Obama's Europe visit: redefined ties and a touch of 'political Beatlemania'
But beyond the feel-good photography and the cheerful bonhomie, there was purpose and substance to Obama's trip as well, specifically the need to redefine America's relationship with Europe in a much-changed world. That meant making a renewed commitment to the allies of old, but it also meant outlining a new approach to American foreign affairs.
He spelled out this new direction in his speech to Parliament, emphasizing a more consensual approach to policy and talking of proceeding with humility in the Middle East.
"That's not something you would have heard in the previous administration," says James Ellison, of the School of History at Queen Mary, University of London, who acknowledges that America's new multilateralism is a pragmatic response to recent global events. Libya, in particular, he suggests, demonstrates how and why US foreign policy is shifting.
"The Americans are suffering from a deficit just like the Europeans are," says Mr. Ellison. "They can't afford to overextend themselves. But they also want the Europeans to think about their defense budgets. The longer the war with Libya, the more they will be forced to think about them. What we're seeing is the Obama administration's intent to make sure that Europeans lift their weight with defense."
America's shift in foreign policy is clearly pragmatic, given the lack of appetite at home for more conflict, but it also highlights the different values Obama has brought to the presidency. One line from his keynote address makes this clear: "Ultimately, freedom must be won by the people themselves, not imposed from without," he said. This emphasis on self-determination is a far cry from efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. As Ellison notes, Obama's European visit has gone "a long way to extend America's history beyond Bush."