Nicholas Kitchen, a fellow at London School of Economics, pronounces Barack Obama “the last transatlantic president” and sees little hope for revived relations between the United States and Europe.

He begins by noting the high expectations with which Europeans greeted Obama’s ascendancy to the White House and argues that they were quickly and summarily dashed by the new president’s indifference.  He recalls a series of by now well-rehashed perceived slights towards the UK and believes both Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel were annoyed with “the US administration’s attitude towards sensitive historical anniversaries: Sarkozy over Obama’s flying visit to mark the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings and Merkel over the President’s refusal to attend the celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall.”

More fundamentally:

In the last ten years the world has in many ways left behind the post-Cold War era, and as a result other relationships have come to matter more for the United States than its alliance with Europe.

In advance of his trip to Asia, Obama announced himself the ‘Pacific President’. There were visits to longstanding American allies in the region in Japan and South Korea, as well as attending the Asia-Pacific Cooperation Forum where the President described the United States as “undoubtedly a Pacific nation”. For a man raised in Hawaii, this kind of talk should perhaps come as no surprise, but it reflects an underlying reality in world politics over the last ten years which is now being made explicit: the rise to superpower status of China.

Kitchen believes Europe has not helped its cause.

Not that Europe can complain. The Lisbon Treaty presented the European Union with the opportunity to make more of an impact on world affairs, but the appointments of international unknowns reflected the major European powers’ reluctance to pool control over foreign policy.


On Afghanistan too, Europe has been reluctant, at best prepared to await the announcement of a new American strategy, at worst appearing to bandwagon on the back of American power when the perception in the US is that Europe’s security interests are at least as threatened by the situation in Afghanistan as are United States’. Some in Europe have come to believe that its interests are more bound up in relations with Russia, whose divide and rule policy towards EU member states over energy policy has to date prevented a policy consensus emerging on that issue, and Turkey, which forms the gateway between the European and Islamic worlds and whose succession to EU member status generates hostility in much of Europe.

But Europe is more united than ever, so the failure to take a giant leap before the ink has dried on the Lisbon Treaty can hardly be the problem.   And that there are divides over how best to integrate Turkey, how to deal with Russia, or the place that China and other emerging powers should have in the pecking order just means that the world is more complicated than it was a couple decades ago.

Kitchen closes with boldly conflicting statements:

There is no doubt that the United States – from an ideological and political perspective – would prefer to partner with Europe in the management of international relations. Whether Europe and America have, or are prepared to construct for themselves, sufficiently similar interests to make such partnership a possibility, is however very much in doubt.

If Obama really is the United States’ first Pacific President, he will surely be its last Transatlantic President.

Obama is less focused on Europe than his predecessor and, arguably, any of his predecessors.  So, it’s arguable that Bush was the last Transatlantic President.  But it’s ultimately a rather silly argument: Just because other countries now get more attention doesn’t mean the transatlantic relationship isn’t the most important one. 

Indeed, Kitchen admits as much in his penultimate paragraph.  Not only would the U.S prefer to partner with Europe, the reverse is true.   Moreover, this is beyond a preference:  It’s an everyday reality. 

That doesn’t mean we don’t have serious differences in how we prioritize our goals and assess risks.   But if we’re not going to partner with Europe in the management of international affairs, we’re not going to partner with anyone. 

Yes, China is much more important in world affairs — and thus in the affairs of the world’s most powerful country — than it was in the past.   They’re now a major player in the global economy and are a regional military power, too.  Our interests therefore overlap much more frequently.  But it’s difficult to imagine an evolution of the international system that would have China — or any other rising power — coming to have more similar values and interests than exists between the United States and Western Europe.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council. 

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