[During] the last four years of trans-Atlantic relations, [the] American president laid off making any big demands on the Europeans. The Europeans, in turn, continued hoping to see the multilateral fountain of reason they like to think inhabits Obama.All in all, that’s a largely passive relationship.
A dissonant theme from the American presidential campaign takes over at this point. It has come in the form of remarks from Obama about “headwinds” from Europe’s financial crisis endangering America’s recovery.By way of emphasis, he sent the U.S. Treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, to a North Sea island to tell the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble — and then the European Central Bank’s president, Mario Draghi — that Europe has “to do some more things” to push growth “in the near term.” The president’s catchphrase for that is “decisive action.”Boom, pfft, cymbal clash: …The reaction from major voices in Germany, overseer of Europe’s austerity regimen, to the Obama administration’s perceived hectoring was harsh and bitter in a way that made criticism of Mitt Romney’s remarks in London about the “disconcerting” level of preparations for the Olympics seem frivolous.Yet a massive irony intrudes here. On different scales, both Obama and Romney are clearly right.… With a very good argument in the president’s hand — move decisively now, or watch the markets tear the European Union apart (with America’s unemployment rate and Obama’s re-election in the balance) — he chose to avoid singling Germany out, and instead put the problem on the back of the “Europeans.”Obama and Geithner not naming names in any of their statements looked pretty much like leading from behind.
… The United States ought to have fit in here — even with its decreased leverage and insufficiently explicit discussion of Germany’s role — at a moment when American trans-Atlantic concerns and recommendations, like Europe lowering its interest rates, are justified and reasonable.In fact, considerable disregard has developed in relation to the Obama administration’s capacity to persuade, dissuade, or create either serious confidence or discomfort in Europe.In respect to Germany, there’s not much reason for it to react otherwise.Berlin knows after four years of experience that it won’t confront anything like “decisive action” from Washington that might make it less comfortable doing what it pleases. Example: The German decision, alongside Russia and China, to abstain from approving U.N. intervention in Libya was followed four months later by Obama’s presentation to Merkel of the Medal of Freedom.