Obama's Speech: Reactions from Allies

Germans lambaste the plan, Italians shrug, and one Canadian newspaper gives a full-throated cheer

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The Wire previously covered domestic reaction to President Obama's Afghanistan speech. American pundits are still digesting the president's timetable for withdrawal, set to begin in July 2011. But strategy and total troop commitment in Afghanistan includes a substantial number of NATO forces as well: how are the publications of NATO countries reacting to the American president's speech? Here's a selection of responses from Canada, Australia, Italy, the United Kingdom, and Germany:

  • Finally, We Get Some Support  The sound you hear from Canada is The Globe and Mail editorial board breathing a sigh of relief, and perhaps even gratitude--Canadian casualties in Afghanistan have been exceptionally high. The publication calls Obama's strategy "the best possible plan for [the] region." The address "shows the depth of the American commitment," the editors assert, with the surge "correct[ing] a long-standing failure of American policy" in which the Iraq war "drew resources away from the al-Qaeda threat in Afghanistan." The Globe and Mail is pro-Obama right now: Obama's tripling of American commitment since taking office "is a welcome relief for Canadians," they write, "who serve bravely in the country's most dangerous regions."
  • Australian Accolades  Calling the speech "Barack Obama at his best," Greg Sheridan of The Australian says the address "answers critical questions about the US commitment in Afghanistan, and about Obama himself." The world now knows, Sheridan says, that President Obama can make both an unpopular and a "tough" decision. "Obama was surely right," Sheridan writes, "to point out that no other nation has made anything like the US effort to underwrite global security these past 60 years. Every civilised person on the planet will hope he succeeds in Afghanistan."
  • A Shrug from Italy  Vittoria Zucconi from La Repubblica decides that Obama made the "only decision that the Afghan mess inherited from Bush permitted." He calls it a "classic case of damned if you do, damned if you don't," and points out, like many, that the withdrawal target date is close to the 2012 elections.
  • Congratulations: You Are Now a War President  The Guardian's Michael Tomasky compares Obama to Winston Churchill, and says that in last night's address, "Barack Obama made his bid to become a president who will be remembered for the way he handled a war that was not originally his." The goals in Afghanistan are "important," Tomasky writes, but the American people are less than supportive. Obama may fall somewhat short of Churchill's rhetoric, "but the words matter less now than the actions," Tomasky declares: "America, the president said, is 'passing through a time of great trial.' And so is he."
  • This Isn't a Surge: It's an Exit  Tomasky's colleague Simon Jenkins thinks differently: 
Obama himself--and those round him--clearly has no stomach for this fight, any more than does Gordon Brown or the European allies. Afghanistan was a punitive raid that turned into an occupation that was not just mishandled but ill-conceived from the start. The operation now commencing is exit with dignity. Dignity will be the hard part.
  • Germans Distinctly Unimpressed  Josef Joffe in Die Zeit calls Obama's "half-hearted ... strategy," in the midst of economic problems "wishful thinking," and writes that the American president is "conducting a war as a domestic political compromise." Nor is this the only negative review in Germany, where the Afghanistan war is deeply unpopular. While Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung expresses limited support for Obama, and urges Germans as well not to give up on the Afghan cause, Gabor Steingart unleashes a torrent of scorn in Der Spiegel. "Never before," he writes, "has a speech by President Barack Obama felt as false." He continues:
One didn't have to be a cadet on Tuesday to feel a bit of nausea upon hearing Obama's speech. It was the least truthful address that he has ever held. He spoke of responsibility, but almost every sentence smelled of party tactics. He demanded sacrifice, but he was unable to say what it was for exactly ... For each troop movement, Obama had a number to match. US strength in Afghanistan will be tripled relative to the Bush years, a fact that is sure to impress hawks in America. But just 18 months later, just in time for Obama's re-election campaign, the horror of war is to end and the draw down will begin. The doves of peace will be let free. The speech continued in that vein. It was as though Obama had taken one of his old campaign speeches and merged it with a text from the library of ex-President George W. Bush. Extremists kill in the name of Islam, he said, before adding that it is one of the "world's great religions."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.