
    Europe is struggling to become that makes Brussels a vital
    stopover point.” (Steve Clemons)
    I would say that the first sentence is, well…wrong, and the
    second one is correct. And the first sentence is wrong exactly
    because Brussels is more of a “promise of what Europe is
    struggling to become” than a capital, in the sense that
    Washington D.C. is a capital.
    If you look for an opportunity to disagree – even call Steve an
    ignorant idiot – this is easy by overlooking the second sentence.
    But if you cared to read him, you would see that his point was a
    simple one: the presidential candidate should encourage the
    “European aspirations”.
    I happen to disagree with that. I think Obama chose the right
    places to visit (he may have added an Eastern European capital if
    he had more time etc), because this is a part of his presidential
    campaign. The people around him have good reasons to
    assume that he will be welcomed like a rock star, as well as a
    different face of America. This will be covered in US media, and
    benefit his campaign, if everything goes well.
    A visit to Brussels now will not produce media coverage that will
    be of much benefit for his campaign. If he becomes the US
    President, there will be opportunities to visit Brussels and honor
    the “promise of what Europe is struggling to become”.
    This is just how I see it. Does this imply that I think Steve is
    ignorant on European matters? Even an idiot?
    No. Just a matter of different opinions. It´s very easy to call
    someone ignorant or stupid or something worse. Even a fool
    can do that. Reading and listening is a bit harder. But also that
    is achievable.

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  24. Steve Jones says:

    You’re getting killed here Stevie – give us an update or a response. Methinks you overstretched in the analogy and analysis.

    Reply

  25. JM says:

    I guess I’m unclear as to who he would meet with in Brussels. The head of the European Commission? The head of the Parliament (which is in Strasbourg, anyway)? France is head of the European Council so by meeting with Sarkozy he takes care of that. But with the seeming death of the Lisbon Treaty there isn’t an EU president or foreign minister to meet with.
    Maybe just a stop at the Manneken Pis then some chocolate and beer?

    Reply

  26. vwcat says:

    Steve, I read that the Obama camp wanted to just meet with the main three leaders as his trip would be so short.
    They decided to stick with the classics.
    I am sure that Obama more than understands Europe. He has 300 advisers broken into 20 different areas as his foreign policy team and they are up on everything.
    I think it was more a matter of time, logistics and what would be the best for things like photo ops.
    Meet with the three main allies and the ones most known to Americans.
    I don’t think this was meant to be much more involved.
    Or deep in the weeds.

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  27. i like tuesday says:

    Ps. Sorry for mispelling your name, but I just assumed you were related to Roger. My bad!

    Reply

  28. i like tuesday says:

    Steve Clemens, you are a Remedial Idiot. This is ridiculous, empty criticism from someone without a clue. There is simply no one for Obama to meet with at the EU. There is no “Foreign Minister”. That was in the Failed European Constitution and the Lisbon treaty which is currently in Limbo after the Irish “No” vote.
    However, I suppose Obama could go and meet with the head of the country holding the rotating EU presidency which is currently… (drum roll) Sarkozy.
    Might be a good idea to go inform yourself of the basic facts before writing a column next time, otherwise its obvious to anyone with a clue that you have no idea what you’re talking about.

    Reply

  29. MNPundit says:

    I think it just underscores the fact that Brussels is 1) an example of EU failure (how many countries have rejected the EU now?) and 2) is in a country that is moving toward disintegration.
    Also, on a more base level it’s far better for American policy if the EU remains weak and we can deal with those countries piece-meal.

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  30. Titbug says:

    Why did he skip a visit to the EU ?
    Hum. Because the EU commission has no power in matter of foreign policy (which could have changed with the Lisbon treaty but the Irish said no, remember ?), because the Parliament has only an advisory role (and they are not in session), because the EU is in a tension-filled pickle right now because of the Irish no mentioned above and not in a good place to make any decisions or bold moves like this would have been, because it would have offended a number of European leaders who are very reluctant to grant the EU any more power especially in terms of foreign policy and because the host country is in a terrible political crisis with the government collapsing and talks of secession.
    Answers your question much ? I am more concerned with YOUR knowledge of European institutions and political climate than I am with Obama’s now.

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  31. JohnR says:

    As one of the previous commenters noted, Brussels is a bureaucratic capital. Some day, the EU will live up to its name as a true “union” but that day hasn’t come. Until the EU takes a Security Council seat (Britain and France give up their seats) and the G8 includes a single EU representative (Britain, France, Germany and Italy give up their reps) the EU will remain a shadow union with limited power.

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  32. Brian Mack says:

    Yeah, right. All of Obama’s FP advisors are right now smacking their heads saying “crap, we forgot about Brussels”. Please explain why you are a blogger rather than an FP advisor with this kind of insight?

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  33. Kathleen says:

    What’s with the “Old Europe” “New Europe” schtick?
    Just because Dopey and Darth called those countries who wouldn’t support our use of force in Iraq, “Old Europe”, it doesn’t mean Europeans give a damn about it.
    Chertoff: European terrorists trying to enter US
    By EILEEN SULLIVAN – 13 hours ago
    WASHINGTON (AP) — European terrorists are trying to enter the United States with European Union passports, and there is no guarantee officials will catch them every time, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Thursday.
    Chertoff’s comments on Capitol Hill comes as the country is entering a potentially vulnerable period with the presidential nominating conventions coming up next month; the presidential election in November; and the transition to a new administration in January — all of which may be attractive targets for terrorists.
    In his last scheduled appearance before the House Homeland Security Committee, Chertoff said that the more time and space al-Qaida and its allies have to recruit, train, experiment and plan, the more problems the U.S. and Europe will face down the road.
    “The terrorists are deliberately focusing on people who have legitimate Western European passports, who don’t appear to have records as terrorists,” Chertoff told lawmakers. “I have a good degree of confidence we can catch people coming in. But I have to tell you … there’s no guarantee. And they are working very hard to slip by us.”
    Chertoff and other intelligence officials have delivered similar warnings before, and he offered no new information about specific threats or an imminent attack.
    Chertoff reiterated his concern that terrorists could sneak radiological material into the country on small boats or private aircraft. This material could be used to create an explosive device known as a “dirty bomb.”
    The Homeland Security Department has a strategy to protect against this small boat vulnerability and is testing radiation detection equipment in Seattle and San Diego ports.
    Chertoff said that getting out a regulation to prescreen and enhance security of general aviation aircraft coming to the U.S. from overseas is one of his top priorities.
    He also said he expects to approve new radiation detection technology this fall.
    Responding to a question from Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, Chertoff dismissed any rumor that he is on a list of potential running mates for Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Chertoff quipped that the only list he has for next year is a list of vacations.
    Chertoff’s term as the country’s second Homeland Security Secretary ends when a new administration takes over the White House in January.

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  34. Nanne says:

    He forgot about Poland!
    But seriously, Jacques, the ‘New Europe’ countries are all rather small in terms of population (which is also declining in most). They are also poor and have limited political power and military capabilities. Old Europe is vastly more important.
    Jan, I agree with the gist of what you are saying. However, EU legislation does not need to be ratified individually, except for new treaties. Foreign policy does require unanimity.

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  35. Jacques Poitras says:

    Never mind Brussels, what about Prague, Warsaw and Budapest? That’s the real New Europe.

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  36. cab91 says:

    Jan is right. This is nothing more than the first campaign rally overseas in American history. Obama can’t do anything more than take notes.

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  37. Jan says:

    Dear Steve,
    as a European from the Netherlands I’d like to react to your article. To be blunt, you’ve got it all wrong in stating that Obama should visit Brussels.
    To the majority of the Europeans, whatever that may be, Brussels is not considered its capital by a long shot. It is merely the administrative center of the European Union, to be more specific the European commission. And it has, to the dismay of many Europeans, to share that with the French city of Strasbourg.
    In contrast with the United States the European Union has no real power. All the legislation it produces has to be ratified by the individual countries.
    The real centers of power are indeed Berlin, Paris and London not necessarily in that order. On top of that every country retains its veto right.
    Europe in that sense is no further than the late 18th century when the federalist United States was formed.
    Obama might consider meeting with the chairman of the European commission Mr. Barroso as a personal courtesy but he won’t be able to discuss any political important topics.
    The European union is currently presided by the country of Slovenia. He might also consider visiting their capital Ljubljana.
    My advice in both cases is to postpone both meetings until he may have won the presidency.
    As for speaking at the Brandenburg gate my advice would be not to do so since it could come across as a little presumptuous. There are plenty of other historical sites in Berlin where he could address the German public.

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  38. Nanne says:

    Brussels is the capital of a small country that is split and has become all but ungovernable. It is not the official capital of the EU. Visiting London, Paris and Berlin is appropriate since the EU’s foreign policy is intergovernmental, with the main actor, Solana, acting mostly as a facilitator.
    For what it’s worth, though, Brussels is also the HQ of NATO.

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  39. Mr.Murder says:

    War crimes conviction was upheld this past week.
    You might see the military’s pushback vs. Cheney take new levels.
    “THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Appeals judges at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal upheld the conviction Thursday of a Yugoslav army general for overseeing the deadly 1991 shelling of the historic coastal city of Dubrovnik.”
    There. We have precedent.

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  40. PissedOffAmerican says:

    On second thought, I think Steve is on the right track here.
    I’m all for these posturing pieces of shit getting out and seein’ the world.
    Where Steve and I part company is on their mode of travel. Personally, I think we oughta make them swim over when they are stricken with the patriotic urge to pander abroad.

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  41. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Well, Norheim might just be on the right track, in a way. Kathleen definitely is.
    Perhaps Obama should experience an evening walk on the streets of Pacoima, East Los Angeles, or South East Bakersfield. Yep, a nice midnight stroll in any number of American inner cities is as far as he need go to discover true terrorism, and Americans cowering in their living rooms, afraid to venture out.
    Bullets for the Iraqis, and indifference to the street gangs. Ah, what the hell, give ‘em anmesty. Gang bangin’, the job Americans refuse to do.

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  42. YY says:

    Good, he’s going to Ramallah as well. Still it is not the best time of the year to be going to Europe.

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  43. Mr.Murder says:

    The reason he remains obtuse on the EU is that he doesn’t wAnt to step on Condi’s toes. He did vote her through committee and appeared less interested in questioning her track record with NSA before her last promotion.

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  44. Spunkmeyer says:

    Steve, you make it sound like Obama is a yokel tourist that left
    his Frodors book at home! Just as “inside the Beltway” is a loaded
    phrase for many Americans, I am certain there’s a sizable
    continent of Europeans that don’t see Obama’s actions as a slight
    or insult.

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  45. YY says:

    Alternate and strange itineraries
    USA-Baghdad-Tel Aviv-Brussels-USA
    USA-Baghdad-Tel Aviv-Kabul-Islamabad-USA
    USA-Baghdad-Madrid-Rome-Athens-Tel Aviv-USA
    For election purposes the itinerary is fine. Berlin is safe place to make a speech and where he will probably have bigger audience than JFK. Green Zone and Tel Aviv (or is it going to be Jerusalem?) are the political gestures that need be made but unsafe places to make a speech both physically or politically. Paris and London or whatever just fills out the itinerary to make the trip look less show biz.

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  46. EuropeExpert says:

    Steve,
    The EU Parliament is currently in Strausberg. There are no EU MP’s in Brussels currently. His trip to France to meet Sarkozy (current President of the EU) and many EU MP’s while in Paris — check the box you think he hasn’t thought of. As for other Brussels based Inst’s – like NATO — he will meet NATO officials in Afghanistan. Lastly, to understand Europe and its power – there are no central locations of power – that’s the point! If Poland held the Presidency of the EU and he skipped Poland – then you would have an argument.

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  47. Kathleen says:

    Or, for that matter, the center of the world government, Geneva… surely the UN plays a key role in Iraq and Iran decisions. ..past and present.
    Maybe visiting leaders should visit New Orleans… that would speed things up down there.

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  48. Beth says:

    “what he is saying to Europeans, symbolically, is that their capital does not quite rank”
    Erhm.. I think you may be the one out of touch with “Europe” here. Try to ask people in Europe the name of their capital, and I doubt that anybody but Belgians will name Brussels. And they would of course be right – Brussels is not the capital of the EU, let alone Europe. In addition, Brussels is hugely unpopular in most EU countries, so Obama would maybe gain favor with a few EU bureaucrats and politicians by going there, but he would be annoying most other people.
    And please – try to remember that the “European Union” does not equal “Europe”.

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  49. Zathras says:

    European unification is Europe’s cause, not ours. It will happen, or it won’t. We will have relations with European countries whether it does or not, and omitting Brussels signifies nothing other than that Obama’s advance people have looked at a map and recognized that a candidate with limited time on his schedule needs to visit the big European countries. Belgium is not one of them.
    As with Cuba and the Israel-Palestinian dispute, Steve Clemons appears here to be straining to find ways to encourage Sen. Obama to view the world the way Steve Clemons would if Steve Clemons were a Presidential candidate. Maybe it would be a good thing if Obama did — his “strategic template” to date reflects a professional lifetime spent in Chicago politics and a selection of briefings intended to prepare him for his Presidential campaign — but if this is ever going to happen it isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

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  50. Dan Kervick says:

    This is not really a diplomatic trip, since Obama is not president yet. It is a presidential campaign trip. Everything he does in Europe is aimed at generating emotive photo ops for AMERICAN audiences. There are lots of German-Americans, Franco-Americans and Anglo-Americans – but not so many generic European-Americans, who fly European Union flags in their neighborhood shops and cafes, or sing European anthems at Oktoberfest celebrations or church carnivals.
    The unifying theme of the Obama foreign policy message is about restoring the prestige of the United States. Poll results show that ordinary Americans are deeply concerned about the fact that nobody seems to like us anymore. The Obama campaign is betting that Obama is going to prove immensely charismatic and popular in Europe among ordinary people. They are seeking evening news images of massive, cheering throngs of regular people, images that will reassure Americans about the future of our foreign relations, and prompt them to vote for Obama. The Brandenburg Gate; London; Paris (maybe Normandy?) This is all designed to get the old patriotic American juices flowing, and convince Americans that a vote for Obama is a vote to bring back the old days when we had great relationships with Europeans. Photo ops of Obama sitting in some ornate hall surrounded mostly by flags aren’t a big deal right now. Those are the shots the Obama team will be looking for after he is elected and goes on an important diplomatic trip.
    Obama is not on some sort of European tryout here. Diplomats in Brussells do not vote in US presidential elections, and hobnobbing with them is a relatively low priority right now. I am sure Obama will have ample opportunity while there to converse with many prominent European political leaders and opinion leaders, and they will carry his message and their impressions to Brussels and elsewhere. But his chief mission at this time is not to impress Euro-diplomats; it is to get elected.

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  51. Tahoe Editor says:

    The Brussels-Washington analogy was followed by, “But seriously … ”

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  52. ringo says:

    to which I add — I forgot that you broke the committee hearing
    story. It definitely got overplayed, but I feel that this is an example
    of useful checking-up on candidates — pushing them to respond
    by doing substantive things, instead of pushing them to make sure
    that they “aren’t too cool” or “are comfortable/uncomfortable” with
    being made fun of as a turbaned terrorist with machine-gun toting
    wife.

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  53. ringo says:

    The Brussels-Washington DC analogy seems strained. One is an
    uncontested capital since the late 1800s, the other for may be
    ambiguous even now. Recently, the only popular referendum on a
    furthering the EU project failed (in Ireland). To what extent do
    actual Europeans think the way you do in your post, Steve?

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  54. Linda says:

    He can only spend so much time on foreign travel right now, needs to get back home and campaign in Aspen and everywhere. There will be plenty of opportunities for going abroad when he is President and stay in Presidential Suites at five-star hotels and go to state dinners

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  55. Paul Norheim says:

    I`m waiting for some of the otherwise excellent commentators
    here to suggest that he should travel to Aspen instead, or just
    stay in Chicago!

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  56. Tahoe Editor says:

    Belgium is very much a part of “Old Europe” in the Rummy sense of the term. But even this post sounds like an “Obama can do no right” moment — “Let’s find something to criticize Obama on for ‘balance’.”
    Sarkozy has the EU presidency. Who will be left in Brussels when Obama is in France, Germany and the United Kingdom to make such a trip necessary to avoid a “blind spot”?

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  57. EC says:

    Where is a president more likely to visit, absent a summit, Berlin or Brussels? While it is important for the president — and presidential candidates — to have a firm grasp of European politics, major foreign policy decisions are still made at the state level, even in Europe. The questions of Iraq and Afghanistan require consultation with heads of state.
    Besides, if we were to add to the list all the capitals where a visit would be useful to foreign policy education, the list and time required to complete it would leave little time for domestic campaigning.

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  58. Ajaz says:

    Brussels may well be the capital of Europe, but it is really a bureaucratic capital. Decisions are still made in London, Paris, Berlin and Rome. The capital Obama is missing out on is Rome and that is a place he should be visiting.

    Reply

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