With this in mind, it’s pretty obvious why Europe is frustrated. They want America to threaten Iran with force, while they sit on the sidelines. Since those would be American threats it would naturally become America’s obligation — not Europe’s — to follow through on them.
So too with Saudi Arabia and, to a lesser extent, Israel. Much of the “frustration” we’ve been hearing about from America’s Middle Eastern allies these days is the frustration of those who are unable to outsource their risky policy preferences to the United States. So yes, they’re frustrated. It’s hard and dangerous work to threaten to bomb a country. So much better to have Uncle Sam do it for them.
It’s worth adding that Vinocur is mostly just relating the views of one “high-level” European official, so it isn’t accurate to say that “Europe” is frustrated with U.S. policy towards Iran. Some Europeans may be, but they are very likely a minority, and they don’t speak for the vast majority of NATO governments. For all we know, this one official may not even represent the views of his government, but because of the anonymous and generic description there’s no way to tell. On the whole, current European disillusionment with Obama is a natural and appropriate correction to the excessively high expectations that many Europeans had about his presidency. That disillusionment has been deepened by the backlash against revelations of U.S. spying on Europeans and their leaders, but it is wrong to assume that European governments and publics share American hawkish complaints about Obama’s decisions (“think of Mr. Obama’s hesitations on Iran and turnabouts concerning Syria”) when we already know that they didn’t want to attack Syria and don’t want war with Iran. It is telling how much of the op-ed focuses on those two issues to the exclusion of almost everything else. Most Europeans don’t view the nuclear issue in the same terms as Israel or Saudi Arabia.
As for the matter of free-riding, it isn’t surprising that other governments are happy to have the U.S. be responsible for assuming the risks on behalf of their security. As long as the U.S. keeps indulging its allies and clients in this arrangement, the free-riding and the associated griping will never end.