Republicans Are In No Positions to Criticize Obama on Europe

Barack Obama’s European policy hasn’t been spotless, but Republicans have no credibility here.

German chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi and American president Barack Obama attend a G7 summit in Shima, Japan, May 26
German chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi and American president Barack Obama attend a G7 summit in Shima, Japan, May 26 (Palazzo Chigi)

Barack Obama is no longer revered in Europe, but Politico reminds us that he is still far more popular than his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, was.

Which makes Republican criticism of his European policy a little hard to swallow.

This isn’t just about popularity. When Europe took offense at Bush’s unilateralist, shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later policy, it had real consequences: France and Germany opposed the Iraq War, leading to the deepest rift in transatlantic relations in decades. It gave new purpose to European defense cooperation outside NATO, which undermined the alliance’s cohesiveness.

Obama has acted multilaterally and more diplomatically. This, too, has had a real impact.

The Obama program

Europe supported sanctions against Iran, which helped force the country to the negotiating table, given that European companies did far more business with Iran than their American counterparts.

A nearly-united West intervened in Libya in 2011. Germany had doubts about the war, but, unlike in 2003, mostly kept those doubts to itself.

France and the United States deepened counterinsurgency and counterterrorism cooperation in West Africa, including Mali.

The alliance has remained united in the face of Russian aggression, despite Russia’s best efforts to pry more sympathetic nations, like Germany, Greece and Hungary, away from the rest.

A Bush-like policy of bluster and projecting “strength” would not have accomplished all — perhaps not even any — of this.

Germany would have more loudly opposed intervention in Libya. Italy might have too. France would have hesitated to work so closely with the Americans in Africa. And forced to choose between East and West, some Russophile governments in Central Europe might have gone over to the other side.


Obama’s record on Europe hasn’t been spotless.

His administration criticized European austerity policies and pushed for a “rebalancing” of world trade in favor of net importers, like the United States. Both of which irked the Germans, even though Obama, by all accounts, established a close working relationship with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The president was at times insensitive to the “special relationship” with the United Kingdom, refusing to affirm British sovereignty over the Falklands, for example, and disclosing information about Britain’s nuclear submarines to the Russians under the New START treaty. (That was before Russia invaded Ukraine.)

This all took place against the backdrop of America’s loudly-advertized “pivot” to Asia, worrying the Europeans that they could lose out.

And then Washington officials criticized the British and the Germans when they made their own deals with the Chinese.


None of this comes even close to the division and mistrust that characterized relations during the Bush years, however.

After seven years of Obama and the stability he has restored to transatlantic relations, Americans may not always remember just how bad things were. From the left to the right, Bush was widely perceived as not only reckless but a warmonger in Europe.

Now Republicans are nominating for president a man who may have repudiated the Iraq War but is in every other way the caricature Europeans imagined George W. Bush to be: ignorant of world affairs, inattentive to the liberal world order America built, macho and unilateralist.

Yet they expect to be taken seriously when criticizing Obama’s policy on Europe?

Sorry, but no.

Leave a reply