Barack Obama has become the unofficial president of the world.
Javier Solana, who is in charge of the E.U. Common Foreign and Security Policy, stated that the European Union should follow the U.S.’s example in rebuilding relations with Russia. According to the Associated Press, Solana said that since Obama became president, the cooperation between the E.U. and Russia “is much, much better.” These words are very promising. In my opinion, though, they are also a little excessive.
In particular, the reference to following the examples set by the U. S. and President Obama is unnecessary. It’s obvious that the E.U. and Russia need to cooperate. As a result, the E.U. doesn’t have to follow the example set by the U.S., China, India, the Arabic world, or anyone else.
Following the U.S.’s example would make sense if the E.U. was a thoughtless, obedient, and uncreative organization, but that’s not the case. Recall the war last August in South Ossetia when the E.U., led by the French President Nicolas Sarkozy, took an independent and completely balanced position that earned it political points. And at a recent London summit, Sarkozy, together with Angela Merkel, disagreed with Obama’s economic plans. Solana (albeit inadvertently and in good faith) hinted that the political stance may be shared by several individual E.U. members, but not the entire organization.
The world admires Obama, but forgets that the senator from Michigan* only ran for president of one country (though a large and menacing one), not the whole world. Obama is an American politician, and it’s the American electorate that voted for him (and will do so again in four years). For the U.S., his election was a landmark event. Of course, Americans can theoretically divide their country’s history into two parts: the pre-Obama era and the era after Obama’s inauguration. But that doesn’t mean that the rest of the world, and particularly the E.U., should do the same.
The American president is obviously very popular right now. It’s as though he has overshadowed the U.S.’s reputation, and most of his actions are outside the context of American politics. In terms of public opinion, it’s good PR to follow Obama’s example. Similarly, during previous years, disagreeing with George W. Bush’s policies was a winning strategy. However, such strategies are dangerous and addictive. They require certain permanence, which is not very pragmatic.
During the election campaign, the current U.S. president repeatedly stressed two important foreign policy points. First, he pointed out that the U.S. needs to have an equitable dialogue with Europe and respect its position. Second, he advocated improving the U.S.’s image throughout the world. Both objectives are good. But, I think, after addressing one of the problems, the other objective will be superfluous. By improving its image, the U.S. will automatically align its position with Europe.
During the Bush administration, Europe managed to assert itself as a well-structured and independent force in the international arena. Ironically, the Obama presidency may diminish these efforts by the E.U.
* Editor’s Note: Obama was actually a senator from the state of Illinois before he was elected president.