Europe Is Obama’s First ‘Global Test’


President-elect Barack Obama is already facing his first global test. And it’s not coming from the usual suspects like Iran or North Korea, but from America’s “allies” in Europe.

European leaders have congratulated Obama on his election victory by sending him a six-page letter in which they benevolently “offer” the United States a “partnership of equals” in order to address global problems in the post-Bush era.

That’s right: Europeans are calling on Obama to “accept” Europe as America’s equal on the global stage. The idea behind this new man-to-man relationship with Washington was hatched by (surprise, surprise) France, which currently holds the EU’s six-month rotating presidency.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner says the reason for establishing an equal transatlantic partnership is that “the world has changed.” Europe has suddenly realized that the United States “is not the only one concerned by the world’s problems. The European Union has become more resolute…. We don’t want to play a secondary role any more,” says Kouchner.

Global Economic Power Grab

Europeans also say it’s time to usher in a new global economic order. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called for a series of economic summits, the first of which is now set to take place in Washington DC tomorrow, November 15. He says he wants the gathering to build from scratch a new financial and monetary framework, one that would replace the current system that is dominated by the United States with a new model far more to Europe’s liking.

“Europe wants the summit before the end of the year. Europe wants it, Europe asks for it and Europe will get it,” says Sarkozy. “Self-regulation to solve all problems, it’s finished,” Sarkozy says. “Laissez-faire, it’s finished. The all-powerful market that is always right, it’s finished…. It is necessary then for the state to intervene.”

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is even more succinct. He says the world needs a “new financial architecture for the global age.” Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi proposes “rewriting the rules of international finance.” The President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, says: “We need a new global financial order.” German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck says “Anglo-Saxon” capitalist system has run its course and that “the United States will lose its status as the superpower of the global financial system.”

Welcome to the dawn of a new multipolar era, say Europeans. Not so fast, says US President George W Bush, who has poured cold water on Sarkozy’s plans for a top-to-bottom revamp. “Our 21st century global economy continues to be regulated by laws written in the 20th century….We must also never lose sight of the enormous benefits delivered by the free enterprise system…democratic capitalism remains the greatest system ever devised,” Bush says.

European Power Games

What’s behind Europe’s latest round of “let’s play superpower make-believe?” European leaders are testing Obama’s mettle, plain and simple; they want to see if he will bend more easily to the European will than did his predecessor. European leaders never wracked up the courage to ask President Bush directly for a partnership of equals because they knew he would have laughed them out of town.

Bush understood that Europeans were unable and unwilling to match their words with deeds. Faced early on in his presidency with the solemn responsibility to protect Americans from terrorism, Bush effectively told European leaders to “Put Up or Shut Up.” Most Europeans decided to take their ball and go home. They then rode out the rest of the Bush Administration by salving their wounded pride with anti-Americanism.

If their past conduct is anything to go by, today’s European leaders are about as interested in solving global problems as was Otto von Bismarck, who devoted his life to empire-building and the practice of Realpolitik. Today’s European leaders are trying not only to revive the Roman Empire in the form of a unified Europe, but they are also seeking to rebalance global power in such a way that places Europe at the top of the international pecking order.

The main obstacle to European superpower ambitions is, of course, the United States, in whose likeness the present global system is made. Indeed, the unprecedented interest in the outcome of the US presidential elections in every corner of the globe has underscored once again that, even considering the current financial crisis, America’s economic, political, military and cultural influence still remains second-to-none.

This is where Europe’s six-page letter to Obama comes into play. All the high-minded post-modern verbiage about global solutions to global problems included in that document is the eurospeak way of saying that Europeans want a final say in how American power is exercised. It is what Europeans mean when they use the words “multilateralism” and “globalism.”

Will Obama play ball the European way and agree to turn the levers of American power over to others? Or will he, like Bush before him, recognize the European demand for equal status with America for what it really is? Will Obama stroke European egos with the superpower recognition they crave so much? Or will Obama call their bluff and ask Europeans to pull their weight in Afghanistan and elsewhere?

Europeans seem to be hedging their bets. Sensing that the era of European free-riding may be coming to an end, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband says that Europe will now “make sure that our contribution in the Middle East, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in responding to the global financial crisis, is strong and clear and in close alliance” with the United States. But if Obama is anywhere as smart as Europeans seem to think he is, he will tell the Europeans: “Actions speak louder than words.”

In the meanwhile, Europeans are trying their best to woo Obama by mimicking his own rhetorical flourish. “There is a need to open a new chapter in global harmony, global balance, global change,” waxes Kouchner. Europe wants to work with Washington to shape “an inclusive global agenda,” says Miliband.

Will President Obama concede where President Bush did not? Will he pass his first global test? It’s impossible to know until Obama moves into the White House. But the stakes are far higher than many Americans may realize.

This article was first published at American Thinker on November 13, 2008.
Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group

Rightist critique # 3

@ Sag


2)  I am not sure about "history" on this point, and the words "left" and "right" are pretty vague without any specific context specified.   But, surely, in the contemporary context of Western Europe (and of North America too) ethnic-nationalism is generally considered  a rightist phenomenon.

3) You are right about Ron Paul being a "non-interventionist".  That is how I see him too, and I used the term "isolationist" too flippantly, which was a mistake.  It is also true that conservatives by nature would tend to favor non-interventionism (certainly as far as the government is concerned), based on a proper (conservative) reverence for 'caution'.  But I do think that Paul takes a rather extreme view. No man - and no country - is an 'island' (divorced from the world), and external developments cannot be simply ignored.  Some history lessons suggest that sometimes gathering storms must be dealt with when they are still manageable, but caution is a good conservative principle.   I agree that neo-conservatism (in the sense of recent American interventionism) stems largely from 'progressivism' (rooted in a desire to improve the world, a rather unconservative impulse), but that does not mean that all practitioners of interventionism could be termed 'neocons'.  For example, many traditional conservatives can be persuaded by 'neocon' arguments for intervention in specific cases and/or circumstances.  Clearly, that has been the case in recent times.  

@MF, points well taken..

Your answer merits some more extensive exchange, but I wouldn't want to get in the way of your argument with KA ;-)


So, in short:

1) My thoughts exactly: motivation often is key, even though a good argument is what it is, and must be able to stand on its own, no matter which colour of the political spectrum is involved. 


2) I have the feel that you associate ethnic-nationalism more with what is called extreme right in Europe than with the extreme left. My view would be, that history might point in exactly the opposite direction.


3) I have read the "Manifesto" by Ron Paul and I absolutely agree that the term patriot in his case is very appropriate indeed. I consider his views, e.g. on economic theory (Austrian School) and US foreign policy, to be representative of a genuine kind of conservatism, Americans had almost forgotten about. I know his nickname is "Dr. No", but when one studies his stance on international affairs, the label "isolationist" doesn't apply at all. Any true "free marketeer" simply cannot afford to be isolationist. I'd say his stance on the military and foreign intervention is closely linked with his views on the US economy, but first and foremost, that his view is actually in line with the proper Constitutional tradition of the founding fathers, most notably Adams and Jefferson. I'd describe it as "non-interventionist", like he does himself. I don't think he's obsessed with neo-cons. He just knows what conservatism once was like in America and from what fundamentally different direction neo-conservatism is stemming (Progressivism).


Well, 'til later perhaps, I'll leave the floor to KA.



Rightist critique # 2

@ Sag

1) No, objections should be judged on their own merits.  But, knowledge about the 'source' or bearer of specific objections can well help to better understand the underlying motivations of the source.

2) Kapitein Andre is a 'rightist' in the European context and a cunning one. Based on his past writings, he should be considered an extreme one.  In an ethnic-nationalist sense, he is barely distinguishable from Armor-le-Breton (am trying to avoid the R-word). And, his moral relativism is definitely very (contemporary) 'European'.  

3)  Ron Paul is a libertarian American, with an extreme 'isolationist' bent.  His views are definitely NOT motivated by anti-Americanism.  I think that he is a genuine American patriot, but also that his understanding of history and of the (rest-of-the) world is 'lacking'.  But, that is of course a very debatable proposition.  He also has an 'anti-neocon' obsession, but I would take Paul's 'isolationism' any day over Obama's (ideological) 'internationalism' (which will be coupled with renewed trade protectionism).      

Power Grab # 2

1) It is even more interesting that an article that reports on grandstanding by European leaders (in order to try to convince their electorates that they are 'doing something') would lead to IRRELEVANT (and mistaken) claims of American foreign policy being "imperial" and the "US losing in every area of economic endeavour".  Such claims can only originate in the mind of someone with an axe to grind (or a parroter of media simpletons) and not in an objective observer of the geopolitical scene. 

2) The Bretton Woods system was characterized by (a) an exchange rate regime of 'fixed' par values for currencies (linked to gold via convertibility of the dollar) and by (b) the creation of the IMF (together with the World Bank), acting as a a 'lender of last resort' (with pooled national currencies) to enable domestic policy adjustments to be made to deal with balance of payments (or currency) crises.  That system - I repeat - collapsed in the early 1970's, and the IMF was strictly speaking out of a job. But, since bureaucracies never die, it continued....under the leadership of European Managing Directors and guided by an Executive Board (consisting of central bankers and senior civil servants of member countries) in which the European members have about DOUBLE the voting power of the lone US member.  The current board has 24 members, of which 9 are European, 1 is from the US, and the rest are from the rest-of-the world (China, Japan, South America, Africa, Saudi Arabia, rest-of-Asia, and Russia).  The Managing Director is a French Socialist, his predecessors were Spanish, German, French etc...going back to the Belgian at the beginning (end of ww2).  The IMF has nothing to do with "attracting global capital flows to fuel domestic consumption" (in the US).  If anything, its past actions (policy programs with borrowing countries) were intended to help finance balance of payments deficits (in part by attracting foreign capital to them).  If the German government or other European governments want to return to a more restrictive regime imposed on 'their' international capital movements, there is nothing the IMF (nor the US, nor the rest of the world) could do to stop it.  Obviously, other countries may 'retaliate' in some fashion, and the spectre of the '1930's and the Great Depression could well return.  Freedom of capital movements, in general, helps to keep governments 'honest'.  That the American consumer is "tapped out" is certainly true, but that is not proof of American "imperialism" nor does it show "waning economic performance".  Nobody is stopping the German government if it wanted to let the German consumers "tap themselves out".   German governments determine German economic policies, US governments determine US economic policies, and the IMF is run by a French socialist under the guidance of an Executive Board dominated by other Europeans. Some people obviously can not be appeased, and apparently it is not just the ayathollas and their henchmen.

3) Investment banking and regulation of financial products is determined or controlled by national authorities (Banking Commissions and the like), who tend to haggle about such matters in Basle, Switzerland, at the more 'technical' BIS (Bank for International Setlements), which is even more "Euro-centric" than the IMF Executive Board.    Nobody is forced to deal with "derivatives" nor with "paper wealth", but it is always easier to blame a convenient Great Satan than oneself for one's own actions or inaction. 

4)  There is indeed "great potential" in Europe, but the reigning ideology of gratuitous anti-Americanism wil lead to...ruin.  

Rightist critique of US adventurism



Would it make things different for you, if objections to US foreign policy came from conservatives instead of the usual liberals?

Would you consider congressman Ron Paul to be anti-American?


RE: Power Grab

I.  It is interesting how criticism of American economic and foreign policy is dismissed as anti-Americanism and attributed to Der Spiegel.


II.  The Bretton Woods system did not collapse in the 1970s, it was weakened to account for the rise of other economic power centers and floating exchange rates. Nevertheless it remained American-centric, and successive policymakers in Washington used this structural advantage to attract global capital flows to fuel domestic consumption, all the while using non-existent wealth (i.e. house values) to do so. The American consumer kept the system running for a few decades, but is now tapped out. Thereby, both Bretton Woods and the late Bretton Woods eras are over.


III.  By equal control, I am referring to investment banking and the development and regulation of new financial products and services, especially the derivatives market Greenspan so championed. I imagine that it was easier to create paper wealth than retool Ohio and Michigan.


IV.  There is vast potential in Europe. Unfortunately, I would not trust the Eurozone to be run by either the British or French, and the Germans do not give me any warm feelings. Instead of ideology, the West needs adherence to common sense.

Power Grab

@ Kapitein Andre


I-) Your inveterate anti-Americanism blinds you to geopolitical realities.  (This inveteracy must be rooted in WW2. Where else could it be rooted in? Reading Der Spiegel constantly?)  The section on "power grap" in the article by Mr Soern deals essentially with the potential danger of future increased dirigisme at the global level as opposed to the current system which allows more national autonomy (and concomitant responsiblity!) on monetary and financial matters.  'Bretton Woods' is NOT in its "death throes" today.  The 'Bretton Woods' system collapsed in the early 1970's with the end of the convertibility of the dollar in gold and with the introduction of 'floating exchange rates'.  And it did not really collapse (over 3 decades ago) because of waning American "economic performance", but because (a) other power centers had recovered economically and (b) most powers were unwilling to make the necessary domestic adjustments to maintain 'fixed exchange rates' (i.e. they wanted an extra policy 'degree of freedom').   

What do you mean by "other western centers wanting equal control of the successor system"?  What nonsense, since they have today more than "equal control"!  The IMF (International Monetary Fund) is supposed to be at the heart of the international monetary system.  Its current Managing Director is a former (socialist) French Finance Minister, and his predecessor is now the current German President.  The voting power of EU nations, taken together, on the Executive Board of the IMF is almost double that of the US, and European members occupy almost one third of the seats on that Board which is supposed to represent virtually all countries (via groupings or constituencies) in the world.  I will spare you the details about the power distribution in the World Bank (which deals with development assistance, not the monetary system).  No, if current European leaders want to shake things up at the IMF, it can only lead in the end to a significant shift in power (IMF votes and IMF quotas) towards countries like Brazil, China, India, and a few others.  While the US share will likely remain close to 20 percent (based on economic realities), the European share wil have to decline sharply from the present level of around 35%, in order to accomodate rising economic powers.  I can only say to anti-American Europeans "bring it on", you are going to be in for some major surprises.

II-)  What do you mean by "American foreign policy is imperial"?    How could the US keep Europe and Japan "dependent" in the security area?  The US has been begging them for years to play a bigger role in security.  A begging 'emperor'? It gives the term a new meaning.  Dont' blame the US for Europeans' head-in-the-sand attitudes.  Blame those with their heads in the sand. That would be more honest. So, you won't find that admonition in Der Spiegel

And, by the way, good luck with the French. Well, at least you got one thing going for you: it surely is going to take Obama quite some time to learn about "European power games".  It certainly took GWBush much too long to learn that game, and Americans are needlessly paying for it today.  

@Soeren Kern

I. Global Economic Power Grab


A new global economic order has been emerging for decades. Despite increasing salience of sovereign wealth funds from China and various Middle Eastern oil-producing states, Western capital has retained command of the economic heights. The problem is that the Bretton Woods system was led by the United States. Unfortunately, Bretton Woods began to collapse as American economic performance waned. This current crisis is the death throes of Bretton Woods. Successive American administrations created economic policies designed to maintain the American presence in global finance. These policies were mismanagement, pure and simple. It is perfectly reasonable for other Western economic centers to want equal control of the successor system. Indeed, the Japanese and Scandinavian experiences are important and must be incorporated into any new structure, as well as the conservatism of Canadian and French banks.


Recognising that the world is multipolar is not a challenge to capitalism nor democracy. Indeed, the regulatory issues associated with subprime mortgages, their securitization and rating have little to do with laissez-faire capitalism, and everything to do with U.S. administrations determined to keep their financial sector running on all cylinders. American policymakers have known for some time that the United States was losing in almost every major economic area of endeavour. The United States abdicated its responsibility and will be paying the price for some time to come.


II. European Power Games


The issue cannot be reduced to pulling one's weight vs. free-ridership. American foreign policy is imperial, and has been for some time. Despite the benefits to American allies, there is also friction. According to the goals of the PNAC, it is preferable to keep the EU and Japan dependent, at least in the area of security.


In any event, the key power dynamic is with China, whose influence on American prosperity and security can only increase.


The European Union is an economic bloc and will shortly become a security bloc. On the face of it, the EU is a positive development, so long as it is not monolithic. Unfortunately, French ambitions and the involvement of socialists is corrupting it. France has managed to coerce the German economy into upholding a vehicle for its political power. As with Canada, the French are unreliable and prone to corruption when it comes to political power. This problem is a cultural one. Indeed, France has practiced its own version of nationalistic socialism or social democracy, and it is high time that Paris accepts multilateralism as much as Berlin does or Washington is supposed to.

A French lesson .

My son , Doc Jr. , ( a Brit who now says that Chicago is his home ) would say that he hopes that President-elect Obama knows the French for " go forth and multiply ". I , on the other hand would rather Obama tell them to FO



less wars

Maybe European influence will provide less wars, at least such hampered interventions as in Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq. On the other side, it's difficult to imagine Europeans speaking with one voice in international affairs, "uneuropean behaviour" is still much en vogue.


They hate America yet they wait in long lines, for long hours in every American embassy around the world to beg for any kind of entry visa to the United States.

I met French, Germans, Belgians, Dutch, etc. and Eastern Europeans who told me how much they hate America yet they did all they could to come and live the American Dream.

I asked them "if you hate America so much, why you're here?"

I didn't get an immediate answer from any of them, usually after a pause some of them said "because we can make more money here," others replied "I don't know" as if I was trying to intimidate them, which was not true.

See, America for the rest of the world (at least for those who doesn't hate her so much) is like a big brother, an uncle you love to hate but in the mean time you rush to him for advise and for help when the going gets tough.

You can be jealous of America, you can envy America, you can hate America, but you know that when you are in trouble, you have only one place, one nation, one people whom you will tend your hand for help...

And we never disappointed you after all.