Barack Obama versus Mitt Romney on transatlantic relations
by Bertrand Rioust de Largentaye
The deciding factor between the two candidates is not going to be America's foreign relations and certainly not its transatlantic relationship - says think-tank
As the American presidential election looms, Europeans are pondering the incumbent's track record in the sphere of transatlantic relations and finding signs pointing to a certain deterioration in those relations. The past four years have been marked by the return of a convergence in the opinions being voiced on either side of the Atlantic, both in connection with foreign policy goals and with the values that those goals aim to convey.
The unilateralism, the tendency to hegemonise and the preference for coalitions of the willing rather than for traditional alliances - which were such distinctive features of the previous administration - have all disappeared. Under Barack Obama, the United States has veered towards a more multipolar vision of the outside world. This dovetails far better with the concept of a policy tailored to the resources available to it, which after all are not limitless. The gradual loss of US clout in the global economy should prompt it to become more selective in its choice of overseas commitments.
At the same time, there has been no let-up in American criticism of certain aspects of Europe's political situation. The criticism being levelled at the continent today is basically not very different from the criticism levelled at it under George W. Bush, which must mean that it transcends political parties and administrations. American complaints are essentially directed at the sharing of the defence burden and at the haltering mechanisms adopted in the governance of the European economy. Although in connection with this latter issue, Americans are not especially well placed to hold themselves up as a model - as this year draws to a close.
Lastly, we note a redeployment of the resources available to America's foreign and security policy, including in the commercial sphere − a move traditionally referred to as the 'pivot'. We are already witnessing a decrease in America's military engagement in Europe, matched by an increase on the western Pacific Rim. While in the sphere of trade policy, US attention is currently focused on the establishment of a transpacific partnership.
The deciding factor between the two candidates is not going to be America's foreign relations and certainly not its transatlantic relationship. If it were, we could fairly confidently state that the incumbent president would win the election. But the fact remains that even if President Obama were to be re-elected, he still would not have a free hand. Public opinion surveys tend to show that the Democrats are highly unlikely to win back the House of Representatives and that they might even lose their majority in the Senate.
Mitt Romney's remarks on the unfair and artificial nature of the Chinese currency's exchange rate, which has led him to say that he would brand China a "currency manipulator" on his first day in office as well as on the nature of the support that he is determined to offer Israel, appear to point to stormy times ahead if he wins the election on November 6. And the shockwaves would not spare transatlantic relations. It remains to be seen whether, if Romney is elected, he would succeed in reducing the polarisation that has marked his country's foreign relations since 2001.
Bertrand Rioust de Largentaye is a former researcher at the Notre Europe think-tank in Paris, France, and now works for the European Commission