Leading article: A pitch-perfect President has set the right tone

But Mr Obama's triumph abroad will not guarantee success at home

Related Topics

Barack Obama's flying visit to Baghdad made for a fitting conclusion to this unusually long and varied presidential tour. It was a tour, moreover, on which the novice US leader was rarely less than pitch-perfect. For hopeful Europeans, as for Turkey, George Bush's problematic eight years in the White House were thoroughly laid to rest.

If it was re-engagement with America's old friends and allies that the new President was after, he was amply rewarded – but only because, in his phrase, he arrived with hand outstretched. We cannot know what took place behind closed doors, but we can judge, from the smiles of such stony-faced characters as the Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, and China's President, Hu Jintao, that a new international atmosphere has been established.

The G20 London summit may have produced more style than substance. But style and, above all, tone are not to be despised in international relations. Getting such things right is something many new national leaders have to learn and some never really master. Mr Obama, and – it must also be said – his wife, are naturals.

For any national leader – even one who has triumphed in a marathon US presidential campaign – this would have been an exhausting tour, demanding a different approach, and different expertise, at every stop. Yet Mr Obama seemed to draw new strength from each encounter. The bigger and more engaged the audience, the more energised he seemed to be.

In London there was the economic crisis, high diplomacy and protocol. In Strasbourg there was the finely balanced French-German duo to please, and the Nato allies to be cajoled over Afghanistan. In Prague, Mr Obama met "new" Europe face to face and set out his vision for a world with far fewer, and eventually no, nuclear weapons – even as North Korea conducted its latest abortive rocket test.

He arrived in Turkey with the message that the US was not "at war with Islam" and that its relations with the Muslim world would not be defined by opposition to al-Qa'ida. In Istanbul, he pressed home his ecumenical theme by meeting leaders of all the city's main religions. And thence to Baghdad, as Commander-in-Chief, to address the servicemen whose eventual withdrawal he had announced as one of his first presidential acts.

To pull all this off and leave so few dissatisfied in his wake is a considerable feat. Not for the first time, we have to go back as far as JFK for comparisons. If Mr Obama's main objective was to cast the United States as a different type of global player – more culturally sensitive, more collegiate – then he succeeded. To demand more of a relatively young President in office not yet 100 days would be unreasonable. Yet what was, without doubt, a personal and political triumph leaves two questions.

The low-key geniality favoured by Mr Obama was of a piece with his early pledges to listen. But a time will come when listening must give way to doing, and then it will be harder to please everyone. We were certainly watching an accomplished politician and orator, but were we watching a world leader in the making?

The second question is as much about America as its president. Even before he set off, some erstwhile supporters were already voicing disappointment that he had not been more radical. Others argued that he should be devoting all his time to the US economy rather than traipsing around foreign parts. On his return, Mr Obama will learn what many a US president learned before him: acclaim abroad rarely translates into higher approval at home.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Piper Ryan Randall leads a pro-Scottish independence rally in the suburbs of Edinburgh  

i Editor's Letter: Britain survives, but change is afoot

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Some believe that David Cameron is to blame for allowing Alex Salmond a referendum  

Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?

Mark Steel
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam