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Obama Strikes A European Balance

By Nikolas Foster

President Obama has already graced Europe with his presence more than any other continent - and he'll continue that record with upcoming trips to the D-Day anniversary in Normandy, as well as Buchenwald, Dresden and the G8 meeting in Italy,.He has also addressed issues dear to Europeans' hearts:closing Guantanamo, scheduling the troop withdrawal from Iraq, banning torture.

Nevertheless, those expecting a transatlantic love affair will be disappointed. Considering that "Obamania" did not translate into more troops for Afghanistan, a global stimulus spending spree, tougher sanctions against Iran, or even accepting Uighur prisoners, Europe should prepare for a U.S. administration whose policies will be characterized by more pragmatism and less emotion.

The lack of emotion is, by itself, not necessarily bad. Few would like to return to the days of divisiveness when "Old Europe" was unwilling to partake in any U.S. "adventures." In the future, where interests coincide, cooperation will flourish. Multilateralism will be one of the pillars of U.S. foreign policy, but it won't be multilateralism for its own sake. Obama is aware of the current limitations to U.S. unilateralism. His administration knows that while the military is engaged in two wars and the country is witnessing a deep recession, it is far more expedient to be pragmatic. His Norwuz holiday message to Iran is a prime example.

Europeans should not doubt Obama's willingness to confront Iran if it advances its nuclear agenda. But they should also know that his administration will not go out of its way to harmonize European and American interests. Obama will consider Europe's wishes, but will not shy from confrontation when goals do not overlap. Obama's recent support for Turkey's EU membership annoyed many European governments; it illustrated the new limits of America's sensitivity towards European interests. Along the same lines, Obama continues to press European allies for more military and civilian commitments in Afghanistan. Even the language Obama uses in European diplomacy has changed. The U.S. has dropped the term "war on terror," but continues to remind Europe that Afghanistan is a "joint problem requiring joint solutions."

Lastly, Europe and the U.S. have so far shown no signs of cooperating on environmental policies. The administration has not involved any European partners in its planned emissions trading scheme, despite the EU's calls for cooperation.

What Obama seems to be developing is a careful balance: America won't act to spite Europe, but it also won't make strategic decisions solely based on Europe's interests. He will listen to Europe's concerns with an attentive ear, but those concerns won't trump American interests.

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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Johns Hopkins University.

Comments (2)

ball3991 Author Profile Page:

I was OK with Citizen of the post american worlds post up to "Friends are friends because they remain free to resent and to oppose an Obama's support for Turkey's EU membership, having good reasons to view his intervention as public interference in their own affairs"

I seem to recall that there was no shortage of European public commentary during the elections of 2000 and 2004, including such insulting comments as "How can 300 million people be so stupid?". So the post becomes a typical rude European elitist comment along the lines of "Do as we instruct, not as we do" During that same period I recall almost no neative comment on the elections of European political figures, despite the fact that many, like Zapatero of Spain, had openly anti-American agendas.

So if it suits the strategic interest of the United States to see Ukraine and Turkey in the EU then we should advocate for that. And if the Europeans can learn to keep their opinions about US domestic affairs to themselves- perhaps we can return the favor- like friends.

Citizenofthepost-Americanworld Author Profile Page:

Any European reading, under the John Hopkins logo that, in future, the U.S. "won't make strategic decisions solely based on Europe's interests", is likely to find that statement surprisingly uninformative, not to say rather amusing. The U.S. is very well known, not only in Europe but in the whole world, for always making strategic decisions based on its own interests, never on (let alone solely on) those of other nations. Now should the policies of the U.S. administration be characterized by more pragmatism and less emotion under Obama, not only is that "by itself, not necessarily bad"... one can be sure that after eight years of extreme and erratic emotionalism under Bush, this will be most welcomed by Europeans, leaders and citizens alike. As far as one knows, it was no European request but Obama's own choice to be emotional, when he repeatedly "graced Europe with his presence".

The U.S. would do well to remember that it does not have an overabundance of friends in today's world. It would therefore be well-advised to treat them with the utmost care and avoid refusing their offers to cooperate.

As such, friends exist as equals. They are friends because they condemn degrading excesses like Guantanamo and torture. They are friends because they refuse to be part of universally condemned adventures like the unjustified invasion and occupation Iraq. They are friends because they can refuse to provide additional support when they consider no acceptable military solution exists, as in Afghanistan, or when they consider tougher sanctions are not appropriate, as against Iran.

As such, friends continue to look after their own interests. With no need and no good reason to antagonize their business partners, such as China, they will not accept Uighur prisoners from Guantanamo. Friends are friends because they remain free to resent and to oppose an Obama's support for Turkey's EU membership, having good reasons to view his intervention as public interference in their own affairs.

In today's multipolar world, on the road to a new, radically transformed world order, the reality of multilateralism has little in common with that of unilateralism, least of all with exceptionalism. One can therefore understand that those realities be difficult for the world's would-be perpetual hegemon to learn and to appreciate, beyond merely grasping the concepts and using the words.

But to paraphrase the song: give the learner a chance! --- He's a friend.

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