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