Debate Magazine

Who Can Revitalize the Alliance of America and Europe?

Posted on the 17 August 2012 by Shahalexander
The advent of the Obama administration was expected to heal the bitter split between America and Europe since the Iraq War. Europeans were dismayed with the Bush administration’s cow boy diplomacy, and Barack Obama was their long awaited savior. The Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize Committee made a decision to award the prize to Obama long before he was elected. But has he improved the relationship between America and Europe, and strengthened the trans-Atlantic alliance? Ironically, Obama is not so enthusiastic to deepen the Atlantic partnership. He is more focused on emerging powers rather than traditional allies. For Obama, the US-European alliance is of not so much importance, although it id the anchor of world peace and liberal democracy.
How much are Europeans disillusioned with Obama presidency? Let me mention a commentary by Mark Leonard who was a policy advisor to the Blair administration, as he explains the paradox of Obama’s trans-Atlantic diplomacy (“The End of Affair”; Foreign Policy; July 24, 2012). When he visited Berlin during his election campaign, overwhelming majority of Europeans were pleased with the appearance of multilateralist, peace minded, welfare oriented, and eloquent leader in America. George W. Bush’s cowboy diplomacy and American exceptionalism annoyed European leaders and citizens. At a mere glance, America and Europe coordinate well on Iran and Syria. It appears that the split over the Iraq War has been healed. However, contrary to superficial impression, trans-Atlantic alliance is fading under the Obama administration due to his perceived power shift and personality.
Seen from the American side, the Obama administration is more interested in exploring partnership with emerging powers like China, India, and Brazil rather than solidifying the Western alliance. Obama sees European nations are overrepresented in international organizations, and he believes this will jeopardize US interests in multilateral diplomacy. This is well illustrated in Leonard’s quote of Walter Russell Mead, “Increasingly it will be in the American interest to help Asian powers rebalance the world power structure in ways that redistribute power from the former great powers of Europe to the rising great powers of Asia today." For the Obama administration, shared value does not count so much for America, and Europe does not enjoy overwhelming advantage over China, Russia, and emerging economies in Asia.
It is not just political aspects that matters. Leonard mentions Obama’s personal history is more oriented toward Asia and Africa than Europe. Certainly, he is a son of Kenyan father, who spent his boyhood in Indonesia. However, I believe that it is a sheer blunder for a state leader to give an impression that his or her policies are biased with racial, ethnic, class, and other personal backgrounds. Also, his business like attitude is a hurdle to make personal friendship with European leaders that his predecessors did. Leonard is not the only one who points it out. Richard Armitage, former Deputy Secretary of State, comments that Barack Obama lacks personal charm that George W. Bush has, which deters him from making humane relationship with foreign leaders.
There are some problems on the European side as well. Europe has been reluctant to share global responsibility with the United States. This is noticeable in defense. European military spending accounts for 21% of the world, far more than those of China, Russia, and other emerging powers. However, Europe does not use their political, economic, and military power resources for active roles on the global stage. Europeans leave security responsibility to the American sheriff. Quite importantly, a British Labour Mark Leonard argues almost the same point as an American neoconservative Robert Kagan. Current Europe is becoming increasingly inward-looking as most leaders are preoccupied with the Euro crisis. NATO Chicago Summit this summer has impressed such a downbeat of the trans-Atlantic alliance.
This is not just a problem in the Euro-Atlantic sphere. For example, Japanese leaders are so naïve as to welcome Obama’s pivot to Asia for fear of China. They hardly think of the real meaning beyond geographical power shift from West to East. The pivot also implies that Obama’s partnership priority is shifting from traditional democratic allies to emerging powers regardless of the regime. Therefore, cooling US-European relations can ruin Japan’s national interest.
The underlying problem is that Obama’s foreign policy assumption is based on inevitable American decline, and that leads to strategic errors like embracing China in a “G2” partnership, talking to Medvedev over Putin in the reset with Russia, abstaining from helping the Green Movement in Iran, and so forth (“The 'Obamians' and the truth about American decline”; Shadow Government; July 24, 2012). The pivot to Asia is also a serious problem. Under Obama’s plan, America is shifting to Asia with smaller forces, particularly, cutting the size of the Navy and the Air Force (“Obama’s defense ‘pivot’ masks shrinkage”; Politico; July 22, 2012).
From the above perspective, Mitt Romney’s visit to Britain, Israel, and Poland deserves attention because the Obama administration has cooled strategic ties with these key allies. Prior to the trip, conservative media argued that it was a good chance to demonstrate Romney’s involvement in foreign policy to discuss global and Middle East security with Prime Minister David Cameron and Tony Blair and to overturn Obama’s stances to Israel-Palestine and missile defense in Poland (“Romney uses trip to stress foreign policy”; Washington Times; July 25, 2012). Successful visit to three countries could have revitalized the anchor of Western democracies that Obama has weakened. Just before visiting Britain, Romney criticized Obama’s appeasement to America’s enemies and rivals, and his left-wing coolness to the Anglo-American special relationship (“Mitt Romney would restore 'Anglo-Saxon' relations between Britain and America”; Daily Telegraph; 24 July, 2012).
However, Romney’s lack of foreign policy experience and knowledge was revealed shortly afterwards. On his visit to Britain, he annoyed the home audience as he casted doubt on Britain’s readiness to the London Olympics. Furthermore, Romney failed to recall the name of Labour leader Ed Miliband (“Romney in Britain: Diplomatic Offensive”; Economist blog --- Blighty; July 27, 2012). Also, Romney’s questionable remark, “We are not Japan“, raised concerns among the Japanese public and Japan watchers who advocate a strong alliance (“Romney's Japan remark raises eyebrows”; Cable; August 10, 2012).
Despite such awkward behavior, Mitt Romney chose Representative Paul Ryan as his running mate instead of heavy weights like Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and General David Petraeus. As a budget expert, Ryan may not be another Sarah Palin, but like Romney, he does not have sufficient foreign policy experience. Historically, presidential candidates without strong backgrounds in foreign policy chose running mates to make up for their weakness. Romney’s pick for Ryan can be interpreted that he does not regard foreign policy as a key issue in this election (“With Ryan pick, Romney would send a message: This is not a foreign-policy election”; Passport; August 11, 2012).
Obama is shifting policy focus to forging partnership with emerging powers regardless of regime, rather than deepening ties with liberal democracies. The fading of the trans-Atlantic alliance is counterproductive to global security. Romney showed willingness to reinvigorate the anchor of world peace and liberal democracy, but just revealed his insufficient foreign policy background with awkward remarks. The alliance of America and Europe has played the foremost role in making the world more liberal, prosperous, and civilized. This is the role that no other actors can do. At present, neither incumbent Democrat nor opposition Republican is well positioned. Who can revitalize the trans-Atlantic alliance?

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