Has the world changed for Europe?

by Ken Feltman

Our country is now taking so steady a course as to show by what road it will pass to destruction, to wit: by consolidation of power first, and then corruption, its necessary consequence.
- Thomas Jefferson

Every generation and every country has its share of optimists, pessimists and realists. Usually, like Jefferson, they are one and the same, at different points in their lives, reacting to different conditions. Jefferson concentrated on the events, successes and crises of the moment. So do today’s leaders. The media follow the leaders.

Most of the attention during the recent G-20 conference in London concerned the economic meltdown and what to do about it. This seemed to be important news. But two important developments of lasting significance to Europe were overlooked. The G-20 reporting illustrates how millions of words can miss news of lasting importance.

Yes, the conference seemed so crucial. The media told us it was. Some said that the new world order – not dominated by the United States – was clearly displayed in London. Many analysts began by concentrating on the split between Germany and France on one side and the United Kingdom, U. S. and Japan on the other over how best to put the world’s economies on the road to recovery. Soon we took a side trip to Buckingham Palace to debate who started the touching engaged in by the Queen and the First Lady.

This was followed by analyses of the kissing, or lack thereof, by the First Ladies of France and the U.S. Next was a question-and-answer session in Strasbourg, designed to give the people of this ancient Alsatian region a chance to speak up. It was all over the news in the U.S. not because of any of the questions or answers but because the questioning was dominated by Americans, who seem to be – annoyingly – everywhere. Finally, we tried to decide whether Obama had bowed to another monarch.

“Hey, here we are, over here!”

Meanwhile, North Korea said, “Hey, what about us?” North Korea will not go away. North Korea is moving closer to being able to deliver a missile to a foreign target . That is important. The media herd seemed to view the missile test as a distraction, competing for air time. Perhaps the G-20 meeting was the real distraction.

When it was all over, the media awarded President Obama high style points and Europeans continued their love affair with an American president who is most popular because he is not George Bush. Largely unnoticed, two developments that will have a lasting impact on Europe were moving toward center stage.

The London summit found Russia more amenable to negotiation with the U.S. than rhetoric over the past several months might have indicated. But the daily dose of G-20 news focused on the U.S. and Germany and the battle over how to restructure the global financial system. The Americans, the British and the Japanese believe stimulus is the best approach. Germany prefers to export its way out of the recession. The rest of Western Europe will follow Germany. Left largely out of the news reports was the reaction by Eastern Europe to Germany’s hard position. Europe’s struggling economies may decide to fend for themselves and find help wherever they can, perhaps even from their former overlord.

The Russians have problems and ambitions. Despite her own problems, the U.S. stands in Russia’s way. The central theme of Russia’s positioning before, during and after the summit is Russia’s desire to reassert power in the territories lost when the Soviet Union broke apart. That is not news. What is news is that Obama seemed to draw the line in Eurasia, not Europe.

Germany’s pointed refusal to assist the former communist countries of the East emboldened Moscow. Would the West stand by and let Russia regain influence in former Soviet territory? The assessment in Foggy Bottom is that the German-led resistance to helping Hungary, Latvia and other former communist countries is a fecklessness to be exploited – and not just by Russia. The result of failing to help their neighbors in the East may haunt the German-led Western Europeans for decades if their export economies fail to find markets to replace the Eastern Europeans.

Why assist Eastern Europe? For selfish reasons

What incentive does any other country have to assist the Eastern Europeans if they are abandoned by Western Europe? All that will do is provide a subsidy for the Western European nations that have the most to gain if their Eastern neighbors are strong and able to consume German, French, Swedish and Finnish exports. So expect the U.S. to move into the vacuum by providing aid in such a way that requires Eastern Europeans to reciprocate by trading with the U.S., not EU countries.

The U.S. is prepared to play an unexpected game. This was not reported in London. Did anyone write or talk about how years of condescension by European officials and media have convinced young American students of foreign policy to presume that Western Europe will be unhelpful and even hostile to U.S. interests? Do the Europeans know that this more cynical younger generation of Americans is installed in key spots in the Obama administration and the State Department? Times have changed. Russia and the U.S. see Eastern Europe in play. They approach it from different perspectives, but both approach it with gain in mind. Western Europeans could lose out.

Leaving too soon for some important news

Many U.S. correspondents were not around to see the second major news item. They took the First Lady’s example and headed home before Obama’s most significant stop: Turkey. It was in Istanbul and Ankara that we saw the beginning of the future for the West’s relations with the Muslim world. Europe will be changed by the growing alliance between Turkey and the United States. The U.S. has long been an advocate for Turkish membership in the European Union, which has rankled successive governments across Europe. Turkey remains on the outside looking in. Turks and Americans are finding common ground for cooperation – and some European governments have let the U.S. know – informally – that they do not like it.

Turkey will be a more important strategic partner for the U.S., eclipsing some of the influence of key European allies. Turkey seems ready to resume its place as a world power and the Obama visit demonstrated this to America’s allies and adversaries. Its key geographic position makes Turkey an important influence in the Middle East and Eurasia. Turkey, growing tired of waiting for EU membership and wary of Russian encroachment and Muslim extremism, sees the U.S. as a partner with more reliable and matching interests. Beside, the Turks believe that Europe may move faster toward Turkish inclusion if Europe sees the U.S. getting too close. Washington does not mind that possibility.

Sevgim Deniz Egilmez, Turkish-American expert on relations between Turkey and Europe, watched as thousands of Turks seemed to look to Obama for solutions to domestic Turkish problems. She knows that Turkey’s leaders are pragmatists. She understands that stronger ties between her native country and her adopted one will be good for both countries – but will change Europe, probably in ways that the Europeans cannot control. Turkey may finally get some respect from Europe by looking to America for leadership. Michael Granger, frequent contributor to Radnor Reports, commented that it is amazing how far people will look for leadership and cooperation. The leadership should have been right there, just across a border. Now it may come from across the Atlantic.

By their actions, Western Europeans have encouraged Eastern Europeans to look beyond Europe for help and leadership. Turkey, it seems, will move closer to becoming part of the European Union by using the U.S. as a wedge.

Strange as it may seem, the European Union may enlarge her boundaries while her influence over neighboring countries contracts. Not only that, but the U.S. is out to pick up the pieces – and so is Russia. How did this happen?

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About Ken Feltman

Ken Feltman is past-president of the International Association of Political Consultants and the American League of Lobbyists. He is chairman of Radnor Inc., a political consulting and government relations firm in Washington, D.C. Feltman founded the U.S. and European Conflict Indexes in 1988. The indexes have predicted the winner of every U.S. presidential election beginning in 1988, plus the outcome of several European elections. In May of 2010, the Conflict Index was used by university students in Egypt. The Index predicted the fall of the Mubarak government within the next year.
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