Obama Last Transatlanticist?

Fears of Barack Obama neglecting Europe in favor of the Far East seem exaggerated.

Will Barack Obama turn out to be the last transatlantic American president? Nicholas Kitchen wonders in The Washington Note. Although his wind of change met the approval of nearly all of Europe, a series of diplomatic gaffes and mishaps has strained relations, he claims.

The Obama Administration supposedly downgraded ties with Britain from a “special relationship” to a “special partnership” — whatever the difference there might be. As James Pritchett has argued, such a downgrading is not unnatural: Britain simply isn’t the global power it used to be, not in economic nor in military terms and the United States have little reason to pretend otherwise. Kitchen seems to consider it a failure nonetheless.

And it’s not just Britain that Obama managed to upset. No, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy expressed their “annoyance” with his administration’s “attitude toward sensitive historical anniversaries” apparently. According to Kitchen these “diplomatic contretemps” were the products of a serious divide:

[O]ver the best response to the financial crisis and in particular the issue of regulation of complex financial services instruments, with Mirek Topolanek using the Czech Republic’s presidency of the European Union to describe American bailouts and stimulus policies as “the road to hell”.

And what does Obama do? He goes to Asia and declares himself the “Pacific president”.

Outrageous? Not really. Kitchen is fair to note that it’s mostly the Europeans themselves who are to blame:

[T]he truth remains that if Europe wants to be a major player on the world stage it needs to think of its role more strategically and systemically if the United States is not to regard the relationship with China as its most important bilateral tie.

There is probably little that will prevent the Americans from considering the latter relationship of greater significance, however, and for good reason: the Sino-American relationship is bound to define the twenty-first century, one way or another.

At the New Atlanticist, James Joyner defends the Obama Administration’s Pacific orientation. That is not to say Washington has forgotten about Europe, he writes. “Just because other countries now get more attention doesn’t mean the transatlantic relationship isn’t the most important one.”

[I]t’s difficult to imagine an evolution of the international system that would have China — or any other rising power — coming to have more similar values and interests than exists between the United States and Western Europe.

If not for the military and political alliance, that is still strong no matter how little attention President Obama were to pay to it; the cultural and economic ties between both sides of the North Atlantic would suffice to ensure mutual dependence for decades to come. The Obama Administration isn’t neglecting Europe. It simply realizes that there are more partners out there.


  1. Smashin’ article, though this somewhat confuses me:

    “[T]he truth remains that if Europe wants to be a major player on the world stage it needs to think of its role more strategically and systemically if the United States is not to regard the relationship with China as its most important bilateral tie.”

    What is meant by ‘more strategically and systematically’?

    Plust as far as I understand, ‘Europe ‘ either as one unit or the combination of many, IS ‘a major player on the world stage’. The German economy alone puts that state in the heavy-weight league, and the combined ‘EU GDP’ of over 14 Trillion USD (2008) ensures it’s position as a vast trading, financial and economic block headed close towards parity with the US. They/It’s already seen as a top-draw market for business and a fairly robust diplomatic force. So I’m a bit confused that it isn’t seen as a ‘major player’ on the world stage. If not EU/Europe, then who passes the litmus test apart from the US? China? Hmmmm No I don’t think that ‘Europeans are to blame’ at all. If Mr Obama fails to understand EU/Europe, then that is as much his problem as anyone else’s, for the reasons I point out above.

    On topic though, Obama strikes me as lacking trans-Atlanticism. His desire for more multilateralism in the international community seems mostly focused towards states outside Europe, as his recent tours and talks have shown. Bare in mind that the Prime Minister of Great Britain had to chase him through a kitchen just to talk to him, when the predecessors of both offices used to hang-out on a social basis. -IF- he is a ‘trans-Atlantic’ president, then he certainly won’t be the last. The US is too well imbedded in world affairs, especially on and around the European continent to reduce its attention to the region within the foreseeable future.

  2. What is meant by ‘more strategically and systematically’?

    I suppose: working to translate its economic power into something of a permanent structure of political leverage?

    You’re right that Europe is a major power, either as a Union or some of its member states separately. However, on the international stage, is seems that European political pull is lacking. Probably, a lack of consistent cooperation between the EU countries is responsible for that. Maybe that’s what Kitchen was thinking about when he called on Europe to rethink its role “systematically”.

  3. That’s a problem with dealing with the EU, why should Mr. Obama expect unique treatment in this regard compared to any of his predecessors?
    Personally I dont think he should.

  4. Who’s saying that he is? Rather I think Obama is much more aware than his predecessor that Europe’s support is not necessarily to be counted upon. Bush Administration officials responded as though genuinely shocked that countries as Germany and France wouldn’t back them up in invading Iraq. Obama knows that Europe won’t follow him in everything he does.

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