US President Barack Obama headed to Europe yesterday, launching a major tour during which he will mix pomp, personal history and great power diplomacy shaped by the historic uprisings in the Arab world.
Air Force One carrying the US leader, First Lady Michelle Obama and his closest aides took off from Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington at about 10:25pm on Sunday.
In Europe, Obama is seeking support for his plan to spur democracy after revolts in Tunisia and Egypt and may face pressure for a more robust US role in Libya.
The president will journey to ancestral home turf in the tiny village of Moneygall in Ireland, bask in the splendor of a state visit with the queen of Britain, meet world leaders at the G8 summit in France and visit Poland.
Despite suggestions Obama prefers Asia to Europe, the president has repeatedly trekked across the Atlantic, and aides say he is firmly committed to the world’s most successful continental alliance.
“This is a very important trip for the president to reaffirm our core alliances in the world [with] our European allies,” said Ben Rhodes, a deputy US national security adviser.
Though Obama’s election, after the years of former US president George W. Bush, was greeted with euphoria in Europe, both sides may have reason for disappointment in the Obama presidency so far.
Europe perhaps did not get the president it hoped for, as Obama failed to close the “war on terror” camp at Guantanamo Bay, saw his climate change initiative collapse and appeared to look to booming Asia for America’s future.
The White House was frustrated that calls for more European combat troops for Afghanistan rarely materialized, as indebted allied governments slashed military spending.
The US and Europe did work to save the global economy, but differences emerged as Obama stimulated his nation back to growth, while several European governments chose austerity.
“Europe is our essential partner based on the values we share, and we see that every day as we look at the developments across the broader Middle East,” said -Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, the top European policy official on the US National Security Council.
Washington would like to reinvigorate the transatlantic alliance.
“I think you are going to hear a lot about Europe being the cornerstone of our engagement and a catalyst for global action,” Heather Conley of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said. “You’re going to hear a very strong message ... that if Europe can marshal the political will and the necessary financial resources, it will be part of a broader effort to work on the complex issues.”
The president will also be in Europe for the first time since US special forces killed al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in a raid in Pakistan.
Though Americans cheered the operation, some European commentators questioned why the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, -terror strikes was not brought to trial.
Obama was to begin his tour in Ireland yesterday, with talks with Irish President Mary McAleese and Prime Minister Enda Kenny.
However, the high point of his visit will be a trip to Moneygall, the village home of his great-great-great grandfather on his mother’s side, Falmouth Kearney.
On Tuesday, Obama will fly to London for two nights in Buckingham Palace and talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron.