My post a year ago about the breakdown in President Obama’s relations with European leaders elicited pushback from those insisting I exaggerated the discord. But on-going developments have only bolstered my case.
Consider the report a few months ago by John Vinocur, formerly executive editor of the Paris-based International Herald Tribune (now re-named the International New York Times). He noted a growing disenchantment among European political and policy elites with the caliber of Mr. Obama’s leadership on policy toward Russia as well as an increased willingness to give public expression to this view. “The U.S. president is getting openly dissed,” is how he put it. Moreover, the absence of American leadership was causing European officials to see no alternative but to make accommodations with Moscow.
A similar assessment is offered by Roger Cohen, formerly the New York Times’ foreign editor and Berlin bureau chief, who now writes an op-ed column. In a piece earlier this month, he excoriated President Obama’s approach toward Syria for, among other things, contributing to “a potential unraveling of the core of the European Union as internal borders eliminated on a free continent are re-established as a response to an unrelenting refugee tide…”
Cohen quotes a senior European diplomat as saying: “The Syrian crisis is now a European crisis. But the president is not interested in Europe.” Cohen adds: “That is a fair assessment of the first postwar American leader for whom the core trans-Atlantic alliance was something to be dutifully upheld rather than emotionally embraced.”
Likewise, Josh Rogin at Bloomberg View reports that the consensus among European officials and experts attending this year’s Munich Security Conference is that the Obama administration is simply unwilling to do anything substantial to address the multiple crises gripping the region. He quotes a French policy leader as stating: “There is a growing sense that this U.S. administration is focused on establishing a legacy on what has already been achieved rather than trying to achieve anything more.”
During the first day of the conference, the U.S. role in Europe was hardly mentioned in the public sessions. In the private sessions, many participants told me that European governments are not only resigned to a lack of American assertiveness, they also are now reluctantly accepting a Russia that is more present than ever in European affairs, and not for the better.
Nine years ago, when Mr. Obama first embarked on his presidential campaign he differentiated himself from George W. Bush by stressing a determination to rebuild U.S. alliances with other countries. And on the night when he was elected to the Oval Office he pledged that “a new dawn of American leadership” was at hand. European leaders these days must wonder whatever happened to that guy.