Looking back on the totality of President Obama's recent trip abroad, the title of the Clint Eastwood classic, "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" comes to mind. How is that, Blondie, you ask? Let's take a look, shall we? First comes the Good. - After repeated lectures on America's responsibility for the global economic crisis at the G20 summit in London, the President pushed back at a campaign-style town hall meeting in Strasbourg, France. Of Europe, he said, "there is an anti-Americanism that is at once casual but can also be insidious. Instead of recognizing the good that America so often does in the world, there have been times where Europeans choose to blame America for much of what's bad," the President concluded. His unusually candid commentary on our European friends surfaced yet again at the NATO summit. Speaking of the ongoing effort to combat Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, the President said, "Europe should not simply expect the United States to shoulder that burden alone. We should not because this is a joint problem and it requires joint effort." Bully on both counts, Mr. President! Well said and succinct in addressing the heart of the matter, sir. - In a master stroke of strategic diplomacy and statesmanship, the last scheduled stop on the President's itinerary was Turkey. A land and cultural bridge between Europe and the Middle East, Turkey was a key geopolitical ally of the US during the Cold War, serving as the frontline between NATO and the Soviet Union in the Caucuses. A melange of cultural, historical and political influences, Turkey remains NATO's forward base in the face of a resurgent Russian bear in the Caucuses and the Black Sea. While relations have been strained in the wake of America's invasion of Iraq and the use of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region as a base for Kurdish nationalist attacks into Turkey, the President's visit signals the administration's acknowledgment of the underlying strategic and geopolitical importance of the Turkish-American alliance. Serving as the epicenter of Islamic politics during its former incarnation as the Ottoman Empire, Turkey was a natural selection for the latest move in the President's ongoing efforts to engage the Muslim world. Furthermore, with a politically and militarily weakened Iraq, a diminished and preoccupied Egypt and the collectively, much less individually, insignificant group of sheikdoms and kingdoms occupying the Arabian peninsula, Turkey is one of only two regionally indigenous - and the lone Muslim - counterbalances to a rising Iran. During his tour of Asia Minor, the President further signaled a willingness to break with our older European allies by openly supporting Turkey's application for membership in the European Union. Though it drew a quick rebuke from French President Nicholas Sarkozy, it greatly ingratiated Obama to his Turkish hosts; that's not even mentioning the corresponding domestic points any American president scores when exchanging political jabs with their French counterparts. Accordingly, the President's visit and the first steps towards improved bilateral relations with our Turkish allies is easily the high water mark of the fledgling administration's foreign policy efforts to date. - Though it is admittedly yesterday's news, a restatement of the obvious and has drawn criticism in some circles as being patently unnecessary, the President's assurances that the United States is not at war with Islam is laudable. While it is commonly said that actions speaking louder than words, words do in fact have meaning and impact. Particularly when they are spoken by the President of the United States. Though many see it as part of what appears to be the President's tendency to be the Apologist-In-Chief, from a larger perspective it is part of a comprehensive attempt to improve relations with the Muslim world. The political and religious centers of that world lie in a region that is geopolitically and economically vital to American interests. Accordingly, any attempt to improve America's soft power appeal without sacrificing our willingness or ability to exercise our hard power assets when necessary is a positive step towards the strategically desirable development of smart power - the coordinated, thoughtful and efficient use of both soft and hard power. - Taking a page directly from the Bush playbook, the President made a previously unannounced stop in Iraq prior to returning to Washington. In addition to the customary pep talk and photo op with the troops, he acknowledged their ongoing success as well as the political and social opportunities the Iraqi people enjoy due to their service and sacrifice. One hopes this signals a heartfelt recognition of the debt both we and the Iraqis owe our service men and women and is not merely a cynical act of going through the motions of being Commander-In-Chief. Nonetheless, we will take the President's remarks as a hopeful sign that the responsibilities of office have provided him with a more profound appreciation of and respect for those who voluntarily answer our nation's call. With the Good comes the Bad, and so it goes with the President's European trip. - First, someone should advise the President that if a gift he's considering giving to another head of state is something he'd consider "cool" or would personally enjoy himself, it's probably not the diplomatically wisest choice to make. Case in point, the Queen's iPod. Gifts between heads of state should be thoughtful and symbolic of the underlying bilateral relationships they encompass. Giving a piece of consumer electronics produced in China that can readily be purchased on-line or at the mall is neither thoughtful or symbolic. While there was an attempt to personalize it by including footage from the Queen's last visit to the States, in the end it has all the significance and symbolism of a last minute gift hurriedly purchased in the duty-free shops on the way home from vacation for someone that had otherwise been forgotten. At least he removed the price tag. Well...hopefully. Word to the wise, Mr. President. Next time when you have to exchange gifts with a fellow head of state or dignitary, If you can find it on Amazon.com, skip it and try again. - While the intent was to portray an administration that is willing to dispense with unilateralism in deference to the development of international action rooted in consensus-based approaches, the result was a hodgepodge and sometimes whip-lashed series of mixed messages. On occasion the President appeared to be Apologist-In-Chief, humbly eating copious amounts of decidedly unappetizing political crow eagerly served up by his European hosts. At other times, he seemed unsure of himself and ill at ease with the stark differences between his current role as president and that of candidate when last he visited the continent. Though he espoused a new found and heartfelt belief in consensus, when greeted with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's insistence that the "Washington consensus" was over, the President reflexively sputtered a jumbled and disjointed defense of America's political centrality and global leadership. Contrary to your self-styled declaration as a "citizen of the world" on the campaign trail in Berlin last summer, you are a citizen and the President of the United States first and foremost, sir. Perhaps you, and the nation, would be better served were you to bear that in mind and forgo the apologetic Oprah moments and proffered crow next time you travel abroad. Remember, sir, taking responsibility, however questionable and unnecessary it may be to many, does not automatically entail becoming a whipping post. Nor does one need to be arrogant to be strong. America, and yourself, can be one without having to be the other. And finally, we come to the Ugly. - Though the White House has disputed what actually occurred, the image of the President "bowing to" King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is one that will long be remembered both at home and abroad. In Saudi Arabia it was warmly received, with one prominent commentator characterizing the bow as a sign of the President's ".....respect and appreciation of the personality of King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, who has made one of the most important calls in the modern era, namely the call for interfaith and intercultural dialogue to defuse the hatred, conflict and wars." Meanwhile, more reflective of the response among domestic Conservatives, The Washington Times called the alleged bow "a shocking display of fealty to a foreign potentate..." "By bending over to show greater respect to Islam, the US president belittled the power and independence of the United States," the paper said in an editorial. "Such an act is a traditional obeisance befitting a king's subjects, not his peer." The sentiment was shared by the blog at the Weekly Standard which said, "American presidents do not bow before foreign dignitaries, whether they are princes, kings, or emperors.." Regardless of the intent or circumstances, the impression is one of the President of the United States obsequiously bowing before the sovereign of Saudi Arabia. The appearance is the modern equivalent of prostrating oneself or kowtowing to one's political master, not a respectful and courteous greeting shared among peers. As one of my students so succinctly put it, "Didn't we fight the Revolutionary War so we wouldn't have to do things like that?" Indeed, we did. Whether it is happenstance, freshman jitters or part of Obama's ongoing overtures to the Muslim world, it is unseemly and beneath the Office of the President of the United States. Hundreds of thousands of our countrymen and women do not serve, nor have generations sacrificed blood and treasure, life and limb, so that the President of the United States may bow to a monarch, be they ally or adversary. In addition to a crash course on etiquette and protocol, clearly the President needs to brush up on his American history. Perhaps he would more readily appreciate why his fellow countrymen view his deference to the Saudi sovereign with such distaste were he reminded of the fact our nation was forged in the fires of rebellion to monarchy and not the hushed, obsequious supplications of a king's subjects. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, indeed, faithful readers. Stay tuned for further updates as events warrant and we see if the President follows up his foreign affairs blockbuster with an economic stimulus remake of "For Few Dollars More..."