Europe is excited about Obama, but worried about bearing US burdens.
The United States remains the indispensable leader of the West – and the US-European alliance remains the indispensable partnership. The deep financial crisis and the sharp drop in Western global influence require the natural partners of the US and the European Union (EU) to come closer again. The presidency of Barack Obama now offers us the opportunity to do so.
President-elect Obama has caught the imagination of the world, including the Europeans. They welcome his promise of a better mix of American military might with soft power and diplomacy. They appreciate his readiness to consult with transatlantic allies and not just scold them. They see in his charismatic figure the person and the land that once again represents the hopes of mankind.
At the same time, in spite of exaggerated expectations, our increasingly interdependent, multipolar, complex world means there's only so much a US president can – or should – do. Given the magnitude of the challenges facing the new administration, Mr. Obama's honeymoon period will be short, so he must seize it quickly.
Already, some Europeans wonder to what extent the appointment of old hands such as Hillary Clinton (for secretary of State), Robert Gates (for secretary of Defense), and Jim Jones (for National Security Adviser) might signal not merely continuity but also business as usual.
They expect differently perceived national interests to continue to give rise to transatlantic disputes from time to time. They contend that if the West is to become more effective, such differences must be resolved by careful negotiation instead of unilateral fiat.