Stage Craftiness
Over the weekend, I watched and listened to a lot of political analysis aimed as assessing the relative success of President Obama’s weeklong trip to Europe. The consensus was that in terms of diplomatic stagecraft and personal popularity, the Obama visit was a tremendous success, but in terms of policy and resource commitments from the G-20, NATO, and EU partners, the results were a bit of a disappointment. How you weigh the importance of this tradeoff between personality and policy largely determines whether you think the trip has been a success.
For this particular visit, Obama’s first overseas as president, I tend to agree with those who argue that even without significant new policy commitments to show for the effort, the president laid the groundwork for subsequent diplomatic progress.  Given that so much of international diplomacy at the presidential level is inextricably bound up in symbolism and ceremony, it is hard not to view Obama’s image-filled week as a successful one for the administration. If we were already a few years into his first term, then I might take a somewhat less sanguine view of the week’s events. But for now, I think Obama took an important first step in establishing his standing within this large group of world leaders.  What he does with it in the future will be the true test of his administration's diplomatic success or failure.

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