Europe awaits Obama’s stance on issues
By KEVIN DOUGHERTY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 7, 2008
Vice President-elect Joe Biden said prior to the election that foreign adversaries would quickly "test the mettle" of Barack Obama once he became president.
A day after the Illinois senator won the 2008 presidential election, the prediction proved prophetic when Russia announced it would deploy missiles and jamming equipment to Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave near the Polish-Lithuanian border. The move, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said, was in response to U.S. plans to place a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.
"Russia is a big issue for Europe," said Caitlin Harrington of Jane’s Defence Weekly. "Russia is definitely high on their radar."
In the aftermath of Obama’s election, several European observers at think tanks and news organizations speculated on what it means to their nations and to the U.S. military in Europe.
"On the military side, things will go quietly," said Slobodan Samardziga, deputy foreign editor for Politika, the most influential newspaper in Serbia. "Sometimes it is much better to do things quietly."
He was referring to existing U.S. military initiatives, such as the ongoing effort involving force structure and basing plans, commonly known as transformation.
For the time being, Samardziga doesn’t expect any sudden shifts in U.S. military policy vis-à-vis Europe, a view articulated before Medvedev dropped his news Wednesday during his first state of the nation speech.
The Kremlin and President Bush’s unilateral tendencies, real or perceived, frequently came up in conversations with the analysts. All seemed intrigued by Obama and, to varying degrees, curious as to how the new president will get along with European leaders.
"Obama is perceived as a lot less confrontational than Bush — or (John) McCain for that matter," said Pawel Dobrowolski, a Harvard-educated analyst for Instytut Sobieskiego, one of the few think tanks in Poland.
Obama "is a peace symbol, whether he wants to be or not," said Thomas Schnee, a reporter for the French magazine "Marianne."
"In France, the people are just so excited," Schnee added. "They think it is great. They want to talk again with America."
With respect to U.S.-Russian relations, further strained by the latter’s incursion into neighboring Georgia, Schnee and others said it’s too early to say a new Cold War has taken root.
In Poland, however, people have been understandably nervous about what is happening east of them, given the nation was overrun a couple of times during World War II.
Poles surveyed prior to the U.S. election showed strong support for McCain, the highest in Europe at 38 percent, according to Dobrowolski. He attributed McCain’s popularity in Poland to the Republican nominee’s tough stance toward Russia.
"Today, the world is a lot more complicated place," Dobrowolski said.
Those interviewed said that Obama’s reputation for bridging all sorts of divides should serve him well in Europe and elsewhere.
Obama’s election gives Serbia, an ally of Russia, "more air to breathe," said Samardziga, the newspaper editor. "We’ve been under a lot of pressure from Washington. Obama’s politics will be different."
Despite the myriad complex issues facing the incoming president, those interviewed said the election of an African-American is huge.
"America is a land where amazing things can happen," Dobrowolski said. "America makes its own share of mistakes, but Americans are able to correct their mistakes much faster than other countries."