Obama Should Focus on Europe

By Gregory Feifer

President Barack Obama may have to battle an intransigent Republican Party for congressional approval of his domestic policies during his second term, but his more-or-less free hand in foreign policy enables him to help establish his legacy through America's actions abroad.

If his first administration focused on repairing the damage George W. Bush's eight years as president wreaked on America's image, his second one should concentrate on reaffirming US leadership in the world.

He should begin by shoring up Washington's relationship with its closest ally and largest trading partner: Europe. There's much work to do on both sides of the Atlantic.

Last summer, some began pronouncing the relationship all-but dead. Among them, Mark Leonard - director of the influential European Council on Foreign Affairs - wrote that although "Obama successfully healed the transatlantic rift, he may also be the American president who presided over the end of the West as a political community."

Tough words. Eight out of ten Europeans may have supported Obama's re-election, but under Obama's leadership, the western alliance "has never loomed smaller in the imagination of policymakers of both sides of the Atlantic."

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Leonard allocates most of the blame to a White House that's no longer interested in Europeans other than as partners for its own agenda. "It was not until the euro zone looked like it might collapse - threatening to bring down the global economy and with it Obama's chances of reelection - that the president became truly interested in Europe."

Europeans, for their part, have "never cared less" about what Washington thinks. Angela Merkel has refused to heed Obama's advice about the dangers of austerity, while the end of the Cold War means European countries no longer look to America for protection.

Leonard blames other factors: aloof Obama's failure to establish personal relationships with European leaders, even his Asia-centric biography that supposedly deflects attention from Europe. Larger forces are also blamed. If the United States has been the "sheriff" of a European-inspired liberal order and the EU its "constitutional court," now globalization is enabling Brazil, China and other emerging countries to challenge their influence by translating their economic power into political clout on the world stage.

However, while there's no question the transatlantic relationship is under stress, now is hardly the first time crises of one sort or another - such as the 1990s failure in Bosnia - have raised existential questions about the United States and Europe since the end of the Cold War set off an ongoing realignment of the balance of western power.

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