Europe Loses Trust in Obama

President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela MerkelThe U.S. president’s turnabouts on Syria and Iran—coupled with his policy fumbles at home—have diminished European allies’ traditional respect for the White House. . . .

What’s novel here is that in Europe, doubts about America’s wisdom, strength and resolve are increasingly focused on the person of the president. Beyond the espionage, think of Mr. Obama’s hesitations on Iran and turnabouts concerning Syria—or his role in lengthening the U.S. budget shutdown, or in providing America with a new but crippled national health program.

These days, and to varying degrees, the governments of France, Britain and Germany regard Mr. Obama as a problem. No longer expressed only in private, the notion represents a decline in the reflexive acceptance and respect that had cushioned European attitudes about his historic presidency.

In Germany, Die Welt, a consistently pro-American newspaper, regretted things were now at a point where it appeared the U.S. was trying to confirm every prejudice against it. This was happening, the paper’s publisher wrote in a front-page editorial last month, “under an American president who was once longed for in Europe like the Messiah, and whom Old Europeans finally saw as one—a president who didn’t arrive wearing Texas cowboy boots, and instead tucked his copy of Kant under his pillow. But that was fiction. . . .”

One of the allies’ problems in dealing with the president, according to the official, is that Mr. Obama “does not do consultation, and he doesn’t do discussion with allies. He reports, and he describes his analytical process. . . .”

In ” Angela Merkel : The Chancellor and Her World,” a biography by veteran journalist Stefan Kornelius that was published in Germany in July, Mrs. Merkel is described as regarding the president as inscrutable. According to the book, the chancellor has exchanged expressions of discomfort with Nicolas Sarkozy and Gordon Brown about why Mr. Obama is “so peculiar, so unapproachable, so lacking in warmth” (my translation).

The book goes on to describe contact with the president as “revealing another Obama than the public image would let you suspect.” According to the book’s account of the chancellor’s thinking, she has diminishing confidence that Mr. Obama’s politically “dysfunctional” America is capable of understanding itself. And she is irritated by stereotypes like “Obama, the Angel of Peace.”

Mr. Vinocur is former executive editor of the International Herald Tribune.

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Image: President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (photo: German Government)