Half Past Obama: No Time To Come Home – A Pivot to Europe and an Extended Stay in the Middle East
On Thursday, December 18, the Paris office of The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), in association with the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS), organized a roundtable with Dr. Simon Serfaty, Zbigniew Brzezinski chair (emeritus) in global security and geostrategy at CSIS and senior professor of U.S. foreign policy at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, on “Half Past Obama: No Time to Come Home – A Pivot to Europe and an Extended Stay in the Middle East.” Dr. Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer, director of GMF’s Paris office, and Dr. Jan Joel Andersson, senior analyst at the EUISS, then led a discussion of Dr. Serfaty’s presentation and included an open debate with the audience. Dr. Antonio Missiroli, director of the EUISS, introduced the event and Dr. Eva Gross, senior analyst at the EUISS, moderated the discussion.
Dr. Serfaty began by describing the remaining two years of President Obama’s term as the “Sarajevo moment” where he will establish his legacy in a world defined by deep mutations. He described the strategic environment in which these two years will unfold, addressing different domestic and international challenges. On the domestic side, Serfaty outlined how the slow economic recovery and the increase of the wealth gap in the United States have led to a surge in inequality, therefore weakening the United States’ ability to design ambitious foreign policies and credible power projection. At the global level, the strategic environment is characterized by the diffusion of power and the lack of polarity, leading the Western power to strengthen traditional alliances and seek new partnerships as they cannot act alone.
Dr. Serfaty argued that, although President Obama campaigned on ending two wars and bringing the troops home, he now recognizes the need to remain invested in present conflicts. The U.S. faces a geopolitical reality in Eastern Europe, Eastern Asia, and in the Middle East that does not allow for a decline of American influence or presence on the international scene. Washington will look to European and Asian partners for economic rapprochement, through trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), but also through NATO enlargement to the Balkans. In order to repair NATO’s credibility after the evident failure to deter Putin’s aggression of Ukraine, NATO will have to regain its legitimacy which, according to Dr. Serfaty, can be achieved through expansion. In parallel, Dr. Serfaty believes that European Member States must embrace their success in the context of the European Union, which is a strong political and economic actor in geopolitics.
Dr. Serfaty listed a series of key objectives that could be achieved before the end of the term and would constitute President’s Obama international legacy. The creation or deepening of trade partnerships to foster U.S. economic growth through TPP and TTIP, the prospect of a deal with Iran on the nuclear issue and the hope of ambitious resolutions on climate change should be on the front burner in 2015. These three global issues, although not necessarily linked together by a comprehensive strategy, are likely to find solutions during the next two years. On the transatlantic front, improving EU-NATO relations and cooperation, as well as pushing Russia to seek a more peaceful engagement with the transatlantic powers, will also constitute important pieces of President Obama’s foreign policy legacy. Finally, the U.S. could engage in a form of geopolitical cleansing, including a variety of international long-term issues such as U.S.-Cuba relations, and U.S.-North Korea relations.
Dr. de Hoop Scheffer argued that the U.S. is not a declining power, but that its influence is declining while the need for U.S. leadership at the global level remains constant. She also emphasizes the strategic significance of reshaping alliances and redefining the relations with traditional U.S. partners.
Approximately 20 French and European scholars and academics, as well as representatives of foreign embassies in Paris, attended the discussion.