Obama Should Focus on Europe

By Gregory Feifer
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George W. Bush inflicted the greatest recent damage to ties with Europe by embarking on a ruinous foreign policy that included the invention of a pretext to launch an unnecessary war in Iraq, then warning our closest allies they were either with us or against us.

That gave credence to Vladimir Putin's rabid anti-Americanism, fodder for Jacques Chirac's grandiose posturing and created crises in the UK - thanks to Tony Blair's publicly unquestioning signing-on - that are still playing out in British politics. Obama did much to salve the wounds with his conciliatory words and nuanced actions, such as allowing Britain and France to become the public face of the effort to bomb Libya.

There's a lot of talk these days about how little talk there is about Europe and the United States. But Obama's aloofness has something to do with his preoccupation with troubles at home, including the financial crisis and battling Congress, than a turning away from Europe - notwithstanding the rhetorical "pivot to Asia."

Another reason is that Europe isn't seen as a threat, like China.

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It's undeniable that euro crisis has done much to show the limits of American influence in Europe, especially Germany, Europe's wealthiest country. But that doesn't mean the relationship is over.

Instead it offers an opportunity to strengthen ties by reaffirming shared values.

After an era in which political leanings did little to influence transatlantic ties-think Blair's championing of Bush's war - the euro crisis has helped crystallize the similarities between the Democrats and Europe's leftists.

It's no accident that France's Francois Hollande gave Obama's re-election the loudest approval in Europe. The Socialist leader who joked about wanting to ruin Mitt Romney's candidacy by endorsing him hailed Obama's victory as a "clear choice for an open, united America that is totally engaged on the international scene."

Hollande is leading the public opposition to Europe's German-enforced austerity, aided by Italy's Mario Monti, who has pushed back against Merkel behind the scenes.

Washington's continued support for them would work in the interests of Europe and America by increasing the pressure to ease off austerity. Angela Merkel, who is facing elections next year, will be tempted to resist growing calls from European leaders to promote growth. But recent figures from Greece show the country's three waves of it have only made debt grow, as cuts to wages and services have helped the rise of extremist groups and torn at society's fabric by boosting unemployment and poverty and otherwise tearing the social safety net.

A neutral first step toward boosting Washington's role in Europe should be the agreement of a US-EU trade deal. The EU's trade commissioner this week said Obama's re-election gave new impetus for talks to start early next year. The $700 billion trade between the two sides already makes up almost a third of global commerce. Weakening growth is now encouraging Washington and Brussels to seek to reverse the trend by considering dropping tax and regulation barriers.

Signing a deal would symbolize Washington's recommitment to its European ties, and should accompany joint efforts to tackle some of the most pressing mutual foreign policy challenges, such as resolving the conflict in Syria. That would help end talk that America's relationship with a continent that shares its values and many of its aims is no longer relevant to either side.

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