Around the watercooler today: A US-Europe Reset; Yemen may be the next to fall; Obama seeks stronger economic ties in Latin America; and Palin seeks stronger GOP support by visiting Israel.
An Obama Reset with Europe?
European ambassadors in D.C. have been complaining for months already that they and their countries’ leaders have been getting short shrift from President Obama and his administration – in contrast to other recent U.S. presidencies.
In an Atlantic Council speech on May 25, 2010, Czech political leader Sasha Vondra (then opposition parliamentarian, now Defense Minister) even accused President Obama of leading an “enemy centric foreign policy” that disregarded allies and focused more on engagement with perceived or real adversaries like Russia and Iran.
Addressing these concerns, White House officials began stepping up outreach efforts ahead of the Lisbon Summit last year, particularly to fellow members of “the quad” – Britain, France and Germany. A newly announced Obama trip to Europe in late May is now intended to put a more strategic wrap around the “European reset.” From May 23-28 he’ll makes stops in France, the UK, Ireland and — newly added- Poland.
For the Polish stop, credit successful diplomatic maneuvering, Foreign Minister Radeslaw Sikorski’s successful trip to DC, Polish-American voters and the huge energy promise of Poland’s vast shale gas reserves, which could remake energy geopolitics at Russia’s cost and with benefits to U.S. companies.
Arab Spring Update: Movement in Yemen
There are signs the intervention against Gaddafi may be breathing new life into the Arab Spring after all.
Or at least that seems to be the case in Yemen. Reuters reports that Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh will leave office after organizing congress elections by early next year. However, an aide says he won’t leave office without knowing who will succeed him.
At the pace of the region’s change, however, he’ll find that difficult to control, particularly after yesterday’s events. A significant number of Yemeni military officials and ambassadors have abandoned President Saleh after his forces killed forty-five protesters. President Saleh’s half brother has joined them and promised to provide protection for the opposition.
Latin America Matters
Though President Obama’s critics portray his ongoing Latin American tour as a distraction from Libya, the Christian Science Monitor emphasizes that one word explains why the trip matters for US interests and prestige: China. For the moment, the world’s big powers don’t consider each other adversaries and don’t engage in military confrontations. But they are all entangled in a grand global competition for economic gain and political influence. China was the beneficiary of $65 billion worth of energy deals in Latin America in 2010 — and as in Africa it is investing in a host of infrastructure projects, including talk about building a Colombia canal to compete with the Panama canal and get oil more efficiently to the Pacific.
China expert Jiang Shixue of the Chinese Association of Latin American Studies insists, “China’s interest in Latin America is not to challenge the U.S. dominance in the region, its ‘backyard,’ but to promote South-South cooperation in the economic sphere.” Yet it has been U.S. negligence in the region that has offered such a meaningful opening to the Chinese. So celebrate Obama’s trip this week as a much belated effort to shore up U.S. interests in our backyard.
Palin in the Holy Land
You know the election season has opened when would-be Republican candidates begin their pilgrimages to Israel. Sarah Palin yesterday was the fourth to visit the country in the last three months. Given her media following, Palin’s trip generated more heat than previous visits by Haley Barbour, Mike Huckabee, and Mitt Romney. Aside from trying to secure the crucial evangelical portion of the Republican primary coalition, Palin is also trying to firm up her falling poll numbers. This trip is less about foreign policy than domestic politics.
Fred Kempe is president and CEO of the Atlantic Council. His latest book, Berlin 1961, will be available May 10. Compiled with Borjan Zic.