This week, President Obama is visiting Europe. This visit will play a significant role in re-engaging the Continent and a political role back home.
First, on politics, Obama’s visit yesterday to Moneygall, the ancestral home of his mother’s father’s family helps link the incumbent President running for re-election with millions of Irish-American voters. Irish-America often vote Democrat but are a strong swing population especially in battleground states like Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Jersey and Ohio.
For a President that has been forced to fight conscious and unconscious racism and questions about his native-born status, linking himself with Ireland is a great way to say – ‘Look, this is the American immigrant experience; we are all the same, if we are from Ireland, Kenya, Korea or Poland.’
The President’s first stop in Ireland will hopefully help the Irish economy and maybe even the Middle East Peace Process. Former special envoy, Mitchell was the man who brokered the Good Friday Accord ending religious violence in Northern Ireland. While Mitchell was unsuccessful in achieving the same long-term goal in the Middle East, Obama’s speech last week made public what had long been America’s “behind-closed-door-policy.” Hopefully there will be solid ground to begin negotiations.
President Obama’s visit followed that of Queen Elizabeth last week, a true testament to the peace – hopefully visiting the last location of major success in ending a religious conflict will give new breath and hope to the Middle East conflict.
Obama’s trip will continue to take him to the United Kingdom then on to the Continent where many believe he has failed to maintain his “rockstar” status. After his election and during the London and Pittsburgh G-20, Obama was criticized for attempting to be the “President of Europe.”
However, over the last months, the Obama Administration has focused on ties between the US and major emerging economies (India, Brazil, South Korea and Turkey.) This issue of American ties to the old versus the developing world is now more in question than after because the chairmanship of the IMF is open and Europe is maintaining that the post should remain in European hands while emerging economies call for their place as the helm. President Obama, regardless of position of the new IMF head, needs to play nice with Europe and this trip is the moment to do it.
Obama will continue from the United Kingdom to France and Poland. The White House has touted the tour as an effort to discuss security cooperation and Libya; however, Obama will be unable to leave domestic issues at home. Europe’s debt will definitely highlight the trip. Media coverage of the trip will America and the President a change to see what austerity measures really mean – and how crippling they can be – but also the dangers of doing nothing. Maybe he should have taking Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan with him.