Obama and the EU

Since no one else seems to be very forthcoming about offering BarackObama advice on how to conduct his foreign policy, and since I’m surehe’s got some down time to fill catching up on his favorite blogs, Ithought I’d step up and do what’s right.In particular, with regards to Europe.

A big part of Obama’s political technique is to go beyond coddling asympathetic constituency by appealing to its individual responsibilityand making hard demands of it to contribute to the solution for its ownproblems. (I’d call it a “S-st-h S–ldj-h” instinct if I hadn’t made avow to never utter that expression or use it in print.) With regard toEurope, that’s been formulated as a need to recommit to what amounts toa very unpopular war in Afghanistan in the form of increased troops.

Now in the wake of his election victory, with his charisma andinspirational story, Obama has an enormous amount of political capitalin European capitals right now, so everyone is likely to meet him morethan half way. It’s part of a delicate balance, accentuated in thepost-Bush climate, whereby people want to extract concessions andrecalibrate the U.S.-EU relationship, but at the same time to avoidcreating gridlock for an Obama administration that fundamentally theyneed to succeed.

The key here is to make sure that the relationship that’s establishedat the outset is one that is sustainable and productive once thehoneymoon period wears off, and that the policy successes are bothmeaningful and mutually rewarding. And a good recent example forcomparison is French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s first six months in office. I’d arguethat Sarkozy (for reasons that have to do with internal EU politics butalso his abrasive nature) had only limited success and possibly somefailure on the former, but really a good deal of success on the latter,both in terms of French-EU relations andFrench-American relations. And he did so not by overplaying the dynamicmomentum that his electoral victory gave him, but by balancing it withimmediate concessions on issues that were highly symbollic for hispartners and not very costly for France.

In that spirit, I’d suggest that the first thing Obama should announce to our European allies is:

1. A global U.S.-EU approach to Russia. This would include renouncingNATO MAPs for Georgia and Ukraine, including Russia in a new Europeansecurity arrangement and promising to either include Russia in anyEurope-based missile defense system or to find other ways to satsifyits security concerns. In return, Russia must be less obstructive withregard to Iran, less bellicose with regard to its neighbors and moredependable with regard to European energy security. This will have thedouble impact of reassuring Europe that it will be treated as a partnerin dealing with what it has itself identified as a dossier where itshould have a driving contribution to the discussion, and leaving Russia no excuses for notbehaving responsibly in its own naighborhood and beyond.

2. A widening of the strategic approach to the Aghanistan War thatcomplements any calls for troop surges with an equivalent diplomaticand state-building surge. The truth is that there are no easy fixes forAfghanistan, and I for one am not convinced that success as it’s beendefined is achievable. I’m also not sure that Europe can or willcontribute the troops that Obama has in mind. But the optics areimportant, especially if European governments hope to generate thepolitical will among their own electorates necessary for such a move.That’s not going to happen as a result of a one-way diktat.

The other thing that Obama should avoid is the temptation to privilegeone or the other of Europe’s leaders as America’s interlocutor. Theywill try to draw him into that dance, but it’s a dangerous one. Europetalks a lot about being an equal partner, about becoming a global actorand speaking with one voice. Obama can support that process by notgetting tripped up by Europe’s internal faultlines. That doesn’t meanthe U.S. shouldn’t weigh in and try to influence EU positions toadvance its interests. But accentuating Europe’s internal divisionsonly weakens an essential ally with whom our common values andinterests far outnumber our divergent ones.