In many ways, Barack Obama is the kind of U.S. president that Europeans have always said they wanted: a pragmatist who is willing to change course when plans fail, and who is inclined to work with any power that shares his objectives. Yet this pragmatic worldview, which Europeans welcome, is actually loosening the bonds holding Europe and the U.S. together -- and may even be contributing to the hollowing out of the liberal order itself.

Obama and Europe: Beneath Affinity, a Growing Gulf

By , , Feature

There was an overwhelming sense of relief in Europe following U.S. President Barack Obama’s re-election in November. Although European approval of the Obama administration’s foreign policy has fallen since he took office in 2009, particularly over his increased use of drones in the war on terror and his perceived failure to put greater pressure on Israel toward a final status agreement with the Palestinians, Europeans overwhelmingly preferred him to his opponent, Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Indeed, according to one poll carried out in 12 European Union member states before the election, 75 percent of Europeans said they would vote for Obama if they could, compared to only 8 percent who said the same of Romney.

However, two long-term developments affecting U.S. foreign policy mean that Europe and America could drift apart during Obama’s second term in office: the U.S. budget deficit and the “pivot” -- since renamed a “rebalancing” -- toward Asia. The state of America’s finances means that, even more than in Obama’s first term, the U.S. will be what Michael Mandelbaum has called a “frugal superpower,” one that will in general seek wherever possible to "lead from behind" as it did in Libya in 2011. Meanwhile, although the Middle East still has the potential to divert Obama from his goal of shifting Washington’s strategic attention to the Pacific, the Libya intervention showed how disciplined Obama can be at limiting U.S. involvement overseas. ...

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