A not-so-special relationship
The other day, Richard Cohen wrote a scathing review in The Washington Post of the current administration, claiming that we are abandoning our motherlands and ancient Western counterparts in lieu of the problem child of the Middle East.
How has this happened? We’ve gone from a nation that succeeded in war half a century ago, thanks to the Special Relationship with Britain, to a public that barely knows the name of its Prime Minister. Churchill was a household name—now the only Cameron that anyone seems to refer to is James and his wide-eyed blue creations. Although the fervor surrounding Obama’s inauguration has subsided somewhat around the pond, we’ve rested too long on his laurels.
Throughout the Bush administration, relations between the United States and Europe were often strained, with Tony Blair’s support after 9/11 serving as a notable exception. France was vilified for refusing to support the U.S. in its occupation of Iraq, so much so that anything French (even etymologically speaking) was sanctimoniously boycotted. Germany, once the jewel in the crown of the “liberations” of the United States, is now all grown up, with a big economy and even bigger clout within the European Union that has left the United States feeling threatened.
Within the first few months of office, Obama formed some somewhat unlikely alliances with two of the biggest conservative players in Europe, French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Sarkozy, whose feverish dedication to “le cause americaine,” has earned him the undoubtedly enviable nickname “Sarko the American.” This mostly stems from economic alliances—transatlantic flows of trade and investment between the E.U. and U.S. amount to approximately $1 billion a day, resulting in the biggest bilateral trading and investment relationship in the world. These early friendships seem to have fallen by the wayside, however.
Tomorrow marks the anniversary of 9/11, a time when Europeans became divided into “with us” or “against us” in the War Against Terror. Now, nine years later, how many true friends can we count? Amidst all of the uproar surrounding the proposed Islamic mosque/cultural center, it’s also probably not so pleasant for our European friends to watch American zealots gleefully set fire to thousands of copies of the Koran as the climax to a months-long religious witch hunt. After all, over 50 million Europeans are Muslims themselves, and though religious tensions can run high, they’re not necessarily ones for burning sacred books.
We’ve spent a lot of time criticizing Obama’s foreign policy in the last few years, but Cohen has a point: Europe stands silent and neglected. Our most consistently secure political and economic allies are paying a political price for their support of the U.S., and we are doing little to improve our image abroad. Europeans have long seen past the golden sheen of the United States, and we’re testing their patience.
Sure, the European Union remains a bloated quagmire of bureaucratic institutions that can’t seem to get much done outside of individual interests (unlike our fair government). But as a whole, the Union can serve as a mediating presence on the world stage between East and West, encompassing a much wider and more moderate range of opinions that can pave the way for better diplomatic relations for the United States. And that’s not something to be taken for granted.