What foreign policy lessons can we draw from Obama’s State of the Union speech?
Euronews’ James Franey met with Dr. Ian Lesser, senior director for security and foreign policy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, to sketch out what Obama’s foreign policy in-tray looks like in 2014.
James Franey, euronews: There was so little focus it seemed on foreign policy in this speech. So much attention devoted to domestic issues. Why was that?
Ian Lesser, German Marshall Fund of the United States: I understand that foreign audiences look at these speeches and expect to hear about the world, but in truth State of the Union speeches tend to be focused on domestic issues, whether it’s healthcare, or the economy or imigration reform, and of course, Obama talked about all for those things. I wouldn’t read it as an isolationist speech or an inwards-looking speech.
euronews: There was something else he said that was very interesting, which surprised me somewhat. “Our alliance with Europe remains the strongest the world has ever known.” Now there has been so much talk about pivots or rebalancing (towards Asia), whichever the current buzzword is. But also the Snowden scandal.
Ian Lesser: Well, I think this question of trust and the need to reassure Europeans but also Americans about the solidity of the relationship across the Atlantic is the background, the context to that sentence. and I think the Administration does believe this. In many many ways, leaving aside the many differences whether it might be Guatananmo or NSA surveillance, there is a core of shared interests which are very very strong. It’s not just diplomatic and security cooperation, it’s also trade and investment. Now if you look at the risks in Asia, and this question on a pivot, it’s really all on the military issues and these long-term concerns about strategic competition with China, which could really be existential for the United States. Fortunately we don’t have these kind of contingencies in the Atlantic. So I think the president was right to underscore the solidity of the US-Europe relationship.
euronews: Now Obama is going to be in Brussels for an EU-US summit at the end of March. What do you expect will be the big takeaways from that summit?
Ian Lesser: I think a lot of it will be about trade; a lot of it will be about growth. I think there is a question of how – in our own public policies – deal with issues of income inequality. Actually there was a lot of that in the speech. There will no doubt be discussions about Iran, perhaps about the (Middle East) peace process. We’ll have to see what’s on the agenda. And maybe even NATO policy as we have a NATO summit coming up in the fall (autumn in US English) and NATO member countries are starting to gear up their approach to that.
euronews: So perhaps the Europeans having to do more on defence spending. That’s a popular topic that always comes up.
Ian Lesser: Always popular. In fact, I think Obama would do well not to mention that one, but that’s a perennial (issue) for the United States and for Congress…trying to get Europe to do more in terms of defence spending, burden-sharing. It’s not a popular message to bring to Europe ever, but it’s probably one that requires some kind of discussion, especially as we all withdraw from Afghanistan.