President Obama heads to France and Germany this week on his
second tour of Europe. The White House has announced that he will
make stops on June 5 in Germany and June 6 in France. Specifically,
he will visit the former Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald, the
Landstuhl Regional Medical Facility (close to the U.S. Ramstein Air
Base), the city of Dresden, and the beaches of Normandy, where he
will commemorate the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
This trip follows the G-20 summit in London and the NATO summit
in Strasbourg-Kehl, where President Obama failed to significantly
advance his policy agenda. Although this visit will be heavier on
symbolism than policy announcements, the President must treat this
visit as a working trip and advance his top-line issues.
When President Obama meets with German Chancellor Angela Merkel
and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, he must request additional
combat troops -- with fewer national caveats -- for the NATO mission in
Afghanistan, as well as a commitment to increasing sanctions
against the world's number one state sponsor of terrorism, Iran. He
must also use these meetings as an opportunity to advance American
interests with regards to NATO, which is currently negotiating a
new Strategic Concept and struggling to reach consensus on the
issue of enlargement.
Immediately preceding the NATO summit in April, President Obama
unveiled his new "surge" strategy for Afghanistan. He committed
21,000 additional troops and trainers and outlined a regional
strategy for combating terrorism and winning the war in
Afghanistan. The timing was not a coincidence: Although
his "Af-Pak" strategy was clearly meant to be American-led, it was
also designed to coincide with a supposedly renewed commitment by
NATO's continental allies to the mission in Afghanistan, to be
announced at the summit.
Yet despite President Obama's high personal approval ratings in
Europe, he was unable to secure additional continental European
combat troops. Only Britain pledged more combat forces: Up to 1,000
additional British soldiers will join the 8,300 others already
serving in Afganistan, largely in the south. In total, other
European nations committed just 5,000 non-combatant troops, 3,000
of whom will deploy solely for the August election in
President Obama must make securing additional combat troops with
fewer operational caveats for the mission in Afghanistan one of
this trip's primary objectives. Indeed, whether the trip is to be
considered a success depends, to a large extent, on his ability to
do so. National caveats such as those that restrict German troops
to the North of Afghanistan severely weaken the overall war effort
and increase the burden on other allies. The President should also
seek diplomatic endorsement for America's joint efforts with
Pakistan in rooting out militant sanctuaries and combating Taliban
and al-Qaeda strongholds, which support the insurgents' efforts in
The Heritage Foundation's Lisa Curtis states that President
Obama is committing "the time, resources, and U.S. leadership
necessary to stabilize the region and contain the terrorist threat
in South Asia." He should not have to do this with only the
U.K. at his side. At the NATO summit, France was given one of
NATO's two supreme commands and, in exchange for this bigger seat
at the alliance's table, Sarkozy must step up and help ensure the
defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan. President Obama is sending
the message to his domestic and international audiences that he
intends to win in Afghanistan, and France and Germany should
support that endeavor by shouldering a fair share of the
President Obama must present an agenda for leadership of the
world's most successful multilateral alliance. The President must
advance American interests on a wide range of complex issues within
the alliance, including negotiations for a new Strategic Concept,
enlargement, and the resetting of NATO-EU relations.
Strategic Concept. The Strasbourg-Kehl summit produced a
"Declaration on Alliance Security," which paved the way for a new
Strategic Concept in 2010/2011. Redefining the purpose and
role of the transatlantic alliance in the post-9/11 world will
allow the alliance to confront both existing and emerging issues.
NATO should commit to confronting such security challenges as
terrorism, cyberterrorism, ballistic missile attacks, and the
proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It should also
reaffirm the necessity of winning in Afghanistan. This process will
allow NATO to rebuild the team concept within the alliance and
unequivocally answer any questions related to its commitment to
Article 5's collective defense clause.
Enlargement. The Obama Administration should position
itself as a champion of NATO's Open Door Policy and specifically
endorse both the immediate accession of Macedonia and the granting
of Membership Action Plans to Georgia and Ukraine. NATO enlargement
has been a success story, both for the alliance and for the
accession states; withdrawing the prospect of NATO accession from
aspiring countries will jeopardize the West's post-Cold War gains
and betray the founding principles of NATO.
NATO-EU Relations. The reintegration of France into
NATO's military command structures has given impetus to European
demands to redefine the NATO-EU relationship. As it works through
various proposals, the U.S. should be guided by the following
- NATO's primacy in the transatlantic security alliance is
- There should be no duplication of NATO assets, including any
separate EU operational planning and command capabilities;
- NATO must maintain at least one supreme command in the United
- NATO must reserve all resources exclusively for NATO missions;
- The assets and resources for exclusively European missions must
be provided in addition to -- not instead of -- the members'
contributions to NATO.
On June 5, President Obama will visit the Buchenwald
concentration camp and the Landstuhl medical facility, which treats
U.S. soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. His great-uncle,
Charles Payne, was among the American troops who liberated Ohrdruf,
a satellite forced-labor camp close to Buchenwald. President Obama will
see firsthand the sacrifices of American troops -- past and
present -- who have gone to war in defense of freedom and liberty. He
will also be reminded of the horrors of the Holocaust, which saw
the systematic, state-sponsored murder of 6 million Jews by the
With the dramatic backdrop of the Holocaust, President Obama
should seek support for confronting those regimes that engage in or
promote ethnic cleansing and genocide, in particular, Iran. Tehran
has threatened to "wipe Israel off the face of the earth" and
continues to thumb its nose at the international community as it
advances its nuclear enrichment and ballistic missile programs.
As President Obama commemorates one holocaust, he must take
serious action to stop another. Specifically, he should press
Chancellor Merkel to join him in ramping up sanctions against Iran
and express alarm at Berlin's significant increase in exports to
Tehran. In 2008, German exports to Iran increased by 10 percent,
totaling 4 million euros, making Germany Iran's largest European
export partner. Consequently, President Obama must pressure
Germany to end its massive exports to Tehran, which shamefully prop
up an odious regime committed to Israel's destruction.
The Special Relationship
As he stands on the beaches of Normandy, President Obama should
take in the magnitude of the Allied landings that began on June 6,
1944. The D-Day landings were an overwhelmingly Anglo-American
operation: Of the 156,000 troops that landed in Normandy, 73,000
were American and 61,715 were British. As such, President Obama
should pay homage to the Special Relationship, which continues to
operate successfully in theatres of war around the world today.
Through diplomatic channels, President Obama should also make it
clear to President Sarkozy that he welcomes the participation of
Queen Elizabeth II in the commemorations. The Queen, the only
reigning monarch to have actively served in World War II, has
suffered an unconscionable snub in being left off the invite list
for the ceremonies. Following the President and First Lady's
successful visit to Buckingham Palace in April, the D-Day landing
commemorations will afford Obama a further opportunity to solidify
his relationship with Europe's longest-serving monarch and
reinforce the value of the Special Relationship.
In November 2008, French President Nicolas Sarkozy injected
himself into the negotiations among Warsaw, Prague, and Washington
over the deployment of elements of the U.S. missile defense shield
in Europe. Standing next to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev,
Sarkozy called for a temporary moratorium on the "third site"
deployments, despite being a signatory to two NATO
communiqués endorsing the deal.
The third site deployment of 10 interceptors in Poland and a
radar in the Czech Republic is a deal behind which President Obama
must stand. Concluded in the final months of the Bush
Administration, the third-site deal represents a boon to
transatlantic security and a means of advancing NATO's fledgling
efforts toward a future alliance-wide missile defense architecture.
President Obama must make it clear to President Sarkozy that he
supports the third site deployments and will not tolerate him
running interference on behalf of Moscow.
The Need for Tangible Policy Gains
This second European trip (which will be closely followed by a
third when President Obama attends the G-8 Summit in L'Aquila,
Italy, in July) takes place while Obama still enjoys high approval
ratings in Europe and claims to have built up political capital and
credibility among Europe's leaders. President Obama must now
transform that popularity into tangible policy gains that advance
McNamara is a Senior Policy Analyst in European Affairs at The
Heritage Foundation's Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom.
MacAskill and Chris McGreal, "Israel Should Be Wiped off Map, Says
Iran's President," The Guardian, October 27, 2005, at www.guardian.co.uk/iran/story/0,12858,1601413,00.html
(May 29, 2009).