President Obama thus far has failed to strengthen relationships with historic allies, focusing instead on a fruitless search for improved relations with adversaries, writes Robert Kagan in the Washington Post (via Atlantic Community):
The president who ran against “unilateralism” in the 2008 campaign has worse relations overall with American allies than George W. Bush did in his second term.
Israelis shouldn’t feel that they have been singled out. In Britain, people are talking about the end of the “special relationship” with America and worrying that Obama has no great regard for the British, despite their ongoing sacrifices in Afghanistan. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy has openly criticized Obama for months (and is finally being rewarded with a private dinner, presumably to mend fences). In Eastern and Central Europe, there has been fear since the administration canceled long-planned missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic that the United States may no longer be a reliable guarantor of security. Among top E.U. officials there is consternation that neither the president nor even his Cabinet seems to have time for the European Union’s new president, Herman Van Rompuy, who, while less than scintillating, is nevertheless the chosen representative of the post-Lisbon Treaty continent.
Before you dismiss these observation because the author is a neocon, check out the Roger Cohen’s NY Times article, which describes Obama’s disconnect with traditional allies in much stronger words:
The Obama presidency has been a shock to Europe. At heart, Obama is not a Westerner, not an Atlanticist. He grew up partly in Indonesia and partly in Hawaii, which is about as far from the East Coast as you can get in the United States. “He’s very much a member of the post-Western world,” said Constanze Stelzenmüller of the German Marshall Fund.
The great struggles of the Cold War, which bound Europe and the United States, did not mark Obama, whose intellect and priorities were shaped by globalization, and whose feelings are tied more to the Pacific and to Africa. He can make a respectable speech on a Normandy beach, but he’s probably the first U.S. president for whom the Allied landing is emotionally remote.
No, the Obama presidency was not shock to Europe. Moreover, modern Atlanticism has to be firmly based on common interests and values rather than on feelings. References to Normandy are not enough to promote transatlantic cooperation at this day and age.
Obama is a pragmatist and does not need to be personally friends with European leaders to get things done, especially since his counterparts like Chancellor Merkel are pragmatists as well and not keen on buddy relationships like George W. Bush, Gerhard Schroeder, Helmut Kohl. When an urgent need for transatlantic cooperation materializes in the next crisis, then American and European governments will do business. Recently both sides were pre-occupied with health care and the eurozone crisis, therefore the introverted focus on domestic issues.
But: I do believe that President Obama has been disappointed by Europe and he does not expect much support from Europe for his policies. He came to that conclusion before assuming the presidency. As Senator has not convened a single policy meeting of the Senate European subcommittee, of which he was chairman: Barack Obama’s Lack of Real Interest in Transatlantic Cooperation That is unfortunate, but that is reality and fair enough, since Europe does not provide that much support for US policies. Every leader is acting on his and/or his country’s self interest.
Some international observers even think that Germany might be allowed to put the national interest first, as Philip Stephans points out in the Financial Times:
All in all, solidarity with allies and neighbours now takes its place in the queue behind German public opinion. Some will say: and why not? Why should Germany play the part of the altruist? We cannot expect Germans to be forever paying reparations. No one would ask Mr Sarkozy, or for that matter Britain’s Gordon Brown, to elevate the European ahead of national interests. We are merely witnessing an inevitable shift. The second half of the 20th century was the exception. Germany is now a “normal” country. If it chooses a future as Greater Switzerland, what has the rest of Europe to complain about?
ENDNOTE: Spiegel (via Atlantic Community) adds that Sarkozy has tried to position himself as Obama’s biggest fan for a long time. “During group photos he always squeezes his way in next to the American, and he has tried to secure for France the special relationship that Britain has traditionally had with Washington. (…) But Obama hasn’t seemed to take Sarkozy seriously. When he has, he has often reacted with irritation towards the French president’s brisk leadership style.”
Crossposted on my blog Atlantic Review: Obama Does Not Have International Friends