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Obama, US Politics, and Transatlantic Relations

Change or Continuity?

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Edited By Giles Scott-Smith

In November 2008 Barack Obama was elected as President of the United States after a campaign that promised change and renewal. Many in the United States – and Europe – hoped for a new beginning. But what has been achieved?
The nineteen essays in this book provide a timely assessment of the ‘Obama Effect’ in transatlantic relations during the first years of his administration. Ranging from Obama’s importance within US domestic politics to his impact on specific policy areas (national security, international law, the environment) and regions (Middle East, South Asia), the book combines perspectives from the United States and across the European continent to present a unique multi-layered assessment of Obama’s political influence and the current state of play within US-European relations.

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Introduction (Giles Scott-Smith)

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17 Introduction Giles SCOTT-SMITH Roosevelt Study Center / Leiden University The election of Barack Hussein Obama in November 2008 heralded a new era in US politics – and the chance for a new beginning in trans- atlantic relations. He inherited a relationship that was functional in terms of policy but moribund in terms of vision. Even though the last two years of the George W. Bush presidency saw the rifts of the previous years between the United States and Europe fading into the past, there was a strong sense that a new form of leadership was required to position the US-Europe link once again at the centre of global governance. Obama seemed to be such a President, and the positive reception in Europe to his election victory was widespread and genuine. A typical opinion was this, from Ulrike Guerot of the European Council on Foreign Relations: Above all, Europeans are hoping that Obama will restore transatlantic di- plomacy and make his foreign policies in ways more compatible with European taste and interest. From climate protection to Afghanistan, the Middle Eastern conflicts to non-proliferation, energy policy to Iraq – Europe’s foreign policy community is currently revisiting policies, and proposing agendas which the US and Europe could now tackle together.1 In short, Obama’s insistence on reviving the arts of diplomacy, re- specting other viewpoints, and not stressing only narrow US interests boded well for the future. Yet by the end of 2011 the picture looked decidedly mixed. The German Marshall Fund’s Transatlantic Trends surveys...

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