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Obama's Wish List for Europe

"NATO's 60th anniversary summit in France and Germany in April, 2009 may well offer Europeans their first reality check on the 44th president," write Michael F. Harsch and Calin Trenkov-Wermuth in the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) feature on PostGlobal (via German Joys):

Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier recently stated that he does not believe the Obama administration will make any unrealistic demands once it comes into office. Steinmeier is likely to be disappointed. The first item on Obama's wish list will most likely be greater European burden-sharing in Afghanistan. The danger of a NATO failure in Afghanistan is real, and this issue will dominate the NATO summit's agenda.

Second item on the wish list is Iran:

Before starting any negotiations, Obama will expect the Europeans to agree on more than just 'carrots' promising rewards if Iran should abolish its nuclear program. The new administration will also demand agreement on credible 'sticks' in case the Iranians are not ready to compromise. These could be simply tougher economic and political sanctions but Obama has also made it clear that he will not put the military option off the table.

Okay, those are the usual speculations about Obama's wish list. The third point on China was new to me. Harsch and Trenkov-Wermuth expect Obama to

urge Europeans to take a tougher stance on China, which is seen as undermining the West's efforts to put pressure on Iran. China has dramatically increased its economic ties with Iran, filling some of the gaps created by the departure of American and European companies. Recently, Iran announced that trade exchanges with China will exceed $25 billion this year, compared to $9.2 billion in 2005, and unless this trend is stopped or reversed, the threat of tougher economic sanctions will not have the desired impact.

Well, should not the US also take a tougher stance on China? Sarkozy, who currently holds the EU presidency, just got "tough" by announcing that he will have a chat with the Dalai Lama in Poland. This was enough for the Chinese to cancel a summit with the EU.

The US seems to be very dependent on China in the current financial crisis, so I am not sure if Obama will put pressure on the Chinese over the Iran's nuclear program.

Finally, the authors believe that US policy on Russia and Eastern Europe won't change much under Obama:

The US under President Obama will still call for a tougher stance and a more unified reaction from the European countries to Russian threats, especially from Germany, France and Italy. Obama will urge the big European powers to send a clear message to the central and eastern European NATO members that they are ready to defend them, and he will reaffirm the US commitment to the accession of Georgia and the Ukraine to NATO.

That's pretty stupid. In my humble opinion, journalists, think tankers and politicians should not use the phrase "tougher stance," which the authors used to describe policy advice for dealing with Iran and China. This phrase is so vague. It's meaningless. You want to be really tough, then boycott Chinese and Russian goods. Anybody ready to do that?

Why Ukrainians don't want NATO

Between 55 to 65 percent of Ukrainians oppose joining NATO, according to recent surveys.  Andrew Bishop, a freelance journalist and blogger at What You Must Read, addresses the issue of “Why Ukrainians Don’t Want NATO” in the Diplomatic Courier:
1. “Ukraine remains an eternally “torn country” with approximately 17 percent of its population being ethnic Russian…

... after the Georgian crisis, where Russia justified its intervention in terms of defending Russian citizens, the Ukrainian authorities remained concerned that this scenario could be repeated in the Crimea.”

2. Ukraine, one of the first victims of Russia’s “energy imperialism” back in 2006 when the Kremlin cut the country’s gas supplies for several days, has no desire to experience that wrath again. Already the country’s power bill has been increasing by the year, and with winter approaching, few would argue that now is the time to test the fierceness of Moscow’s Putin-Medvedev tandem.”
And third, constant political fighting between Ukraine's political leaders means: “In short, few Ukrainians see the current period as the right one for engaging in a battle over NATO, whether it be amongst themselves or against Russia.
Continue reading "Why Ukrainians don't want NATO"

Western rapprochement with Russia: capitulation or pragmatism?

Georgetown professor Charles King argues the United States needs to hold Georgia accountable for its role in last August's conflict with Russia (Foreign Policy):
The Russian military response was precipitous and brazen, and has rightly been condemned by outside powers, but the next U.S. administration must learn that brinkmanship is a game that countries can play with friends as well as adversaries. U.S. officials warned Tbilisi of the dangers of using military force, but Saakashvili escalated his rhetoric anyway and took advantage of Western statements that Georgia’s path toward consolidated democracy and NATO membership were guaranteed. A history of mixed messages coming from the United States contributed to the Georgian government’s sense that a quick, successful war would meet with U.S. approval.
Continue reading "Western rapprochement with Russia: capitulation or pragmatism?"

Cheers and Tears for the American Flag

My colleague Jesse Schwartz wrote an op-ed about his transatlantic travels since 2004. Experiencing the US elections in Berlin, he concludes that America is more than a place again: America: New Beginnings, an Old Idea.

He describes the mood at an election party:

As Obama's electoral vote count rose, so did the ebullience. Excitement soon gave way to pure euphoria. This was to be expected, especially from the Americans. But then I saw tears streaming down the face of grown men from Zambia, a fourteen year old girl from Berlin and her mother, Germans, Americans, Irish, white, black, old, young, everyone. The catharsis was overwhelming. America the idea, that ineffable concept, was pouring from people's eyes. This confluence of historic moments had produced something I had never thought possible from my experiences of the past five years. Cheers. Cheers for America. Cheers for the American flag. Uproarious Cheers when Obama told the world, "God bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America." Cheers for all things American. And above all Cheers for the idea that is America.

How Many Like Steve?

Steve Coll - whose book on the Bin Laden family we plugged - laments the 'end of civilisation' on his The New Yorker blog:
Before takeoff, as usual, I had thumbed through my email on my BlackBerry. As the in-flight wireless signal popped up on my laptop (fourteen dollars, including tax) I remembered all of what was left undone and decided to sign up.


I note that the Very Important Book, whose last hundred pages I had expected to finish before landing, sits tucked into the seatback pocket in front of me, in no particular danger of being read. My mission now is not to forget about it altogether and leave it on the airplane. These airliner tubes, with their confined hours-long intervals, had been a last refuge from the grid, a sort of enforced library reading room. Those of us in the bound-and-printed intellectual-property creation racket had best reconsider tweeting.
Sound familiar?

When I review my yearly Christmas reading - it is, again, the season - the Worldchanging book from last year sits in the shelf as an occassional reference, while I'm due for a third start-over of Against the Day, a novel I received two years ago. Both wonderful books, but not the type to easily read from cover to cover (I did manage a number of shorter books in between). A dismal record. This year, the reading will be somewhat less... liberal as I've settled on Drezner's 'All Politics is Global'.

Turkey is the most anti-American country

Soner Cagaptay writes a letter to President-Elect Obama in Newsweek warning that Turkey, a NATO ally, is The Most Anti-American Nation:
Dear President-Elect Obama: As you take office, I am enthusiastically watching your desire to win hearts and minds around the world. But I am concerned in particular about Turkey. This nation is the embodiment of what the United States and the West want to achieve around the world. It is predominantly Muslim, yet Western and democratic. But the Turks are vehemently anti-American, so much so that they consistently rank in polls as the most anti-American country in the world. According to the Pew Center's latest poll, only 12 percent of the Turks like the United States—fewer, even, than the percentage of Pakistanis. Obamania in Turkey will help you change America's image, but given the dismal numbers, I am afraid that might not be enough. Despite the close cooperation with the United States on Iraq, Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has taken the easy way, bashing America at home in an attempt to boost its own popularity. But you should not ignore Turkey. Because of its strategic location, Turkey is a key partner to the United States in tackling many foreign-policy challenges. You will need Turkish support and the Turkish base at Incirlik to achieve many of your goals, such as withdrawing troops from Iraq.
Turkish frustration with the European Union is understandable considering Europeans have been teasing Turkey with the prospect of EU membership for decades.  A series of essays on Turkey - EU relations is available in the most recent issue of Re-public journal titled “Turkey – European Union: A long-standing misunderstanding” (HT: Kevin Hilke)

On the other hand, anti-US sentiment is a little more surprising. Cagaptay’s argument that Turkey is the most anti-American country (or at least very close to it) is further corroborated by polls from the 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project, which show Turks as having one of the lowest “very favorable” views toward the US at about 2% and the highest “very unfavorable” rating at 75% (PDF: poll on world perspective toward the US on page 6).  

"Obama Effect": increased diversity in global politics?

“Prejudice in Europe is more than skin deep”, writes Columbia University historian Mark Mazower in the Financial Times:
Europeans find it hard adjusting to a colour-blind world. Indeed their hesitancy is growing. In Austria, the extreme right carved out big gains in September’s general elections. Pope Benedict weighed in over the summer to warn against a possible resurgence of fascist values in Italy. Europe as a whole, according to recent polls, has become significantly more xenophobic over the past few years. Fears of Islamic terrorism and anxiety about globalisation have fed this trend. So has fervent anti-European Union sentiment, strongly correlated to populist anti-immigrant rhetoric. By contrast, Mr Obama’s story is that of the immigrant dream, a tale of upwardly-mobile success that cut decisively across race lines. Immigrant voters played a decisive electoral role in Mr Obama’s win, yet immigration – for all the prior public debate – figured little as a campaign issue.
It will be interesting to see if a black president in America will reverse the trend of rising xenophobia in Europe cited by Mazower.  Al Jazeera also poses an interesting question, "Will the 'Obama effect' encourage more diversity in global politics?"

See also from Atlantic Review:
* Five Reasons Obama Would not be Elected in Europe

What will Britain do when Obama asks for more troops in Afghanistan?

The UK may send an additional 2,000 troops to Afghanistan if President-elect Obama makes a request to allies, according to the BBC:
The BBC diplomatic correspondent James Robbins said British officials had told him there would be negotiations with the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, "and more than one has told me to expect agreement for between 1,500 and 2,000 extra British troops."
The Defense Ministry has made no official commitment, but there is little doubt Britain will feel pressure to contribute more, particularly considering the US will be increasingly focused on Afghanistan under the Obama administration, to include raising troop levels itself.

However, sending more troops will be no easy decision for Britain's politicians; public opposition to maintaining British troops in Afghanistan is strong according to a recent survey reported by the BBC:
ICM asked a random sample of 1,013 adults whether or not Britain should withdraw its armed forces from Afghanistan within the next 12 months.

More than two-thirds (68%) of those questioned said the UK should pull its soldiers out during the next year. Less than a quarter (24%) said they believed the troops should remain.
I am curious if the majority of Brits and others across Europe who supported Obama were aware of his intention to intensify Western efforts in Afghanistan, and what that might mean for them? It will be interesting to see how the European public responds when these requests inevitably begin to arrive from the iconic new American president.

See also from Atlantic Review:
* Is Europe "Ready to be Obama stakeholders, not free-riders"?