Given the political, cultural, ethnic, and economic diversity across Europe, it is difficult to speak of it as “one unified Europe” with which the U.S. maintains relations. The European Union represents the single greatest political and economic entity on the continent, and it includes the nations with which the United States has had the closest relations since World War II. Beyond the E.U., Russia and Turkey have posed their own unique and growing challenges to the United States, especially Turkey, which, previous to its election of an Islamist government in 2002 was a close U.S. ally.
European attitudes towards the U.S. encompassed a wide range of emotions, from adulation to resentment and hatred. The more negative sentiments found their greatest outward manifestation with the U.S. decision to invade Iraq over the objections of key European allies. The election of President Obama was expected to presage a new, closer era in U.S.-European relations. However, the opposite has occurred. While many European governments had serious misgivings regarding U.S. actions in Iraq and the administration of President Bush, there were no concerns regarding the continued U.S. commitment to Europe's security, nor to the willingness of the U.S. to confront a potentially resurgent Russia. The Obama Administration has provided no such sense of comfort for the Europeans and, in fact, U.S.-Russian relations continue to deteriorate, with open Russian disdain for the American administration.
The financial debt crisis that has preoccupied Western Europe has deepened divisions within the European Union between the wealthy and economically stable Germany and the weaker and debt-ridden countries like Greece, Spain, Cyprus, Ireland, and Italy that have become financially dependent upon the Germans for economic assistance. These divisions have complicated U.S. efforts at forging closer ties across the continent, especially given the impact on Europe of the U.S. national debt.
In order for relations to improve, the U.S. has to demonstrate its continued commitment to European security while rejuvenating its diplomatic and military efforts in Asia, where China’s growing challenge to U.S. regional supremacy has been watched closely by U.S. allies and friends in Europe. Also, until the United States begins to take serious measures to reduce its national debt, the impact of which on European finances is considerable, American credibility in economic and political matters will continue to suffer. From the European side, containment of ethnic tensions, and a commitment to support democratic efforts in nondemocratic regions (recent developments in Egypt have not been helpful in that regard) are key to facilitating closer ties to the U.S. While the war in Iraq has largely ended – at least with regard to the U.S. role – maintaining a consensus on difficult challenges like Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and Russia’s unpredictable behavior will continue to hinder closer ties between Europe and the U.S. European businesses see the Iranian market as a lucrative opportunity while European, as well as Asian oil companies are anxious to break U.S.-sponsored sanctions on Iran in order to develop the latter’s oil and gas fields. All of this stands in the way of closer ties, and the measures to overcome those obstacles are inadequate to overcome the challenges.