DAVID IGNATIUS: Reaffirming Atlantic alliances

By David Ignatius

Every movie buff remembers the conclusion of “The Wizard of Oz,” when Dorothy wishes herself back from a head-spinning foreign travail by repeating the phrase, “There’s no place like home.” Well, there was a bit of that sentimental homecoming on display last weekend at the Munich Security Conference, whose theme might have been “Back to the Future.”
Vice President Joe Biden was positively gushing about the good old trans-Atlantic alliance in his speech to the conference. Biden reassured his audience that U.S. policy, too, has come back to its traditional center point:
“Simply put, President Obama and I continue to believe that Europe is the cornerstone of our engagement with the rest of the world,” Biden said.
At another point, Biden described himself as a “proud Atlanticist … Europe remains America’s indispensable partner of first resort.”
Obama’s picks for secretaries of state and defense, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, are as old-school Atlanticist as Biden.
For an administration whose second term is framed with the idea that America is ending two wars and doesn’t want to start any new ones, Europe is safe. Indeed, Biden disclosed that one of the new initiatives President Obama will propose this year is a trans-Atlantic trade and investment zone, which encapsulates the atavistic 2013 agenda.
The relief that the eurozone crisis has largely passed was palpable here. Even though Germany still wants to keep the screws on debtor nations such as Greece and Spain, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble talked about “progress” and “headway” in the crisis, and there wasn’t any disagreement from Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the head of Germany’s opposition Social Democratic Party.
Steinmeier sounded the “back to the future” theme when he boasted that even in the age of high tech, “We actually like manufacturing.”
Given how widely it was predicted that the eurozone couldn’t hold together, its resilience counts as one of the interesting contrarian facts of the new year, as Philip Stephens noted last week in The Financial Times. Without ever quite admitting it, German Chancellor Angela Merkel bucked the Bundesbank and allowed the creation of a robust European Central Bank that can act as lender and guarantor of last resort, much as the Federal Reserve does.
Confidence and liquidity are returning to European markets, as Deutsche Bank co-chairman Anshu Jain told the conference.
But the abiding economic fact, which underlay nearly every discussion here, is that the American economy is on the way back – toward a new energy self-sufficiency and manufacturing edge based on low-cost oil and gas shale.
That’s the irony as the foreign-policy wheels of 2013 start turning. Almost despite itself, America is back, embracing once again its traditional allies.
This is one of the blessings of American power: You can make enormous economic mistakes, embark on costly and largely futile foreign wars, watch your closest European allies flirt with disaster – and still look like the indispensable, inevitable power. As Dorothy said, there’s no place like home.
David Ignatius’ email address is davidignatius@washpost.com.