Europe regains the stage

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, June 7, 2011.

From Jim Hoagland, the Washington Post:  A spreading financial crisis has accomplished what tradition, habits of alliance management and shared security concerns could not: It has given Europe a central place in President Obama’s view of global affairs.

European governments have felt marginalized as Obama reset relations with Russia, sought global partnership with China, extended his hand to the Islamic world and pursued the chimera of quick Middle East peace. But now the Old Continent has inadvertently seized this Pacific-born American leader’s attention by becoming a potential threat to U.S. financial stability — and potentially to Obama’s reelection prospects. . . .

As described by U.S. officials, the turn to a German-led Europe as America’s most effective foreign partner has come not from presidential conviction but from bitter experience. Openings to China and India have produced little. Relations with Russia, if improved, remain quixotic. And Obama now plays defense on the Middle East in this season of Arab revolt. Early enthusiasm for what was once called a new world order has ebbed into a new appreciation of the tried-and-true.

Instead of envisioning a Group of Two directorate of the United States and China, Obama today hopes to develop a joint American-European approach to Beijing. . . .

The president should also recognize where his administration has fallen short in setting out to shed burdens of American global leadership as he concentrates on the U.S. economy (and his reelection). The uneven Libyan campaign shows — not least in Germany’s opting out of any responsibility in that allied effort — that Washington has failed to prepare the ground for others to accept the responsibilities, and authority, that Washington wishes to transfer to them. The coming withdrawals of U.S. forces from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from the same flaws.

Obama has decided that America’s role abroad in his presidency (and perhaps beyond) will be one of guiding and shaping more than doing. Europe is a valuable partner in such an endeavor. But Washington must continue to contribute its share as it exhorts its partners to do more.  (photo: AP)

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