Obama-Bush – Are Their Global Frames of Reference Converging?

Since its independence in 1776,  the singular focus of America has been Europe. America understands Europe. The greatest foreign policy successes of America have been in Europe.

President George W. Bush turned the focus of America from Europe towards the new emerging centers of power. This shift began during his transition period in 2000 under the leadership of Wolfowitz. The events of 9/11 accelerated this shift. The Bush Administration paid far greater attention to BIC countries, Brazil, India and China, than it did to Western Europe. Within, Europe, they paid greater attention to Emerging or Eastern Europe than they did to Old Europe of France, Germany and Benelux. 

This was a major transformation of the US frame of global reference. President Bush did this instinctively. He did not announce it as a formal shift. He did not consult and he did not inform. So very few people in America noticed this major transformation.

But the Europeans noticed.
Europeans have a tremendous mental and physical involvement with America. They did not like this change one bit. They felt ignored and slighted. Europeans started describing Bush as a non-consultative President, a cowboy who increased America’s isolation from the world. For President Bush, this proved to be a heavy price to pay for what he believed.

In contrast, 
President Barack Obama came to power determined to get America’s focus back to Europe. He promised to be more consultative with the “World” (read Europe) and less unilateral in his policies. He envisaged a partnership with Europe to reset the course of the world.

And he tried. President Obama tried very hard to bring the European Governments in to a joint consultative and supportive partnership with America. But he did not succeed. He found out that his charm and consultative style did not translate into greater support from Europeans. He met with Europeans in December 2008, a month after his election victory and then again in April 2009. But the Europeans gave Obama virtually nothing. When President Obama announced his “surge” in Afghanistan, Europeans merely paid lip service to the plan.

So this week, President Obama signaled that his Administration was turning its focus away from Europe. He did so by expressing his inability to attend the USA-EU Summit in May, 2010.

This is a big deal. No U.S. president has skipped a USA-EU summit since 1993. European Union officials found out about this decision from the News Media. It was first reported on the web site of the Wall Street Journal. To add insult to injury, this decision was announced just before next week’s US visit of the Prime Minister of Spain, the host country for the USA-EU summit.  According to the New York Times, Europeans feel snubbed by Obama and see this decision as evidence that “Europe is being taken for granted and losing importance in American eyes…”

The shift away from Europe was first evident in the Copenhagen Climate Control conference. President Obama rescued the conference by barging into a meeting of the BASIC countries, Brazil, South Africa, India & China, and making a deal with them. He did it without consulting the Europeans or even inviting them to the discussions. This was a crushing blow to Europe’s standing in the World. This shift away from Europe has now become explicit with Obama’s expressed inability to attend the USA-EU summit in May 2010. 

This is not just a change of focus but a significant turn in his global frame of reference. It is overdue. As we wrote on November 15,2008,  “The events of the world will be increasingly influenced by events in China, India, Russia, Brazil, South Africa and their neighbors. America’s principal focus must be on these regions and countries.  That is in America’s long term interests.”

In that article, we had expressed “.our fervent hope that Barack Obama quickly adopts the Bush frame of reference and reassures the new centers of power that his policy will continue the transformation pioneered by George Bush.”

It was not quick but better late than never. President Obama prefers to come to his conclusions thoughtfully and methodically.  This is an example of  Obama’s Analytical Intelligence coming to the same smart conclusion in a different way than Bush’s Instinctive Intelligence.

As the global frames of reference of Obama and Bush converge, the world sees a rational America focused on its long term interests. That is good for America and the World.

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