May 25th, 2011
05:32 PM ET

Obama's timely transatlantic message

Editor's Note: Stewart M. Patrick is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (where he blogs) and Director of the Program on International Institutions and Global Governance. This is his First Take.

By Stewart M. Patrick

President Barack Obama's address to the UK parliament had one overriding objective: to reassure nervous Brits and a broader European audience that the United States still regards the transatlantic partnership as the central pillar of world order.

The president spoke at a difficult moment, given the inconclusive NATO air war over Libya, an unending military campaign in Afghanistan, and a deepening sovereign debt crisis and budgetary retrenchment across Europe. There are also growing concerns about the challenges to the West posed by rapidly emerging powers like China, India, and Brazil.

Obama's speech was as much a pep talk as anything else - a celebration of the durability of the "special relationship" and of the continued vitality of Western political values in the twenty-first century.

Predictably, the president began by reaffirming the shared political values and history binding two principal partners in the transatlantic relationship - the United States and Britain. He invoked the Magna Carta, the U.S. Declaration of Independence, and the defeat of fascism and totalitarianism in the twentieth century. But even as he invoked a glorious past, Obama stressed the future importance of the alliance to global peace, prosperity and justice, just as it had been in the days of Churchill and FDR.

Obama was tilting against conventional wisdom, which holds that the whole of the West is losing ground inexorably to the rising Rest. "It has become fashionable in some quarters," he noted, "to question whether the rise of these nations will accompany the decline of American and European influence around the world." The president disagreed. "The time for our leadership is now."

Such optimism is justified for a few reasons. First, the United States and Europe together remain crucial actors in spurring global responses to today's threats and opportunities, from countering proliferation and terrorism to combating climate change to promoting human rights. Yes, rising powers are assuming new responsibilities. But the West's leadership remains essential to enforcing global rules.

Second, Europe and the United States remain linked by history's most successful military alliance. At the Lisbon summit, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) began to adapt itself "to meet new threats: terrorism and piracy, cyberattacks, and ballistic missiles." And its Libya mission testifies to its enduring relevance.

Third, the United States and Europe are the world's leading champions of what the president called "freedom and human dignity." These ideals may have emerged first in the West, but - as recent events in North Africa and the Middle East make clear - they retain universal appeal.

Fourth, the president was right to point out that competition in the global economy favors "countries with the most creative, innovative, entrepreneurial citizens." As "free-thinking, forward-looking" nations, blessed with outstanding universities, the United States and Britain have a natural advantage.

Finally, in the case of the United States and Britain, both countries benefit from their liberal approach to national identity. Rather than defining it on the basis of race or ethnicity, both countries treat it as a matter of adherence to "a certain set of ideals–the rights of individuals and the rule of law." This unique approach to nationhood makes them vibrant polities and attractive global models.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Stewart Patrick.

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Topics: Europe • President Obama • United Kingdom

soundoff (80 Responses)
  1. The R.OT.P.

    they can't figure things out.. yawn, time for sleep..illumi what, skull and what., they fought and lost.

    May 27, 2011 at 3:35 am | Reply
  2. JOE

    WHEN BUSH, THE DICTATOR AND WAR CRIMINAL WAS APPOINTED TO THE PRESIDENCY BY THE US SUPREME COURT, HE INHERITED A SURPLUS AND A THRIVING AMERICA FROM BILL CLINTON. THEN THE UNEDUCATED ILITERATE SCUMBAG AND HIS CROWNY REPUBLICAN FRIENDS IN CONGRESS RAN THIS COUNTRY INTO A DITCH FOR EIGHT STRAIGHT YEARS WITH THEIR FAILED AND MISGUIDED ECONOMIC POLICIES. THEN BUSH LIED TO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, THE UN AND THE WORLD COMMUNITY ABOUT BOGUS AND NONEXISTENT WMD'S IN IRAQ AND IN THE PROCESS, HE MURDERED 4000 US TROOPS ALONG WITH HALF A MILLION IRAQI CITIZENS TO DATE. SO WHY IS MLADIC BEING ARRESTED FOR GENOCIDE AND BUSH ISN'T. MAYBE THE ICC DON'T KNOW WHERE CRAWFORD RANCH IS? THEN DON'T WORRY, THE WAR CRIMINAL WILL BE SHOWING UP AT THE SOON TO BE SET NBA FINALS BETWEEN THE MIAMI HEAT AND DALLAS MAVERICK. THEN PERHAPS THE ICC CAN ARREST THE SOB. AND WHAT DID OBAMA INHERIT FROM THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION? TO BE EXACT, TWO WARS, THE WORST ECONOMIC CRISIS IN AMERICA SINCE THE GREAT DEPRESSION AND AN UNEMPLOYMENT EPIDEMIC SPREADING ACROSS AMERICA LIKE THE BUBONIC PLAGUE. BUT DESPITE THE ENORMOUS TASK AT HAND AND THE CONSTANT ATTACKS AND DELIBERATE ROADBLOCKS BY THE GOP, THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION HAS BEEN ABLE TO REMAIN FOCUS FOR THE AMERICAN PEOPLE. AND SO FAR, THIS ADMINISTRATION HAS ALREADY STARTED THE WITHDRAWAL OF OUR TROOPS FROM THE ILLEGITIMATE IRAQI WAR, SOON TO BE FOLLOW BY WITHDRAWAL OF OUR TROOPS FROM AFGHANISTAN. THE ECONOMIC CRISIS HAS BEEN STABILIZED, THANKS TO STRINGENT EFFORTS BY THIS ADMINISTRATION AND THIS YEAR ALONE, ACCORDING TO A RECENT CNN MONEY REPORT, ONE AND A HALF MILLION PRIVATE SECTOR JOBS HAVE ALREADY BEEN ADDEDED BECAUSE COMPANIES ARE MORE CONFIDENT OVER THE STABILITY AND GROWTH OF THE AMERICAN ECONOMY. FINANCIAL REFORM HAS BEEN PASSED TO PREVENT WALL STREET FROM FURTHER EXPLOITING THE AMERICAN MIDDLE CLASS AND HEALTHCARE REFORM HAS BEEN PASSED, MAKING HEALTH INSURANCE AFFORDABLE FOR 30 MILLION AMERICANS. AND THANKS TO STRINGENT EFFORTS BY THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION, SB1070 HAS BEEN DEFEATED IN ARIZONA AND AMERICA'S CREDIBILITY AND TRUST AROUND THE WORLD HAS BEEN RESTORED, THANKS TO THE SOUND LEADERSHIP OF THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION AND YES, OSAMA BIN LADEN IS DEAD. LET'S FACE IT, MORE HAS BEEN ACCOMPLISHED BY THIS ADMINISTRATION IN TWO YEARS THAN BY ANY EIGHT YEAR ADMINISTRATION IN US HISTORY, DESPITE THE CONSTANT AND DELIBERATE ROADBLOCKS BY THE GOP. I CALL THIS LEADERSHIP WORTHY OF A NOBLE PEACE PRIZE. HENCE, PRESIDENT OBAMA IS THE GREATEST PRESIDENT IN US HISTORY.

    May 27, 2011 at 8:46 am | Reply
    • Ben

      Mr. Madison [Joe], what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul

      May 27, 2011 at 9:34 am | Reply
  3. JOE

    FOR TWO YEARS THE GOP HAS ASKED SARCASTICALLY, WHERE ARE THE JOBS? ACCORDING TO RECENT CNN MONEY REPORT, BETWEEM JANUARY AND MARCH 2011 ALONE, SOME ONE AND A HALF MILLION PRIVATE SECTOR JOBS HAD BEEN CREATED. WANNA TO KNOW WHERE ARE THE JOBS? OOPS, THERE IT IS!

    May 27, 2011 at 8:55 am | Reply
  4. J

    Awesome speech.

    May 27, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Reply
  5. Anydaypab

    Как у нас свободный софт доступен ради скачивания без смс

    http://artfarfor.ru/images/dopol/heren69/index.html

    April 17, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Reply
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