Eventually, the euphoria
over the election of Barack Obama will fade. The novelty will wear off-and it will be back to business as usual.
America's European partners and allies, therefore, need to be brutally honest with themselves-and with us-if the transatlantic relationship is to be reinvigorated.
Many Democrats have operated for the last eight years under the assumption that anti-Americanism largely been a product of the personalities of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Moreover, there is a strong sentiment that European "refusals" to go along with US initiatives were based not on policy differences but dislike for the outgoing administration. On a number of occasions, for instance, I have heard senior Democratic advisors talk about how a Democrat could have been much more successful in gaining European support for the Iraq war (or for postwar stabilization operations) by knowing how to "talk" across the Atlantic.
The correctness of this belief will soon be tested because an Obama administration is going to put a great deal of focus on winning the ground war in Afghanistan. So European leaders will have to make it clear whether their reluctance to provide additional combat forces stemmed from a dislike of the Bush team or is rooted in something deeper. Can Obama persuade when, say, Defense Secretary Bob Gates seemed unable to convince or to shame Europeans to do more?
European statesmen and pundits do the Atlantic alliance no service if they mischaracterize strategic differences with Washington as resulting from the personalities of a specific US administration. My opinion is that the reluctance of many European countries to widen the military dimension of the Afghan issue will continue after January 2009, no matter who sits in the White House. If that is a correct assessment of the situation, then it is important to convey that message clearly.
European leaders will also have to assess whether what will be on offer from the next White House comes closer to meeting their expectations. It is very true that an Obama administration will move on matters such as climate change or the International Criminal Court in a direction that many Europeans would find favorable. But will it be enough? With the US economy in the weakest position it has been since the early Reagan years, one cannot expect a president Obama to commit the United States to dramatic new environmental standards. Would Europeans, in the next round of climate change negotiations, be willing to accept standards that could pass the US Congress as the price for having an American signature on the agreement? Would they accept a US ratification of the ICC with significant reservations on Washington's part? While Obama would move much closer to European positions, it is not clear that his administration would completely bridge the transatlantic gap.
So Europeans are under an obligation to speak clearly about their intentions. Without a frank dialogue, the honeymoon may disappear far more quickly than expected.
Nikolas Gvosdev, the former editor of The National Interest, is a professor of national security studies at the US Naval War College. The views expressed here are entirely his own.
Related materials from the Atlantic Community:
- Daniel Korski: Transatlantic Tension Will Remain
- Jan Techau: America Votes, but Europe decides on the Future of Transatlantic Relations
- Simon K. Koschut: "Country First" to Be Obama's Motto