Now the Europeans Have Their President ….
Europeans have the US president of their dreams. Barack Obama was Europe’s candidate of choice. Europe expects the new Democratic administration, to deliver a made-in-Europe world policy.
With one exception. The Kremlin’s welcome for Obama was chilling. Moscow announced it install short range nuclear missiles aimed at EU member states in east Europe. The missiles will be placed in Konigsberg, now called Kalingrad after Russia annexed Kant’s university town in 1945.
European socialists and liberals united with conservatives and Christian democrats in rejoicing at Obama’s victory. The Bush-Cheney-Greenspan axis of reactionary economic incompetence and foreign adventurism had been defeated, at last.
In this foam-filled warm bath of self-satisfaction no-one has asked whether Europe has got anything wrong in the last eight years. No one has asked if the new Senate and Congress will be more amenable to America becoming multilateralist which in plain language means doing what other countries want not what American law-makers or the President believes America needs?
President-Elect Obama has made a campaign theme his confidence that he can get Europeans to share more of the burden in Afghanistan. Wish him well as he tries to persuade German Chancellor Angela Merkel or her social democratic rival in next year’s German elections, Foreign Minister Franz-Walter Steinmeier, that more German soldiers should be sent to fight and die in faraway Afghanistan.
VP-Elect Biden visited Tibilisi to show solidarity with the people of Georgia after Russia poured armoured divisions, planes and even a fleet to pound Georgia. Russian parliamentarians have voted to dismember Georgia and, in effect, annexe part of the territory of a UN member state. Europe’s response has been to launch new talks with Moscow on an agreement on partnership and cooperation as if the Kremlin’s Sudetenland-like occupation of Georgian territory was of little consequence. How will Obama handle the newly aggressive Russia especially as windfall oil wealth goes down and Putin steps up nationalist rhetoric?
If Roosevelt had to fix the US economy in the 1930 (and still only managed to bring US unemployment down to 18 per cent in 1939. It was World War 2 that really set American growth and jobs on an ever-upward trend) Obama has to find a way out of today’s collapse of consumption, confidence and even a belief in capitalism itself. Europeans are enjoying the idea of the return of the state but since when did cautious, safety-first state bureaucrats go in for the kind of creative, new-product market economy that America and the world needs?
France and Germany have been lathering themselves with criticisms of the US economic model. But what happens when Americans stop buying Louis Vuiton and bottles of Bordeaux, let alone BMWs and Mercedes? Europe will discover that the one thing worse than Americans buying too much on credit is Americans not buying anything at all. Germans need to stop saving and start spending. And as in China Germans need to be told that trade is two-way. If you want to export, you have to import.
The EU has written a joint letter to Washington on managing the world economy but from Ireland to government-owned regional banks in Germany, the Europeans have been just as guilty of trading financial products which had no material reality while banking secrecy laws in EU member states like Luxembourg and Austria as well Switzerland and Lichtenstein and Britain’s off-shore tax havens have shielded dubious transactions from tax and regulatory authorities.
Europe still will not give up its seats at the IMF or World Bank to allow China and the emerging powers of Asian-Pacific capitalism to have a say. Each EU leader will be clamouring to be the first to see Mr Obama. Far from speaking with one voice on foreign policy issues ranging from Kosovo to Turkey, Europe’s national egos will be on display more than a European unity and willingness to share burdens with America.
Obama might well be tempted to paraphrase Kennedy and tell his new fans in Europe: "Ask not what America can do for you, ask rather what Europe can do for America."
For the time being, the optimism of the will, the sheer excitement at seeing an articulate, thoughtful, sensitive post-white American enter the White House is overwhelming the pessimism of the intelligence, the sense that deeply intractable policy questions about economics, the environment and geo-political relations and interventions have yet to be adequately asked let alone answered.
Obama can do much to reinvigorate America’s presence overseas by appointing professional diplomats in place of billionaire ambassadors. He might suggest to the EU the creation of a Global Endowment for Democracy to support fair elections, freedom of expression, women’s rights and social justice in the world.
There are no perfect partners but America’s refusal to offer diplomatic recognition to Iran or even to North Korea achieve little. Obama’s America must be present in every corner of the world, making friends and influencing people but also taking on and defeating the enemies of freedom.
Europe is America’s partner and foil in this new era of world history. Both Europeans and a Democrats-controlled US should enjoy the warmth and hope that now exists. But expectations need managing and after this week’s euphoria both Washington and Europe need to focus on what can reunite the Euroatlantic community instead of the divisions that have caused so much damage so far this century.