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