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November 12, 2008

Building a Healthy Long-Lasting Marriage With Our Allies
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Rachel Kleinfeld writes about the incredible opportunity that an Obama administration has to take advantage of all the international good will built up by the election.

What does that mean for the first 100 days of an Obama administration? The simple fact of Mr. Obama’s election will build good will with Europe, for a time; we need to capitalize on that immediately to garner more significant troop commitments to Afghanistan from NATO allies and to ensure that their rules of engagement allow them to fight. We should also ask the European Union to send a rapid reaction force to the Congo, to stop the slaughter happening there. By showing respect for Europe’s baby steps toward building its own military apparatus, we can encourage them to invest more in a fighting force that can relieve American troops, and our pocketbooks.

One sure fire way to guarantee that the honeymoon will in fact only last "for a time" is to pursue this approach.  There is clearly massive good will around the world from people who view the election of Obama both as resounding end to the Bush era and a reaffirmation of the very basic American values of equal opportunity.  For years George Bush's international unpopularity was an impediment to cooperation.  Allied governments hesitated to work with the United because, even if they with our policy agenda, the political liability of cooperation with President Bush was a problem.  Often times this was also used as an easy excuse to not make commitments and free ride on American policies that served common interests.   That barrier is clearly gone.

But while Obama's election carries dramatic symbolic value, we also need to demonstrate to our allies that the way we govern and conduct foreign policy will substantively change.  That means not cramming a list of demands down their throats in the first 100 days.  It means building on the goodwill and sending the right signals that we care about their priorities.  We should listen to their priorities early on and do some relatively easy things that send the right message on issues such as international arms control treaties, global warming treaties, international law and development issues.  The signal needs to be sent that we won't be obstructionist on these issues every chance we get and that we're even willing to engage aggressively on them - not because they are our top priority but because we respect the views and interests of our allies and are willing to listen. 

Over time and even in the relatively short term, there is no question that we should ask the Europeans to provide more troops for Afghanistan and also ask them to remove the caveats that some countries have placed on their forces. But let's not forget that they have just dealt with the Bush administration for eight years, and while the general population is easily swayed foreign officials will need more clear proof that there really is a new approach coming from Washington.

We need the Europeans for pretty much all of our central long-term national security concerns.  They are critical players in dealing with Iran and Afghanistan.  Their cooperation on transnational issues such as the economic crisis, energy security, and terrorism is absolutely central.  Rather than assuming that the last eight years are forgotten or seizing on the short-term goodwill to hammer through some specific agenda items, an Obama administration would be best served by carefully and methodically rebuilding the trust we need to sustain these long-term alliances.  Best to turn the honeymoon into a healthy long lasting marriage.


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As I have written before it all depends about who Obama chooses as Secreary of State that will determine our realtionship with Europe. If Obama picks Richard Holbrooke, who is a throw back to the nineties, than there will be a seperation between the United States and Europe. Holbrooke differs completely with France and Germany when it comes to dealing with Russia and still strongly supports the Georgian president, even though Georgia started last summer's clash with Russia. If Obama nominates him than it will signal to the Europeans that not much has changed in American policy. However if Obama chooses either Susan Rice or Chuck Hagel than it will symbolize a change in foreign policy direction for the United States since both of them have a mulitlateral approach when it comes to Europe, and a less confronatational line in regards to Russia.

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