Reidblog [The Reid Report blog]

Think at your own risk.
Friday, July 25, 2008
An American in Paris
An editorial in the French newspaper Le Figaro declares "Mission accomplie"
for Barack Obama's European tour.


Barack Obama hangs with Sarko the American; part of his warm reception in Paris.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and French president Nicolas Sarkozy today called on their respective nations to strengthen trans-Atlantic ties, saying the security and environmental challenges confronting the world cannot be met without coordinated action.

The joint press conference was the latest stop on Obama's weeklong tour of the Middle East and Europe.

The two men were warm in their praise for one another. Obama lauded Sarkozy's political instincts, noting that on a 2006 trip to the US, Sarkozy met with only two US senators: Obama and Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

"I would suggest that for the reporters in the room, if you want to know something about elections you should talk to the president of France," said Obama, who towered over Sarkozy. "He seems to have a good nose for how things play out."

Meanwhile, Sarkozy referred to "my dear Barack Obama," and said, "Barack Obama's adventure is an adventure that rings true in the hearts and mind of the French and of Europeans."

On the main topics of discussion, Sarkozy said the two were largely in accord.

"Barack Obama and I talked about many things -- Iran, peace in the Middle East -- and I want to say that there's a tremendous convergence of views," he said. "This was a fascinating discussion we had."

Obama and Sarkozy deftly parried attempts to draw them into uncomfortable political territory, and kept their lengthy remarks focused on French- and European-American relations and on common security and climate goals.

Politico reports that Obama is stirring "complex feelings" in France, which has a large nonwhite population:

The realty of the reaction to and resonance of Obama's visit may be much more complex, however. While many Europeans see Obama as a symbol of change in the United States, in France, where racial issues play a particularly divisive role in domestic politics, Obama has become a symbol of some French voters' hopes for their own country.

“The French are looking in the mirror and reflecting on their own shortcomings when it comes to multiethnic and multiracial society,” said Georgetown professor Charles Kupchan, who is also a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “I think it’s safe to say that it would be almost unthinkable that a minority would be a leading contender for the presidency of France.”

France has a substantial population of nonwhite immigrants, largely from former colonies in North and West Africa, that has struggled to participate in French political life. A French group that studies diversity issues released a report in March showing that minorities occupied just 2,000 out of 520,000 city council seats across France. There is only one black member of Parliament from mainland France.

“I think that in Obama, the French see a minority figure who has succeeded in making it to the top,” Kupchan said.

After Obama secured the Democratic nomination, a French civil rights group, the Conseil Représentatif des Associations Noires, issued a statement decrying the absence of similar figures in French politics.

“What black candidate could stand for the French presidency with a chance of being elected that is equal to that of a white?” the statement asked.

On June 29, Le Monde, France’s leading newspaper, reprinted Obama’s entire March 18 speech on race under a headline that quoted a translation of the address: “Race is a subject that our country cannot allow itself to ignore.” Obama was referring to his own nation’s troubled racial past and present — but French readers could have taken a different suggestion from the headline.

Meanwhile, some controversy arises over the release of a prayer Obama tucked into the Western Wall in Jerusalem:

The rabbi of Jerusalem's Western Wall criticised an Israeli newspaper today after it published a private prayer written by Barack Obama and taken from the sacred site after he visited the city earlier this week.

It is a tradition for the millions of visitors to the Western Wall, one of the holiest locations in Judaism, to place inside the cracks in the stone written prayers or requests to God. The rabbi in charge of the wall collects the notes periodically and buries them on the Mount of Olives.

But Obama's prayer never got there, as a yeshiva student reportedly removed the note and gave it to the Ma'ariv Hebrew newspaper, which printed a photograph of the prayer today.

"Lord, protect my family and me," Obama wrote. "Forgive me my sins and help me guard against pride and despair.

"Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just. And make me an instrument of your will."

The decision to print Obama's divine entreaty – written on stationery from the King David hotel where he stayed – was condemned by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, supervisor of the wall.

Ma'ariv's move "damages the personal, deep part of every one of us that we keep to ourselves," the rabbi told Jerusalem's Army Radio.

"The notes placed between the stones of the Western Wall are between a person and his maker. It is forbidden to read them or make any use of them."

With that, au revoir, Paris! Barack Obama has arrived in London.


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posted by JReid @ 5:40 PM  
ReidBlog: The Obama Interview
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