Some of this can surely be attributed to Sarkozy's personal pique over upstart Obama stealing some of his thunder -- what the press has dubbed his "Obama complex" -- as the U.S. president did by swooping in to take credit for China's concessions at the G-20, for example. But there is legitimate frustration over the handling of issues as well. Most famously, of course, Sarkozy complained at the United Nations that "President Obama dreams of a world without weapons but right in front of us two countries [Iran and North Korea] are doing the exact opposite." There are also sharp differences over troop levels and strategic objectives in Afghanistan, Turkey's candidacy for the European Union, and the future of the French nuclear arsenal.
But if Obama's ratings are slowly falling on the continent, one place where they are already low -- lower than Bush's, certainly -- is in the countries that former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dubbed "New Europe." While Bush made Eastern and Central Europe a top priority -- as evidenced by the missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic and the push for NATO expansion for Georgia and Ukraine -- his successor is clearly more concerned about relations with Russia, the very country whose influence New Europe is trying to avoid.
Obama's handling of the policy reversal on missile defense, in particular, has drawn sharp rebukes from the region, mostly on the execution rather than the policy itself. A Polish official was quoted by United Press International proclaiming that, "Waking Czech Prime Minister Fisher at midnight European time, and calling President Lech Kaczynski and Prime Minister Tusk -- who refused to take the call -- 70 years to the day that Russia invaded Poland -- is politically inept and very offensive." Another official added, "this simply confirms how unimportant Europe is to the U.S., despite President Obama's words to the contrary."
To be sure, this criticism is somewhat overstated. But, as Bush learned to his chagrin, perception can become reality.
And indeed, while most European heads of state dutifully congratulated Obama after the surprise announcement of his Nobel win, the European press was as stunned as their American counterparts. The Independent's Ian Birrell assessed that Obama was being "once again lauded for his symbolism and potential rather than his actual deeds." Peter Beaumont of The Guardian equally snarked, "The reality is that the prize appears to have been awarded to Barack Obama for what he is not. For not being George W. Bush. Or rather being less like the last president."
It would be ironic, indeed, if the Europeans started longing for the good old days of the Bush administration. But that nostalgia is closer than you might think.