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After Obama's European tour, challenges at home

By Nancy Benac

Associated Press

Published: Friday, May 27 2011 12:50 p.m. MDT

President Barack Obama lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw, Poland, Friday, May 27, 2011.

Charles Dharapak, Associated Press

WARSAW, Poland — Hope you've enjoyed your European trip, Mr. President. A lot's awaiting your attention on your return Saturday.

The field of GOP presidential candidates angling to take your job has shifted considerably. Congress is growing impatient with the pace of withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan. And the mess over the federal debt limit remains, well, messy.

Spring storms have taken a steep toll in the South and Midwest. World events have competed for public attention, including the capture of alleged war criminal Ratko Mladic and the stepped-up NATO-led bombing campaign in Libya.

There has been good news for you, as well. Democrats won a special House election in New York that was seen as a fine omen for your party's prospects in 2012. Word came that Chrysler had paid back most of the loan money your administration orchestrated. And the Patriot Act to fight terrorism was renewed just in time for you to sign it into law — from afar by autopen.

None of this news has been lost on Obama as he has traveled Europe. He's kept a watchful eye on events at home as he's devoted the week to the business of strengthening relationships with Western allies and marshaling support for democratic stirrings in the Middle East and North Africa. On Friday he arrived in Poland, the final stop on his itinerary, to connect with an ally that has sometimes felt slighted and to underscore the growing importance of Central and Eastern Europe in world affairs.

Obama will hold two days of political meetings focusing on security, energy and joint U.S.-Polish efforts to promote democracy in North Africa, Belarus and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. But unlike past U.S. presidents who visited this nation of 38 million, Obama will not meet or address the Polish public directly. He opened the visit by spending time at a memorial to those slain in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising against Nazis, meeting Holocaust survivors and leaders of Poland's Jewish community.

Earlier Friday, Obama wound up his work at a two-day summit of the Group of Eight industrialized nations in France, where leaders agreed to support the Arab Spring movement, but in a way that underscores the financial pressures being felt in the United States and other developed nations. The countries aim to provide $40 billion for the Arab nations but didn't say where the money would come from or specify what it would be for.

The meeting was more about fostering trade than aid, and more about encouraging investment than assistance, U.S. officials said.

Each stop on the president's four-nation trip was calibrated to achieve both foreign and domestic objectives.

Overall, it may well be the visuals from Obama's trip — and the fact that he showed up and broke bread with Western allies — that endure longer than the words he spoke. Forced to compete for attention with a host of events in the U.S. and elsewhere, Obama tried to use his trip to cement old friendships, strengthen alliances for future world challenges and sync up with voters back home.

His first stop, in Ireland, was as much about finding common ground with Americans as it was about connecting with the Irish. In a quick trip to the tiny village where his great-great-great grandfather once lived and in a rousing speech to tens of thousands in Dublin, the president whose very birth in the United States has been called into question by skeptics was able to identify himself with the tens of millions of Americans who claim Irish ancestry and the legions more who identify with the immigrant experience.

The resulting images — more memorable than anything Obama said — were political currency for a president who also happens to be a candidate for re-election. There he was, raising a pint with the locals in the friendly intimacy of a village pub and standing before adoring thousands for a presidential speech that looked more like a campaign rally.

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