Mr. Obama’s decision to skip the Madrid meeting - even as the White House was announcing a presidential trip next month to Indonesia and Australia - has sparked both finger-pointing and soul-searching in Europe. Some have argued that the “snub” reflects a fading significance of the EU on the world stage.
“Until the EU comes up with something actually worth talking about, it’s not surprising that Obama thinks that it’s more important to travel to Asia, South Africa and to attend NATO summits,” Mats Persson of the Euro-skeptic think tank Open Europe wrote this week in London’s Daily Telegraph.
The language coming out of the White House and the State Department suggests that, after six trips to Europe and numerous meetings with his counterparts in the past year, Mr. Obama feels that he has “already done this,” Ms. Conley said.
She noted that during the most recent U.S.-EU summit in Washington in November, Mr. Obama almost scandalized the Europeans by spending only an hour and a half with them and sending Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to host the traditional luncheon.
Helle Dale, senior fellow for public diplomacy at the Heritage Foundation, said Mr. Obama’s attitude toward Europe is also a reflection of his lack of a “European sensitivity and a coherent concept of the West.” She said his decision to skip the Madrid summit reflects his “feeling that he is the first ‘Pacific president,’ as he himself has stated.”
“The administration doesn’t seem to acknowledge that there is anything special about the U.S. relationship with Europe, and it is driving the Europeans crazy,” Ms. Dale said. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton “seems to feel the same way, having turned most of her attention to Asia and Africa.”
She added that, if the Europeans were surprised by Mr. Obama’s desire to spend less time dealing with the EU, they should have listened to remarks by Philip H. Gordon, assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasian affairs, in Brussels in September.
“We want to see a strong and united Europe, speaking with one voice. In the best of all possible worlds, that one voice will be saying what we want to hear,” Mr. Gordon said, according to the Web site of Britain’s Economist magazine. “If it is not saying what we want to hear, then we would rather that voice was less united. For the foreseeable future, we will have to have relations with the EU and with nations. You go to the place that can deliver.”
Those unusual public comments were followed by even more candid remarks that stunned many in the audience: “We want to see Europe thinking more strategically, because we think if they do think more strategically, they will think more like Americans.”