President Obama to Europe: Sorry About the Bush Years*

By Caitlin Taylor

Apr 7, 2009 9:36am

ABC News’ Jake Tapper and Karen Travers report:

ISTANBUL — "I know there have been some difficulties in recent years," President Obama said today at a town hall meeting with Turkish high school and college students." In some ways, that foundation has been weakening. We’ve had some specific differences over policy, but we’ve also at times lost the sense that both of our countries are in this together — that we have shared interests and shared values and that we can have a partnership that serves our common hopes and common dreams. So I came here to renew that foundation and to build on it."

As he’s traveled throughout Europe this past week, from the G-20 economic summit in London, to the NATO conference in Strasbourg, France, to here in Turkey, President Obama has not only made clear his policy differences with his predecessor, and his markedly different diplomatic style, he has made it clear to Europe and the rest of the world that his respect for the way President Bush conducted foreign policy knows bounds.

"America is a critical actor and leader on the world stage," President Obama said at the conclusion of the G-20 summit in London, asked how he differs with President Bush on international relations. "We shouldn’t be embarrassed about that," he said, but he added "we exercise our leadership best when we are listening; when we recognize that the world is a complicated place and that we are going to have to act in partnership with other countries; when we lead by example; when we show some element of humility and recognize that we may not always have the best answer, but we can always encourage the best answer and support the best answer."

These principles, of course, are direct contrasts with the way President Obama has in the past criticized President Bush: that he too often lectured and seldom listened; that he saw the world in black-and-white; that he had no compunction in acting unilaterally; that he besmirched the American brand; and that his administration embodied American arrogance.

President Obama’s expressions of regret for the Bush years is only one aspect of what has been jam-packed schedule full of announcements and negotiations, but it’s been a striking part of his message.

Some conservative critics have expressed chagrin at this. On Fox News, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer said "When Kennedy arrived in Paris, he did not attack Eisenhower and the United States. When Obama’s elected president, he is president of all of the United States, including Americans who opposed him, and he owns American history, including a past he may not have wanted to engage in. I think what he did is, in order to gain the adoration of the crowd, he denigrated his country in a way that I think is disgraceful."

The Obama White House sees it quite differently, pointing to poll numbers showing an erosion of support for the U.S. during President Bush’s two terms, and improved international poll numbers now.

Not only was this trip an opportunity for President Obama "to establish personal relationships with leaders of many countries, with leaders who are going to be important to us in promoting America’s interest in the world," said White House senior adviser David Axelrod Tuesday morning, "as important, we’ve I think begun a dialogue with the people of these countries, as well… That will make it easier for leaders of these nations to work cooperatively with us moving forward is the fact that we have a more positive image among their constituents."

Axelrod said "that plainly is true — you can see it in all the polling that’s been released in the last few days — I think in every country in Europe, we’ve made progress in this."

The first expression of regret during this trip came on April 1.

"Over the last several years the relationship between our two countries has been allowed to drift," President Obama said as he announced a July summit with Russian President Dmintry Medvedev, announcing that relations would now hopefully improve.

That same day, asked about the financial crisis, President Obama said "if you look at the sources of this crisis, the United States certainly has some accounting to do with respect to a regulatory system that was inadequate to the massive changes that had taken place in the global financial system."

At a town hall meting in Strasbourg, France, the president told the European crowd, "we’ve allowed our Alliance to drift. I know that there have been honest disagreements over policy, but we also know that there’s something more that has crept into our relationship. So I’ve come to Europe this week to renew our partnership, one in which America listens and learns from our friends and allies."

"Over the last seven, eight years," he said, "a lot of tensions have developed between the United States and Europe…There have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive" toward Europe. "In Europe, there is an anti-Americanism that is at once casual but can also be insidious. Instead of recognizing the good that America so often does in the world, there have been times where Europeans chose to blame America for much of what’s bad," Obama said.

And speaking to Turkish Parliament Monday, President Obama acknowledged "differences about whether to go to war" in Iraq. "I know there have been difficulties these last few years. I know that the trust that binds the United States and Turkey has been strained, and I know that strain is shared in many places where the Muslim faith is practiced. So let me say this as clearly as I can: The United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam."

After the G-20 summit the President said he  hoped he would "set a tone internationally" where other nations "give us the benefit of the doubt… At least we can start with the notion that we’re prepared to listen and to work cooperatively with countries around the world."

Referring to his campaign statements about "very specific decisions that the previous administration had made that I believed had lowered our standing in the world," the president said, "I would like to think that with my election and the early decisions that we’ve made, that you’re starting to see some restoration of America’s standing in the world."

– Jake Tapper and Karen Travers

* This headline was mistakenly put in quotations; obviously the president never said that, it was meant to express the sentiment of his remarks. Apologies for any misunderstanding.

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