After his first European trip as president, Barack Obama not only has the global financial crisis to solve, he is attempting to garner support for his Afghanistan policy, come to an agreement with Russia on nuclear proliferation and repel China's push for a global currency. His most difficult task, however, may be in repairing extremely strained transatlantic relationships badly damaged after eight years of the Bush administration.
Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, failure to take action on climate change and a whole host of other issues have led to a deep-seated mistrust and wariness toward the U.S. from its traditional allies like France, Germany and Britain.
The fact that many European leaders view the U.S. and the failure to properly regulate Wall Street as the root of the current economic crisis doesn't help matters any.
"It is hard to overestimate the damage that the Bush administration did to America's historic Western alliance," Newsweek writes. "Former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld's offhand dismissal of 'Old Europe,' as against the new states of Central Europe, set the tone. Rumsfeld later said he'd mangled his text; and in another circumstance the European allies might have accepted that. But Rumsfeld's misspeaking, if that is what it was, points to the real damage. At its root, the Europeans believe they were systematically brushed aside-even lied to.
So, despite a fawning crowd of European citizens - when he visited Europe last July crowds in the hundreds of thousands were the norm - the continent's leaders may not be as receptive to the newly elected U.S. president.
"There's been a fundamental shift in attitudes," said Robin Shepherd, director of international affairs and an expert on transatlantic relations at the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based think tank. "Obama was a symbol and an idol at a time when people were looking for symbols and idols. He has to deliver now."
Therefore, more important than any vague joint declarations between Obama and the British Prime Minister or the French President will be Obama's ability to repair and forge new relationships with European leaders. Those relationships could determine how effective Obama's Afghanistan, climate change and economic recovery policies will be since cooperation between the U.S. and its European allies will be instrumental in all the aforementioned challenges.
"I think some of the glitter has gone off Obama's original shine as Europeans grapple with a crisis that they think originated in the United States and which they don't yet believe Obama is solving," said Reginald Dale, director of the Transatlantic Media Network and a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies. "But in general I believe that Europeans will still give him the benefit of the doubt for the time being. They want to like him, they want to respect him."