Monday, November 2, 2009

Europe Still Likes Obama, but Doubts Creep In

President Nicolas Sarkozy, center, before chiding President Obama on Iran in a speech at the United Nations in September. France wants no deal that would let Iran keep enriching uranium.

Is it principled, or is its opposition because France wants part of the business?

The election of Barack Obama as president seemed to most Europeans to be unadulterated good news, marking an end to the perceived unilateralism and indifference to allied views of former President George W. Bush.

But nine months into Mr. Obama’s presidency, trans-Atlantic relations are again clouded by doubts. Europe and the United States remain at least partly out of sync on Afghanistan, the Middle East, Iran and climate change.

Every love affair is bound to cool.

Many Europeans argue that Mr. Obama has not broken clearly enough with Bush administration policies that they dislike, while some Americans argue that the Europeans are too passive, watching Mr. Obama struggle with difficult issues, like Afghanistan and the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, without providing much substantive help.

Europeans are good at lecturing, at passing judgment, and at self-glorification.

Mr. Obama remains popular with the European public, but a senior European official said that he was worried about an underlying disaffection. “It’s dangerous, because we must not get into a spiral of dissatisfaction on both sides,” he said. These generalizations lack real substance, he said, but the criticism runs that “the U.S. thinks that Europeans don’t want to do anything to help and the Europeans feel that the U.S. is naïve and not delivering enough.”

Naive? Seems a ridiculous criticism, really.

“Europeans are sitting around waiting for Washington to decide what the Afghanistan policy is going to be,” he said.

They are waiting for the US to decide.

A lot of the problem is the fault of the Europeans themselves, said Hubert Védrine, a former French foreign minister. “Europe for Obama is not a priority, not a problem and not a solution for his problems,” he said in an interview here. “Obama keeps a distance and has a kind of hauteur” with European leaders, Mr. Védrine said. “But that’s not a sufficient reason for Europeans to act like spectators” as Mr. Obama tries to cope with his challenges. “I think it’s necessary to help him,” he said.

[Ed: hauteur: arrogance: overbearing pride evidenced by a superior manner toward inferiors]

In a report to be published on Monday, the European Council on Foreign Relations, an independent research group, urged European Union governments to shake off illusions about the trans-Atlantic relationship if they wanted to avoid global irrelevance.

The United States “needs strong partners in a world it no longer dominates,” the authors say, and while it would prefer a more united European Union, which can articulate and put into practice its own strategic interests, Washington no longer expects to see it. When the European Union is united and strong, as on trade matters, Washington listens, the report says; when it is split, as over Russia and many other foreign and defense issues, where national governments act individually, “Europeans are asking to be divided and ruled.”

While Mr. Obama is personally sympathetic and even “European” in his policy choices, the report argues, “Europeans miss the implications of the self-avowed pragmatism” of his administration, which wants “to work with whoever will most effectively help it achieve the outcomes it desires.”

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