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American-European Relations

(InFocus) – During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama positioned himself as a strong proponent of diplomatic engagement. He pledged to work with Europe to solve international disputes and heed the advice of others when it came time to crafting America’s foreign policy. In practice, President Obama hoped that his approach would stand in stark contrast to George W. Bush’s “cowboy diplomacy” — the philosophy where, “You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists.”

It is no surprise, then, that in the aftermath of President Obama’s electoral victory, the sense of optimism in Western Europe was palpable. According to a poll by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitude Project conducted in May and June 2009, Germany’s favorable opinion of the U.S. more than doubled from the attitudes held in 2008 – from 31 to 64 percent. During the same period, Britain, Spain, and France also saw an increase of 16, 25, and 33 percent respectively. The belief that Obama would “do the right thing in world affairs” – which according to most Europeans means placing faith in multilateral institutions – was shown to be nearly universal in Western countries. In France and Germany, no fewer than nine-in-ten expressed confidence in the new American president, exceeding the ratings achieved by Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel in their own countries.

Indeed, the importance Europe places in multilateralism is manifest when compared to the polling data from the first year of the Bush administration. A Pew Research Center poll from August 2001 measured the confidence levels of European nations toward the Bush administration and found that much of the opposition resulted from Europe’s frustration with Bush’s unilateralist approach to world affairs. It was therefore no surprise that more than 80 percent of Europeans disapproved of Bush’s rejection of the Kyoto Protocol and more than 60 percent disapproved of the U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the Defense Missile Development Program. Yet the question remains: Do European perceptions towards the U.S. matter?

Obama promised hope and change, and that optimism was to extend to his diplomacy with Europe. The question, from a U.S. standpoint, was which path to Europe offers the highest probability of success? Should the new administration reach out to individual European nations — that is, the bilateral approach — or is it best to engage with collective bodies, such as the European Union (EU) or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)? And how different would Barack Obama’s approach be in reality from that of George W. Bush?

Read Full Article: InFocus

Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.