White House Shuns EU
The gloss is rapidly fading from the image of the current U.S. administration in the eyes of the European public. Following President Obama’s July 2008 euphoric greeting by Berliners, it now appears that Europe’s high expectations for a rosy relationship with Washington are rapidly turning into extreme disappointment.
Back then, commenting on what it described as a “wildly successful public appearance,” the Local commented that “The presumptive Democratic nominee’s speech in front of over 200,000 adoring supporters near the city’s Victory Column memorial on Thursday cemented his status as a political pop star in Germany” (July 25, 2008).
On the foreign-policy front, Eckhart von Klaeden, spokesman for the German government at that time, said that the presidential candidate had broadcast from Berlin “the clear message … that Europe and the United States could only confront the world’s problems together” (ibid.).
Perhaps Herr von Klaeden has now changed his view as a result of President Obama’s snub of the EU by rejecting an invitation to attend the annual EU/U.S. summit in May. Under the headline “EU summit scrapped after Obama ‘snub,’” the bbc declared, “The event in Madrid in May was to have been the highlight of Spain’s six-month EU presidency, and the cancellation is seen as a humiliating blow. … bbc European affairs correspondent Oana Lungescu says many see Mr. Obama’s decision as a snub to the EU’s hopes of boosting its global role” (February 3).
Symbolism is a vital component of European thinking. It seems this is hard for the average American politician to grasp, let alone those who advise the president. Apparently it is difficult for a nation as young as the United States to understand the power of the influence of centuries of Holy Roman imperial heritage on European politics as it is played out, especially behind closed doors, by the real movers and shakers influencing the latest resurrection of the vision of a united Europe—the aristocratic bankers, businessmen, industrialists and influential churchmen.
Such a snub as the Obama administration has dished out to the European Union, so early in its newfound role as the largest duly constituted federal power in the world (courtesy of the Lisbon Treaty) will bode ill for the future of U.S./EU relations. This is another profound foreign-policy error by this novice, year-old U.S. administration. One can only assume that those who advise the president on these matters are grossly ignorant of history.
Observing that “the summit was to focus on strengthening the ties between the United States and the 27-member bloc of nations that make up the EU,” TransWorldNews noted, “Obama’s decision not to attend was being perceived as a major snub by Spain, even more so due to the fact they learned of his decision through press reports” (February 3). Such treatment shows the poorest of protocol practiced by presidential aides responsible for communication between the White House and its embassy staff in such matters. But it is beginning to fit into a pattern of similar gaffes over the past year in the White House’s interaction with foreign powers and dignitaries.
Seeking to cover the administration’s diplomatic missteps, National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer replied to European criticism of the snub with a degree of sophistry, stating, “The president is committed to a strong U.S.-EU partnership, and with Europe in general” (Deutsche Welle, February 2). The same source noted that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon “stressed that the U.S. president remained committed to close transatlantic ties ….” Such statements seem to fly in the face of the observation that “Obama’s absence at the summit would likely be regarded as a blow for Brussels. The new president of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy, has yet to formally meet with Obama” (ibid.).
At a time when the U.S. has repeatedly gone public over the past year seeking greater commitment from the EU to the war in Afghanistan, this all seems to be an odd way to curry favor with America’s continental allies sharing in fighting that war. This is especially the case coming so soon after a number of EU member nations have increased their commitment to what they see as a very unpopular, U.S.-initiated conflict in which they are sacrificing the lives of their own nationals. This thoughtless high-profile snub is in fact bound to increase the already low esteem in which the U.S. is already held in the minds of many a European.
In a further demonstration of the arrogance of current U.S. foreign policy, according to the Wall Street Journal, after the refusal by President Obama to attend the May summit, a State Department official glibly declared, “We don’t even know if they’re going to have one [a summit]. We’ve told them, ‘Figure it out and let us know’” (February 1).
Any junior diplomat ought to have understood that this first EU/U.S. summit since the EU formally became a federal global power, via implementation of the Lisbon Treaty/EU constitution on January 1, would hold particularly high importance for the European Union, its newly appointed president and Foreign Ministry. Inevitably the U.S. president’s refusal to attend this first EU summit since what European leaders see as the legitimization of the EU as a global power—a power striving to hit at the same political weight as its transatlantic “partner”—will be to the detriment of both this presidency and America’s standing in the eyes of the global community.
There will be a price to pay for such arrogance. Ultimately it will be a far, far higher price than anything the average U.S. citizen can imagine.