Interview with Owen Ullmann, Managing Editor USA TODAY (Part II): “In the Middle East, Europe is paying the price for bad decisions made by the US”

 Interview by Alina Bârgăoanu and Flavia Alupei-Durach

Owen Ullmann, Managing Editor for World News, USA TODAY, was one of the keynote speakers at the Romanian-American workshop ”Europe at Crossroads: European & U.S. Perspectives” (7th edition), organized between June 23-24 by the Center for Research in Communication (Faculty of Communication and Public Relations, SNSPA) and the Cox Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research (University of Georgia, USA).

During his stay in Bucharest, Mr. Ullmann kindly accepted the invitation of Alina Bârgăoanu, Director of ”Convorbiri europene” to share his thoughts on the Brexit, the relationship between Romania and the USA, the conflicts surrounding Europe, and other pressing contemporary issues.


You can read the first part of the interview, focusing on the Brexit, here.


Alina Bârgăoanu: When looking at the map, one can see that major hot spots of today’s world surround Europe: Ukraine, Syria, the Middle East in general. Do you have an explanation why all these hotspots can be found around Europe? Why is Europe such a battle field since all the conflicts are at its borders?

Owen Ullmann: Not all these conflicts are related. On one hand, we still witness the tremors from the earthquake following the break of communism, since many ex-soviet satellites want to reorient themselves towards the West. Russia, understandably, doesn’t want to have NATO allies surrounding its borders, so that explains the crisis in Ukraine. On the other hand, the economic crisis in the last few years has been so severe that everyone is still dealing with that. This explains some of the economic turmoil. Thirdly, an issue not caused by Europe is the conflict in the Middle East. Europe is paying the price for it. The conflict in the Middle East, which lead to so many migrants going into Europe, where they see more prosperity and political stability, has created a backslash in many member states where the citizens don’t want to see their country change that much.


A.B.: What the EU could have done differently in the Middle East?

O.U.: I think Europe is paying the price for bad decisions made by the US. Europe has tried to push Israel and Palestine to peace negotiations, without much success. It’s not Europe’s fault that the US’s invasion in Iraq has unleashed more war. I don’t think that anyone could have stopped Syria from going into civil war. Europe is just suffering the consequences for all these events, without causing them.

Owen Ullmann and Alina Bârgăoanu

Owen Ullmann and Alina Bârgăoanu

A.B.:  My next question is related to the so-called trans-Atlantic deficit in security issues. There is a growing literature on this which can be summarized in what Robert Kagan said, that in security matters the Americans are from Mars and the Europeans are from Venus. Do you envisage this deficit as becoming larger or smaller? Does the Brexit add to this trans-Atlantic security deficit?

O.U.: I think our respective history leads to different approaches to solving problems. It is true that Europe, having suffered massive losses during two World Wars is now looking towards peaceful solutions. The USA, having not suffered similar losses still often looks at military solutions as a way to solve problems. During his interview to The Atlantic magazine, President Obama made the point that the US often uses military as a way of solving problems, but that is a false assumption, as you have to look more for compromise. A good example is the nuclear agreement with Iran. The alternative would have been military response. It is true that historically speaking the US has been on Mars and Europe on Venus, but the two powers do cooperate now in Iraq and Syria, so I don’t think it is a huge threat, they can find common ground. During the Obama administration, the trans-Atlantic security deficit was smaller. It all depends on who the next president will be.

Owen ullmann at the Workshop ”Europe at Crossroads: European & U.S. Perspectives” (7th edition)

Owen ullmann at the Workshop ”Europe at Crossroads: European & U.S. Perspectives” (7th edition)

A.B.: What about the Deveselu defense shield? In the Romanian public sphere there has been a lot of discussion about the strategic partnership with the USA, emphasizing that the US will protect us. Do you think there is a contradiction between official statements on the reliability of the US-Romania partnership and more controversial statements such as senator’s McCain, who expressed the relief that the US is not Romania in the context of Donald Trump’s recent political success? How can you protect a partner towards whom you are condescending?

O.U.: Being an US senator, McCain was able to make such statements without thinking of the consequences, but a US president would never say that. He was probably half-joking, and I would discount it. The fact that the missile shield is being put in Romania is a more important sign of the close alliance between the US and Romania. The White House is very supporting.



Owen Ullmann is Editor of the print edition of USA TODAY. In his prestigious career, he covered the White House, foreign affairs, economics and political campaigns. Ullmann has reported from all 50 states and five dozen countries, and has interviewed five US presidents, numerous foreign leaders and other major political and economic decision makers.

He won two awards from the White House Correspondents’ Association for his coverage of the Reagan Presidency. Washingtonian magazine named him one of the top 50 journalists in the nation’s capital. The University of Wisconsin-Madison has twice honored Owen Ullman (alumni) with awards for distinguished journalism.

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