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Clinton's Speech: Obama Likes Europe. Really.

Friday, Sept. 10, 2010

Perhaps because there was so much to digest in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's review of the Obama administration's foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington on Wednesday, her olive branch to Europe has been largely overlooked. Yet some members of her distinguished audience did a double take when she said, "President Obama and I have reached out to strengthen both our bilateral and multilateral ties in Europe. And the post-Lisbon EU is developing an expanded global role and our relationship is growing and changing as a result. . . .. There is no doubt that a stronger EU is good for America and is good for the world."

Her remarks come at a time when, on the bilateral front, Washington's so-called special relationship with the U.K. is in deep freeze, and the administration's idea of bonhomie towards France and Germany seems to be a distant formality. As for the EU, the regular EU-U.S. summit in Madrid this past May was postponed when President Barack Obama, no great lover of European talk marathons, said he was too busy to attend. Predictably, the Europeans saw this as a snub.

The EU-U.S. meeting has been rescheduled as a follow-on to the upcoming NATO summit in Lisbon on Nov. 19-20, to which Obama was already committed -- thus making it virtually impossible for him to be a no-show without giving irreparable offence to the nations that contribute some 30,000 troops to the alliance's Afghan mission. Clinton's intention was clearly to set a friendlier tone for Obama's visit by underscoring a European importance this administration has rarely expressed, and may not feel. What Obama's Washington really thinks may well be closer to the concerns raised by Charles Kupchan in a recent obituary for the European Union in the Washington Post; Kupchan is said to be close to the current secretary of state.

There were some other odd touches in an otherwise impressive speech, such as no mention of North Korea until it was raised in a question from the floor, or of Latin America (except for Brazil). As for Egypt, now involved in the latest push for an Israeli-Palestinian solution and the site of the next round in those talks, her only reference was to its lousy human rights record. Clinton had apparently also been urged to include a comment on Europe's immigration problems and France's expulsions of the Roma in particular, but that would hardly have meshed with the current signals being sent Europe's way.