Time for a Post-American Europe

PARIS – As Barack Obama arrives in Sweden to collect his Nobel Prize, the celebrations expose an awful truth: Europe’s admiration for its ideal of an American president is not reciprocated. Obama seems to bear Europeans no ill will. But he has quickly learned to view them with the attitude that they find hardest to endure – indifference.

We are entering a post-American world – the world beyond America’s brief moment of global domination. Obama’s administration understands this, and has responded with what it calls a “multi-partner strategy.” Whether it is the Chinese for the global economy, or Russia for nuclear disarmament, the United States will now work with whomever can help it get the results it wants – thus ensuring that it remains the “indispensable nation.”

No rejection or exclusion of Europeans is intended. Americans understand that Europe, as the other major repository of democratic legitimacy, wealth, and military power, has great potential as a partner. Obama spelled this out during his first trip to Europe as president, at the NATO summit in April. But if Europe fails to respond, Obama will look elsewhere for the partners he needs, unconstrained by anxious European invocations of “special relationships” or “the Atlantic community of values.”

Obama’s approach is self-avowedly pragmatic. His observation that the US-China relationship will shape the twenty-first century was not a statement of preference, but an acknowledgement of reality.