Interview with William Drozdiak 'The US Is Actually Serious About Ending Unilateralism'

William Drozdiak, 59, the president of the American Council on Germany who helped prepare Barack Obama's Berlin visit in July 2008, talks to SPIEGEL ONLINE about the new focus of US foreign policy under Barack Obama.


Barack Obama speaking to a crowd of 200,000 during his July visit to Berlin.
AP

Barack Obama speaking to a crowd of 200,000 during his July visit to Berlin.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Europe welcomed Obama's election enthusiastically. Are the Europeans getting carried away?

Drozdiak: Former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer called me and said it was amazing how America can reinvent itself. I get many such calls from Europe. But they are right: Who would have thought we can go straight from George W. Bush to a president like Obama?

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But won't Europeans be disillusioned when they realize Obama is just the President of the United States and not the world?

Drozdiak: I am expecting the opposite. Europeans are happy about the promise of an Obama administration. But relations should improve even more when they see the US is actually serious about ending unilateralism -- and shows for instance leadership on climate change.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But American voters elected Obama to deal with the economic crisis -- not to save the global climate.

Drozdiak: The financial crisis will be a top priority. His team already has people in the Treasury working on this. But I also expect Obama to sign an Executive Order on the day of his inauguration for a complete ban on torture. I expect him to do something about Guantanamo quickly. Congress might sign up to the International Criminal Court. All this would help trans-Atlantic relations a lot -- and I am sure a major climate change initiative would come very early, too.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How quickly would Obama ask for more German troops in the south of Afghanistan?

Drozdiak: The mission needs more troops there. However, Obama is also aware it is difficult for German politicians to commit soldiers in an election year. But I believe he would tell German Chancellor Angela Merkel and (German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier a leader sometimes needs to do the right thing -- even if only 20 percent of the population supports it.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is more European help in Iraq such a thing, too?

Drozdiak: It would be difficult to ask the Europeans for more troops there. Obama could convene a regional conference which might lead to UN peacekeeping and more European military involvement. But the US focus will be Afghanistan.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Other foreign policy challenges might come soon. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev threatened to place short-term missiles near Poland in reaction to US missile plans.

Drozdiak: That was an incredibly stupid thing to do. It is pushing Obama into a corner. He is working on a smarter relationship with Russia which might include a revaluation of the missile plans or more cooperation on disarmament and nonproliferation -- but such remarks make it much harder for him because he could be portrayed as "weak" by Republicans for just thinking about it.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: During the campaign, Republicans mocked Obama as a "celebrity" for speaking to 200,000 Europeans in Berlin in July.

Drozdiak: The trip was a success. One should not underestimate the power of an image: So many Europeans listening to his speech. It drove home the message that Europeans are not anti-American -- they were anti-Bush.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Does that mean President Obama will return to Berlin soon? To speak at the Brandenburg Gate this time?

Drozdiak: His first Europe visit will probably be the NATO summit in Baden-Baden in April 2009. But, sure, he could come back to Berlin soon. And, given his popularity, he could speak right at the Gate - he would not have to go into hiding like President Bush.

Interview conducted by Gregor Peter Schmitz.

Correction: The editors of SPIEGEL INTERNATIONAL, and not the reporter, mistakenly identified William Drozdiak as Barack Obama's Germany advisor in the original version of this interview. We apologize for the error.

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