Transatlantic relations and the ‘Obama effect’

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

“Europe got the [US] president it wanted on 4th November,” writes Tomas Valasek, director of foreign policy and defence at the Centre for European Reform (CER), in a November commentary.

Obama will have a “window of opportunity to restore transatlantic cooperation on key security issues including Afghanistan, Iran and Russia,” Valasek says, despite conceding that whether he succeeds or not will depend “how willing he is to try out new approaches”.

The author believes the President-elect “will put more troops [into Afghanistan] and expect Europe to do the same”. However, in Valasek’s eyes this is “not automatically the right approach to Afghanistan,” and he argues that “Western soldiers act like a magnet for terrorists from across the region, mainly Pakistan”. 

In fact, Valasek says Obama “should consider talking to some of the current enemies among the Taliban in Afghanistan to build local alliances against the most radical insurgents who come from Pakistan”.

On Iran, the author notes that Obama is “willing to speak directly to the Tehran government” and that “US participation in talks would help build transatlantic consensus on further steps like a tighter embargo”.

Nevertheless, Valasek warns that it is “important that Obama does not just talk to Iran without getting something back”. Talking to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad now may strengthen him electorally, Valasek warns, arguing that “Obama should show he is willing to talk, but only at the right moment and under the right conditions”.

On top of this, among the President-elect’s immediate priorities should be helping to “strengthen the EU consensus on Russia and bringing Europe and America’s policies closer to one another,” the author argues.

Valasek says this will require two things. Obama will “need to convince Berlin, Paris, Rome and other capitals that Washington will not gratuitously provoke Moscow” and “reassure NATO allies on Russian borders that Washington would not abandon them in cases of Russian aggression”.

Although President Obama will find that dealing with Europe is not easy, he is “surrounded by an excellent team of advisors, who understand Europe and are well positioned to guide [him] through European sensitivities,” the author asserts. 

Valasek concludes that Obama seems to be “well aware of the need for course correction in places like Iran [and] this bodes well for the transatlantic relationship”. 

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