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Europeans still give Obama the thumbs up

They may see him as a "rational military commander," but Europeans still like Obama more than Americans do.

U.S. President Barack Obama greets supporters after speaking in Hradcany Square in Prague, April 5, 2009. A recent survey shows that three out of four people in the EU favor Obama's foreign policy, which is a huge increase from last year, when only one in five EU denizens supported then-President George W. Bush. (Jim Young/Reuters)

LONDON— After a year in office, President Barack Obama is more popular in Europe than in his own country. Europeans are still infatuated with America's first black president, but they understand the limitations of his office. Americans on the other hand, seem more conflicted about their new president.

That's the impression I got while traveling around Europe and the United States for the past two months. Opinion polls are useful, but there is nothing like chatting with the locals to pick up the nuances and emotions that polls sometimes miss.

In France, I found the national love affair with Obama is undiminished. The entire presidential family has become a staple for glossy magazines. My friends and acquaintances gush over my president. You can bask in the glow of being an American in Paris these days, like you could in the good old days after World War II.

But the French are also realistic. Nicole Bacharan, a French journalist, points out that “an American president has less latitude than a French president. The American system is extremely heavy and is constantly blocked by the balance of powers.” She believes Obama should be given time, and will be judged “by the state of the economy and the evolution of the war in Afghanistan.”

Yves Roucaute, a right wing French philosopher makes a similar point. “Obama promised change, but he can't suddenly abandon Ira[q], dump Israel, or desert Afghanistan.” And though Obama promised to close Guantanamo, he notes, “he has to put the prisoners somewhere.” In short, the French realize that Obama campaigned on a slogan of 'We can,' but in reality, 'He can't.'”

I found the president's popularity equally high in Germany. In fact, a German Marshall Fund poll shows that support for the American president has jumped 88 points since the days of President Bush. The Germans I spoke with seemed to think Obama is the best American president since John F. Kennedy. West Europeans in general overwhelmingly approve of his foreign policy, far more than Americans do.