Two earlier posts (here and here) argued that President Barack Obama has largely been disinterested in America’s European allies. Although this view attracted criticism from those insisting I exaggerated the case, evidence has continued to roll in buttressing my position.
The newest piece of proof comes courtesy of DC Leaks, a website that has posted materials purloined from, among others, the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. Included in its collection are emails hacked from the personal Gmail account of General Philip Breedlove, who until recently served as NATO’s supreme military commander.
Two of Breedlove’s notes are particularly striking. In the first, he writes to Colin Powell in September 2014, six months after Russia’s seizure of the Crimea peninsula, seeking the former U.S. Secretary of State’s assistance in re-energizing the Obama administration’s focus on European affairs. Breedlove confides that “I do not see this [White House] as really ‘engaged’ on Europe/NATO.”
A second note in March 2015 concerns the extraordinary snub Mr. Obama had just delivered to Jens Stoltenberg, who months earlier had been appointed as NATO’s secretary general. Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Susan Rice, Obama’s national security advisor, all passed up a chance to confer with Stoltenberg during his visit to Washington even as Russian depredations against Ukraine continued. According to a media report, Stoltenberg requested a meeting with Obama well in advance of the visit but never heard back from the White House.
Commenting on the incident, Breedlove laments to a friend that “This is a mess. I do not understand our [White House].”
At a NATO summit two months ago, Obama declared that “in good times and in bad, Europe can count on the United States – always.” But many of his actions have registered the opposite message, so much so that the chairman of the German parliament’s foreign affairs committee even blames the president for begetting Donald Trump’s skepticism of the NATO alliance. (For a similar view by a U.S. foreign policy pundit, see here.)
Eight years ago, Mr. Obama won over European hearts by promising not to conduct himself like George W. Bush and the continent gratefully responded by awarding him a Nobel peace prize in the mere anticipation he would live up to his promise. He has indeed been true to his word, though very much not in a way European leaders had hoped. Reflecting on Obama’s legacy for U.S.-European relations, Ana Palacio, a former foreign minister of Spain, recently concluded that “the lasting impression that Barack Obama will leave us [Europeans] with is one of disenchantment.”