Don't Expect a New President To Neglect American Interests
Sunday, Nov 16, 2008 - 12:04 AM 

Who could not be swept off their feet by the Obama euphoria, fueled as it is by such hope for a different society, a different America, and a different world? To be a John McCain supporter now seems so lame, so out of touch. This victory was wished from both sides of the Atlantic, particularly by Europeans who hate the Bush-style foreign policy and hope now that America will involve European governments like she used to during the Cold War.

Choosing a Democrat, son of a Muslim whose middle name is Hussein, as president is a diplomatic masterstroke in its own right, but though Americans have consciously opted for less ideology and more tact, will things change that much? One is reminded by the amazing scenes of jubilation for Tony Blair's victory in 1997. Are all the Obamaphiles set to be similarly disappointed?

However much he might have been the world's candidate for president, Barack Obama will not be president of the world. Not even President Obama will compromise American vital interests in the world. Unless we Europeans can learn to be effective diplomatic and military force-multipliers for the U.S. in pursuit of her own indispensable priorities and objectives, as we were during the Cold War, we will be ignored.

In fact, a President McCain, with his far greater understanding of European politics, might have had far more patience to coax Europe along the right path, than President Obama, who may be pro-European Union, but that reinforces the suspicion that he will have unrealistic expectations of what the E.U. can deliver.

When 500,000 thronged Berlin's Victory Column in July, they cannot have realized that Europe will be a long way down the new president's priorities. France and the U.K. remain crucial players, as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, but so are Russia and China who, with Japan, India, and the whole of East Asia, have the U.S. looking increasingly at the economic dynamism of the Pacific, rather than across the Atlantic at Europe's fading economic power. This child of Indonesia and Hawaii will not change that.

But even more starkly, on other key foreign policy issues, nothing much will change, unless Obama backtracks on key commitments that so success fully broadened his political appeal to disillusioned Republicans. The president's first priority will be Afghanistan. NATO's 60th anniversary summit in April will be the crunch. Washington is reviewing its whole strategy in Afghanistan, and Gen. David Petraeus is likely to urge a military, economic, and political surge as the only way to separate the Pashtun tribal leaders from the hardline Taliban and al-Qaida terrorists.

Failure in Afghanistan would perhaps be a fatal stake through the heart of NATO, since it is such a crucial test of the alliance's credibility and moral authority, but, as Obama made clear in his Berlin speech (the bit which the Germans almost certainly will ignore): "America cannot do this alone. The Afghan people need our troops and your troops". How will he react if Europeans expect him to send yet more of his countrymen to fight and die there, when so many European nations will hardly risk anything?

The other great issue for the summit is the post-Georgia crisis. Obama is more hawkish than many European governments, accusing Russia of becoming "increasingly autocratic and bellicose." He wants to reduce European dependency on Russian energy. At the last NATO summit, Germany, which is increasingly 'Gazpromised' by Russian energy policy, and France jointly led the opposition to the U.S. push to get Georgia and Ukraine into NATO, but Obama has also called for Ukraine and Georgia to be given a clear path to membership. He has offered a strong guarantee to the Baltic and Eastern European states that some regard as too provocative. Oh yes, he also says he will continue the deployment of President Bush's controversial missile defense shield in Eastern Europe.

The Brussels NATO summit in April may well expose many European governments for what they truly are: supine, anti-American, and hopelessly complacent about the security of their continent. In that case, why should any U.S. president allow Europe -- divided and paralyzed by arcane disputes between the E.U. and NATO -- to be any kind of arbiter of U.S. policy? Why bother to listen at all if nothing emerges but obstruction?

There will be other thorns for tender European flesh. Obama's policy on Pakistan includes support for strikes on terrorist bases in Pakistan with or without the permission of the Pakistani government. European governments, including the U.K., believe this to be in breach of international law.

On Iran, Obama has advocated "tough, presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions." However welcome this is, it will not work while Iranian President Ahmadinajad stays in power, and Obama is equally clear that the military options, which chill European blood, are not off the table, repeating unequivocally that he would do "everything in my power to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon."

Obama's overt protectionism will also raise the tension between the U.S. and the E.U. The so-called "Obamamoon" could well be short-lived in Europe and an ever deeper Atlantic divide could leave many of those cheering Obama today privately wishing that a more understanding McCain had won after all, however improbable and awkward that victory might have been.

For the U.K., the choice will be familiar. Will we retreat into a lethargic European consensus, or will we back the new president to maintain our influence in Washington?
Bernard Jenkin serves in the British House of Commons as the Conservative Party MP for North Essex. He is a member of the Commons Defence Committee.

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