The foreign policy people Obama is surrounding himself with speak more for an accelerated renaissance of the transatlantic alliance than anything else.
Hillary Clinton, the next Secretary of State, was more interested in Europe than Obama during the primaries for the Democratic nomination, as Christian Andreas Morris wrote at the time on the Atlantic Community. Moreover, her husband's administration had most of its high profile foreign policy engagements in Europe. Insofar as Hillary Clinton received foreign policy experience through 'osmosis', Europe looms large in her frame of reference.
Matthew Yglesias has noted that the main thing about retired general James L. Jones, Obama's National Security Advisor, is that no one really knows what his views are. It is not too hard to find out some of those views, however, as Jones delivered a number of speeches when he was SACEUR from 2003 to 2006, which can be found on the SHAPE website. A few more pieces can be found on the website of the Atlantic Council of the Unites States, of which Jones is currently the chairman.
You just don't get more atlanticist than Jim Jones. He grew up in France, speaks the language, and spent his years as SACEUR in Brussels on a mission to transform NATO. In his farewell address as SACEUR he said:
I love this Alliance. I love what it stands for. I love for the inherent goodness of its people. I love the inherent example that the members of the Alliance set for the world over. And I think it's a wonderful, vibrant organisation that is alive. Alive and prosperous and going to make tremendous contributions, the likes of which perhaps none of us can even imagine in this 21st Century.
First, Obama has a huge domestic agenda which he will have to spend a lot of time on if he wants to be successful. In spite of the awesomeness of Obama who can carry out telephone diplomacy with Kenya while he's on the campaign trail, he is still human and doesn't have more hours in his week than any of us. He's not going to be able to micromanage his foreign policy.
Second, it can matter a great deal whether the first thought on the mind of the people he talks to is 'who do we involve in this?' or 'how do we involve Europe in this?'
Third, Jim Jones was notable within NATO for driving its transformation from a reactive alliance focused on defence towards a more pro-active force focused on providing security. He made plentiful use of Obama's stock phrase, change, before it was hip:
The rest of that speech does deliver specifics and is well worth reading, by the way. It seems plausible that the Jones pick signals that Obama is not just vaguely looking to patch up NATO, but is serious about completing its as of yet imperfect transformation.
Transformation is a topic that has been around for a number of years. Transformation to me means change, but I’ve found that change is something that people generally like to do to somebody else, but not to look at themselves. The larger the organization, the harder it is to change.
But nonetheless, change is important. To put it in a business context, I would say that organizations must change in order to remain competitive; similarly, in order to face the new challenges of the 21 st century, NATO must also change. Happily, the Alliance has the capacity, interest and commitment to do just that. But change is not easy.
Bob Gates, the returning Secretary of Defence, does not really complement this picture. We'll see Gates and some European countries in a familiar adversarial role during the next NATO summit, as he'll be pushing the Bush line on Georgian and Ukrainian membership. The question is to what extent he is going to run foreign policy.