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Clinton: Europe’s reassurer in chief?

As President Obama looks east, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is charged with the mission of ministering to a Europe feeling somewhat neglected by this administration. The White House acknowledged Tuesday that Obama will not travel to Madrid for a major conference in May, apparently upsetting his Western European counterparts, who feel increasingly overlooked by ...

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573872_100202_clinton6252.jpg

As President Obama looks east, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is charged with the mission of ministering to a Europe feeling somewhat neglected by this administration.

The White House acknowledged Tuesday that Obama will not travel to Madrid for a major conference in May, apparently upsetting his Western European counterparts, who feel increasingly overlooked by a White House mired in so many international crises. But Clinton was in Paris over the weekend, seeking to reassure traditional allies that they still have priority in this administration and continuing the push to mend wounds inflicted during the Bush years.

As President Obama looks east, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is charged with the mission of ministering to a Europe feeling somewhat neglected by this administration.

The White House acknowledged Tuesday that Obama will not travel to Madrid for a major conference in May, apparently upsetting his Western European counterparts, who feel increasingly overlooked by a White House mired in so many international crises. But Clinton was in Paris over the weekend, seeking to reassure traditional allies that they still have priority in this administration and continuing the push to mend wounds inflicted during the Bush years.

“Let me address some questions raised in recent months about the depth of the United States commitment to European security,” Clinton said in a speech Friday at L’École Militaire that got scant coverage in Washington. “Some wonder whether we understand the urgent need to improve security in Europe. Others have voiced concern that the Obama administration is so focused on foreign-policy challenges elsewhere in the world that Europe has receded in our list of priorities…. Well, in fact, European security remains an anchor of U.S. foreign and security policy. A strong Europe is critical to our security and our prosperity.”

Several European diplomats have told The Cable that they are having trouble getting time and attention from the Obama White House. Although they abhorred the policies of the Bush team, they felt that on a bureaucratic level, the last administration often did a better job of handling day-to-day interactions with their European interlocutors.

Poor handling of some key issues, such as the announcement of the alteration of missile-defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, have called into question this White House’s acumen in handling key allies, despite their personal affinity for the president himself. But Clinton highlighted U.S.-Europe cooperation on Afghanistan, Iran, and climate change, and referred to the shared values that bind the two powers. Clinton also said that a common mission was to defend the rights of small countries to determine their own destinies, a reference to Russia’s recent moves to re-establish control of countries in its near abroad.

“We object to any spheres of influence claimed in Europe in which one country seeks to control another’s future,” she said. “Our security depends upon nations being able to choose their own destiny.” But while affirming the U.S. policy to continue expansion of NATO, Clinton argued that Russia was a part of the security architecture in Europe and that its interests lie in participating in, not resisting U.S.-led regional mechanisms.

“Some have looked at the continent even now and seen Western and Eastern Europe, old and new Europe, NATO and non-NATO Europe, EU and non-EU Europe,” she said, in a clear reference to 2003 remarks by then U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “The reality is that there are not many Europes; there is only one Europe. And it is a Europe that includes the United States as its partner. And it is a Europe that includes Russia.”

She did call for reform of the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, which she noted the Russians have stopped observing. She also called for a strengthening of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which played a key role in mediating the Russia-Georgia war of 2008.

Specifics on how the U.S. would proceed with contentious European issues were scarce. In a response to an audience question about Russia’s fervent objections to NATO enlargement, Clinton said only, “There are issues regarding Georgia and Ukraine’s aspirations.” She also said “we are serious” about working with Russia on missile defense, but declined to chart out a path for that cooperation.

The questioners also wanted to know about U.S.-China relations and here, Clinton previewed and defended a long-anticipated meeting between Obama and the Dalai Lama, expected this month.

“With China, we want the relationship to continue despite the disagreements. So … if we arrange a meeting between our president and the Dalai Lama, that is a difference in perspective, a respect for his religious leadership, and we do not think it should derail the relationship.”

AFP/Getty Images

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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