The United States relationship with its European allies has thawed since the end of the twentieth-century. The negative socio-political perception Europeans hold of the United States has been in a downward spiral since 2002. Thanks to our friends at the Pew Global Attitudes Project, we can quantify that opinion into numbers to give us an idea of just how far these numbers have plummeted.

When looking at two of our staunchest allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, Great Britain and Germany, it’s a disturbing downward trend. Two of the strongest pillars against the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War have, for sometime now, faced domestic political pressure to back away from various elements of it’s relationship with the United States. It ended former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s term earlier than expected, and former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s party campaigned heavily on an Anti-American platform, as did numerous other European parties over the past several years.

Suffice to say, the European political opinion was heavily exacerbated by the Bush Administration and the invasion of Iraq, and is a logical and likely correlation that will be proven true in due time. The next Administration will get a natural bounce in these types of figures all over the world (partially as a result of Bush leaving) but the bottom line is that America has an opportunity to reinvent itself once again.

It is a rare opportunity, and a condition that must be taken seriously by both candidates. One candidate is doing everything he can to showcase he is interested in taking action on this subject. The presumptive Democratic nominee, Senator Barack Obama, is currently on a tour with stops in Afghanistan, Palestine and Israel, Iraq, Kuwait, France, Germany, and finally The United Kingdom; the last three holding the most potential to serious change the European opinion and the three most critical European nations where America’s reputation has taken the greatest hits in the past eight years. All three nations have different governments in place from those in 2000-2006, introducing new leadership for the twenty-first century in President Nicholas Sarkozy, Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom respectively.

Working to strengthen ties between America and Europe is hard enough on it’s own without having to cover your left flank at all times, but it’s important for the US to recognize there are leaders the country can work with to improve relations and the perception of American foreign policy. Tangibly getting them more involved in strategic policy and planning is one route, while the other is publicly ensuring multilateral diplomatic efforts are the preferred route of foreign engagement unless situations absolutely necessitate, according to an agreed upon framework, military intervention. European’s love to have an audience, and the US can play on that very notion by taking their opinion more seriously and recognizing that in a twenty-first century a successful US foreign policy must include our European counterparts at a much higher level of cooperation.

President Sarkozy has already warmed parts of France to a friendlier Trans-Atlantic relationship, and put his country back on track to fully rejoin NATO’s military command after more then forty years absent. Sarkozy has turned much of French foreign policy on its head, deviating greatly from his predecessor in public commentary on the importance of the Trans-Atlantic relationship. Furthermore, he will soon inherit the Presidency of the European Union, providing another opportunity for him to enlarge the EU’s developing security force and strengthen it’s relationship with NATO as cooperative forces on both the European continent and abroad, jointly taking action where both have interest. Given the overstretched NATO operations in Afghanistan, it’s not unconceivable we will see increased French military deployment at some point in the next few years, especially if the next Administration can create an even friendlier relationship with Paris which is a likely scenario. Sarko is quickly emerging as the United States second strongest supporter in Europe, and will be a critical ally in the next administration.

Chancellor Merkel is also working hard to better American-German relations. Her predecessor was, along with former French President Jacques Chirac, one of the most outspoken critics of the Iraq War. Yet Germany is one of the few countries that deployed combat troops to Afghanistan, and a nation that has long remained one of the Untied States strongest allies. While it may have faced a period of unrest in the past several years as a result of the Iraq engagement, at this point in time it has a leadership that is favorable towards US relations, but how long that window stays open could be in jeopardy depending upon the next six months and if she can hold together a fragile governing coaltion.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the United Kingdom is likely to continue the special relationship with the United States, and Great Britain will remain the United States strongest ally in the world. Despite public commentary by an aide when Brown took office, the relationship is not expected to shift greatly away from the Blair era outside of subtle nuances and dialogue. Brown must hold together a fracturing Labour Party majority and offset the low public opinion of the United States, while simultaneously continuing to try and honor security agreements and deployments to the Middle East. It’s an impossible balancing act that will lead to Brown having to forcefully choose one side or the other in the next year or two, and if his political life is in the balance he will have to side with the public view to ensure his own survival.

Senator Obama’s visit to the UK will help to mollify British citizens that were fearful America had lost it’s way under the Bush Administration, and gain hope in seeing a dynamic American figure that understands the world around him. It will serve the same purpose in Berlin and Paris, likely resulting in small public opinion boost of the United States future. The election of such a figure would provide an even greater boost in the United Kingdom, indirectly benefiting Prime Minster Brown, as well as President Sarkozy of France and Chancellor Merkel in Germany. A US President who is viewed favorably by their citizenry can help such political allies maintain their international views and that coincide with American interests, and such European leadership is necessary for a successful twenty-first century American foreign policy.

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