In recent weeks, some foreign-policy commentary -- associated mainly with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's trip to Britain and Poland -- has asserted that America's ties with Europe have been undermined during the last four years by President Barack Obama and his administration. Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer made a particularly absurd claim last week that the Obama administration had shifted its missile defense plans in Europe to "appease Russia" and surmised that Romney had made great strides in repairing this damaged realm of U.S. policy. This is part of a broader political assertion that the United States has turned its back on its allies in Europe -- and it is wrong. The Obama administration has substantially rebuilt the broken transatlantic relationship it inherited from George W. Bush's administration, and its Europe policies have been a success story for the United States.
There is no question the U.S.-Europe relationship is evolving, but to assume that changes and realignments are necessarily bad for America risks pining after a world that no longer exists and dangerously inhibits necessary initiatives to bolster this vital relationship. And, frankly, that Cold War world in which the United States and Europe were joined at the hip was 1) a lot more dangerous than it is now and 2) never really existed -- as there were often major divides during the Cold War across the Atlantic. A commitment to the basic values of freedom and democracy remain solid across the Atlantic. These values were reaffirmed by Romney's excellent speech in Warsaw, a speech that could have been given by Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, either President Bush, or Obama. But confidence in values also means having confidence in negotiating change in ways that can enhance mutual interest. Four specific achievements illustrate the vital ways that the United States is reinvigorating the transatlantic relationship under the Obama administration.
First, the Obama team came to office after eight years of the most serious crisis between Washington and America's key European allies since World War II. Disastrous strategic thinking and bad diplomacy from Washington during the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq placed Germany in open opposition to a U.S. national security initiative for the first time since World War II. George W. Bush's administration was dismissive of legitimate concerns raised by close allies over Iraq -- concerns that were subsequently proved right. Guantánamo Bay and the horrors of Abu Ghraib caused alarm across Europe over America's abandonment of common values and international rules that had been the bedrock of the country's rise to power in the 20th century. Worse, the Bush administration seemed dismissive -- referring to America's allies as a "toolbox" to "cherry-pick" from -- not the best way to get support and burden-sharing. That America is liked again across Europe (a sentiment that even the casual traveler can sense) is no minor thing. Obama deserves credit for that. Even if the gloss has worn off somewhat since the president's election, America is still vastly more popular in Europe than it was during the late Bush years, and if it is ever needed in a major crisis, this goodwill will be important.
Second, the Obama team has achieved strong consensus among NATO allies for a reinvigoration of collective defense via theater-based missile defense systems now being deployed in southeastern Europe. The original missile defense plan proffered by the Bush administration -- an interceptor site in Poland and a radar site in the Czech Republic -- was deeply flawed. It had dubious technological merit and left allies such as Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey exposed to emerging missile threats from Iran. It was the Bush team that abandoned these allies and neglected to think carefully about America's comprehensive relationship with Europe in terms of collective defense commitments. The new European Phased Adaptive Approach system better aligns threats to capabilities and provides America's allies with an additional piece of leverage in addressing Iran and its nuclear program. While critics are saying that the United States stiffed Eastern Europe, recently Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak made clear in a recent visit to Washington that there was strong consensus across NATO on the new plan. "No individual country can protect themselves from global threats," he said. "Global threats require global protection. The missile defense system is the answer." Lajcak added, "People have moved on.… We are in a different situation now. We are discussing a different project. I see no reason to revisit discussions from three years back."