When crises erupt, should the U.S. turn first to its European partners?

When crises erupt, should the U.S. turn first to its European partners?

An interesting debate arose during a panel discussion this morning with current and former heads of policy planning at the State Department. When a member of the audience asked why the panelists hadn’t mentioned Europe and Latin America — two regions that are vital to U.S. interests and full of U.S. allies — Jim Steinberg, a former deputy secretary of state under President Barack Obama, noted that Europe is, in many ways, the "dog that didn’t bark."

Day to day, he explained, U.S. diplomats are working closely with their European counterparts on all aspects of foreign policy — not just those that involve Europe. They’re our "preferred partner in almost every case," he noted.

Morton Halperin, a former director of policy planning under Bill Clinton, questioned that approach, however. America’s reliance on its European allies, he observed, underestimates the importance of other global powers. "Should we not start with Turkey and Indonesia and India rather than with the United Kingdom and France, or at least [start with] both?" he asked.

During the discussion, Steinberg added that America’s relationship with Mexico is "our most consequential bilateral relationship in many ways." "We need Mexico to succeed," he added. "It’s just as important as China succeeding."

Mexico’s President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto visited Washington, D.C. earlier this week, and he seems to agree. "It is a mistake to limit our bilateral relationship to drugs and security concerns," he wrote ahead of his meeting with Obama. "Our mutual interests are too vast and complex to be restricted in this short-sighted way."