The condensed history of the Western world goes something like this: Achilles slays Hector, Charlemagne conquers Saxony, Anne Boleyn, Martin Luther, Waterloo, May Day, Versailles, The Beatles on Ed Sullivan, and Queen Elizabeth II hugs Michelle Obama.
Can you say “road trip”?
Halfway through their trip to the G20 summit, NATO and beyond, it’s safe to say that President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle are still a hit around the world even if the president’s policy approach for the damaged global economy is not.
For Obama, all it took was the frank but subtle concession that yes, “some of this contagion did start on Wall Street,” to reassert that the United States would be leading a “strong, coordinated response to growth.” Between his remarks and some off-the-cuff banter with India’s Times reporter Simrat Ghuman, Obama left them “still walking on air.”
Everyone was amazed by Mrs. Obama’s in-flight wardrobe flip, but if people do everything from brush their teeth to, well, uh—you know—in those cramped lavatories on a Southwest flight, wouldn’t you expect the first lady to use the private cabin on her husband’s fully loaded jet to freshen up before a London touch down?
With an apt Lady Di comparison, The Daily Beast’s Tina Brown calls it for Michelle over France’s Carla Bruni as the American first lady’s personal narrative and bold, chic style came together Thursday thrilling a group of school girls in London, with the declaration: “If you want to know the reason why I’m standing here, it’s because of education.” All of this while breaking news with some fashion-forward argyle by someone named Junya Watanabe.
Perhaps all the reporters on the trip secretly covet gigs at E! because so far we’ve been more than thoroughly briefed on how J. Crew sold out of another Jackie O. Color ensemble immediately after Michelle rocked one of their cardigans around London. Reports are a tad less comprehensive with respect to what actually got done at the G20 meetings.
On Wednesday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy argued in the Washington Post against Obama for regulation vs. stimulus, proposing “not one financial player, institution or product could be beyond the control of a regulatory authority.”
At one point, Obama, called on to mediate a dispute between the suddenly brassy Sarkozy and Chinese President Hu Jintao, was able to strike a bargain on “tax havens” to save the day. But it’s pretty easy to imagine Hu smiling in Sarkozy’s face and offering Wu Tang Financial’s prescient investment counsel: “You need to diversify your bonds…”
And as Rudy deLeon and Spencer Boyer report in the Guardian, Sarkozy rejoins the NATO central command even as enthusiasm wanes among most Europeans for additional commitments in Afghanistan.
No one wants to picture Sarkozy as the Tom Cruise in this equation: “I want le truth!”
Yet Obama arrives at G20 and NATO playing the role of Jack Nicholson’s Col. Jessup, having to lay a firm hand on Sarkozy’s shoulder to remind him that he can blame us all he wants for the financial crisis as long as he remembers that he “rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom” that America provides.
While we spent the last century shielding them from the Soviets and “liberating” Kuwait’s oil, they’ve been enjoying a peace dividend that includes monthlong vacations, universal health care and, for all we know, vending machines with hydroponic weed. If they can’t pony up any additional troops for the effort to secure the Af-Pak region, Obama may have to tell dovish EU governments that they’re going to have to kick down for the “hearts and minds” portion of the War on Terr—I mean—Overseas Contingency Operation.
“Let’s Talk, Turkey”
Obama’s trip to Europe will end with stops in Ankara and Istanbul. As the only NATO country bordering Iraq, Turkey seems like an appropriate place for the president’s big finish.
This may or may not wind up being the “major address” from a Muslim capital that Obama promised to deliver during the first 100 days. But we’re 75 days in, so unless Obama jets back to Jakarta or Cairo before Easter like a entertainer hang gliding into Yankee stadium at halftime, this is probably it.
It’s not clear yet whether the appropriate theme music for this jaunt across the pond is Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s “’03 Bonnie & Clyde” or “American Boy” by Brit-dish Estelle and Kanye West. But clearly, the trip was the right prescription for the president—a chance to get out of Dodge and shake off some of the ankle-biters back home in D.C.
He faces an uphill budget fight at home, but Obama flosses best internationally. And today, he’s done a town hall … in someone else’s town…. When in Rome, he’s at home, and like a young Snoop Dogg, on the road, Obama is “unfadeable,” so please don’t try to fade him.
David Swerdlick is a regular contributor to The Root.
David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.