Eastern Europeans Need to Feel Obama's Love

It will come as little shock that European support for Barack Obama's handling of foreign affairs is quadruple the rate given to his predecessor, George W. Bush, according to the German Marshall Fund's Transatlantic Trends survey, released yesterday. What is surprising is just how much more bullish on Obama Western Europeans are than their eastern counterparts. While 86 percent of Western Europeans view his policies favorably, only 60 percent of Eastern Europeans feel the same way. The differences become even more pronounced when broken down by country. Ninety-two percent of Germans and 88 percent of the French think the U.S. president is doing a bang-up job (approval ratings that are "off the charts," according to study director Zsolt Nyiri), but only 55 percent of Poles and 58 percent of Romanians do.

That tops Bush's ratings, but given that Eastern Europeans are historically more pro-American than Western Europeans, why the split? In a word, Russia. Obama's call for a "reset" on relations with Russia "has made Eastern Europeans very nervous," says Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow James Goldgeier. "George W. Bush was perceived as being very supportive of East Europe's efforts to join NATO and the EU. Now the first signal being sent by the new president is that he wants to improve relations with Russia. That has Eastern Europeans thinking, what is this president all about? How will he manage Russia? Will he look out for our interests?"

So far, the worries are based more on perception than any concrete policy shift. In April, Obama came out in support of NATO contingency planning for any possible conflict with Russia (against opposition from Germany and France). And recently, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden reassured Georgia and Ukraine that the Russian reset wouldn't come at their expense. Still, it's unclear whether the Obama administration will continue to support the entry of these problematic countries into NATO. And more crucially, there's growing concern that the president may abandon plans to put missile defense bases in Poland and the Czech Republic in favor of others built closer to Iran. While there are technical and political reasons why this makes sense, such a move would "make the Poles and Czechs think that the U.S. is caving in to Russian threats," says Goldgeier, who adds that right now, nervous Eastern Europeans desperately need to "feel the love" from America. Note to Obama: perhaps the next NATO military exercises should be held in Poland.

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Eastern Europeans Need to Feel Obama's Love | News