When he was a senator, Barack Obama was criticized for failing to convene a single policy meeting of the Senate European subcommittee, of which he was chairman. In January 2008 I wrote the post: Barack Obama's Lack of Real Interest in Transatlantic Cooperation
Now, one year after his election, Obama is very popular in Europe, especially in Western Europe, even though he "has done much less for Europe than his predecessor," argues Dr. James Joyner of the Atlantic Council:
Despite George W. Bush's defiant "you're with us or you're against us" public stance, he actively solicited advice and input from his NATO partners. Obama, by contrast, is saying all the right things in public about transatlantic relations and NATO but adopting a high-handed policy and paying little attention to Europe.
And many important working-level posts in both the State Department and the National Security Council (NSC) are unfilled, says James Joyner:
Most notably, the EU portfolio at the State Department has been treated as a political hot potato, currently being handled as an additional duty by the Balkans director. With such a dreadfully weak human infrastructure at home, it's no wonder [this] week's U.S.-EU summit is expected to be a non-event. The preparations have thus far mostly focused on protocol rather than policy. The Europeans are particularly irritated that the luncheon will be hosted by Vice President Joseph Biden rather than the U.S. president himself. Under the previous administration, Bush regularly presided.
On Britain: "Obama has been less solicitous of his country's most natural ally than any U.S. president in memory."
On new Europe:
A Polish official was quoted by United Press International proclaiming that, "Waking Czech Prime Minister Fisher at midnight European time, and calling President Lech Kaczynski and Prime Minister Tusk -- who refused to take the call -- 70 years to the day that Russia invaded Poland -- is politically inept and very offensive." Another official added, "this simply confirms how unimportant Europe is to the U.S., despite President Obama's words to the contrary."
This sounds as if Obama would not care about Europe, but it would be wrong to take the question mark out of the headline of this post. President Obama has a very ambitious agenda and is a pragmatist. If the European countries and/or the EU as a whole are not willing to play a stronger role in international affairs, then they are not useful to Obama and he will look for new partners in Moscow, Delhi, Beijing or elsewhere or go it alone. I think we will see more US unilateralism and coalitions of the willing following the Rumsfeld principle of "the mission defines the coalition" unless the Europeans approach Washington with their own ideas for powerful transatlantic cooperation. Obama will care about Europe, when Europe becomes useful to the US, gets serious about foreign policy, and speaks with one voice.
Jeremy Shapiro & Nick Witney make similar and more elaborate points in their report "Towards a post-American Europe: a power audit of EU-US relations" published by the European Council on Foreign Relations (pdf). Short version on atlantic-community.org:
The truth is, the US would prefer a more united EU, but expects so little that it cannot bring itself to greatly care. When the EU is hard-headed, as with trade negotiations, the US listens. When it is not, Europeans are asking to be divided and ruled.
For Europe to become a credible and strategic partner for the US, Europeans need to shift their political psychology away from fetishising the transatlantic relationship.