Wednesday, 18 August 2004

Wishful Thinking and the Europeans

Most Europeans who are fiercely critical of George W. Bush would feel at home in Massachusetts. Liberal Massachusetts seems a world apart from Texas, the home state of President Bush. Its dominantly liberal politics and “Europeanness” offer a stark contrast to the cowboy conservatism of Texas. Not to mention that the convention week in Boston offered a multitude of opportunities to witness or participate in anti-Bush rallies and events critical of the current administration’s policies.

However, it is alarming to see how the mere facts that presidential contender John Kerry is from Massachusetts, is a Democrat and is not George W. Bush have lifted expectations among European policymakers and opinion leaders. This is not only the case with countries that officially have not supported the U.S. administration but even in countries that are party to the so-called Coalition of the Willing. Bush-bashing turned near hatred has blinded many otherwise smart and rational Europeans, and has kept them from seeing the forest for the trees.

To understand this, one need not turn to Republican analysts and people otherwise critical of Democrats and John Kerry. Democratic foreign policy experts offer plenty of reasons to suggest that European expectation for radical foreign policy change under Kerry would be misplaced. A discussion on U.S. foreign policy at the Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government on July 27 also seemed to point toward a conclusion by which Europeans should calm down.

Not only are the five Harvard professors (Joseph Nye, Graham Allison, Elaine Kamarck, Samantha Power and David Gergen) who presented their views well-known scholars, but four of them have served in Democratic administrations. While all speakers argued that one of top three priorities for the U.S. administration has to be restoration of moral and political power in the world, the consensus emerged that U.S. foreign policy in its current form is strongly influenced by structural factors which cannot be changed by the President alone.

Nye, a recent dean of the Kennedy School and former Carter Administration official, pointed out that although the foreign policy focus of the possible Kerry administration would not change, the means of achieving US foreign policy goals might. Nye expected Kerry’s foreign policy to be “a smart combination of hard and soft power.”

Power pointed out that structural constraints in U.S. foreign policy-making imply that not just executive power but legislative power matters, too. She gave examples of treaty ratification and budget allocations to contractors from the U.S. and its allies as something that can be changed simply by a new president.

Kamarck said that a huge part of government, the military and intelligence arms in particular, is inadequate for handling 9/11-type crises and the war on terror, as it was built to monitor a monolithic bureaucracy of an enemy such as the Soviet Union. True to New Democrat-fashion, Kamarck advocated radical reform of the U.S. intelligence community (to become less monolithic, more flexible), military reform (more Special Forces) and domestic intelligence.

Allison dissented somewhat from the view that U.S. policy has been influenced strongly by structural factors, arguing that the United States “shot the wrong guy” by attacking Iraq. However, even if one were to accept Allison’s premise, it is hard to see how this miscalculation or deliberate choice (as many Democrats prefer to see it) would undermine the argument that U.S. policy is shaped by structural factors. The argument seems even more difficult to grasp when considering Kamarck’s points about the inadequate state of the intelligence services and military. Even Bill Clinton, in his autobiography My Life, stated that he supported the war against Iraq but would have spent more time on the multilateral front in order to convince allies to support U.S. policy. Hence, the difference seems to be one of style over substance.

As far as substance is concerned, Gergen, a White House advisor in the Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton administrations, said that it is hard to figure out on the basis of vague statements what Kerry or even a second George W. Bush administration would do in terms of foreign policy. According to Gergen, the important question involves what Bush has learned from mistakes made during the first four years of his presidency.

Nye drew attention to the fact that Bush has chosen a multilateral approach in handling the situations in Iran and North Korea. “Bush has been pushed to the multilateral approach because he does not have any good unilateral options,” said Nye. However, Nye also pointed out that the U.S. cannot simply leave Iraq behind, allowing it to become a failed state like Lebanon or Afghanistan, not to mention a hotbed for international terrorism.

As the current administration has now put an emphasis on the multilateral approach, it is plausible to argue that the real differences between Kerry and Bush foreign policy would not be great. All of this may be rather disappointing news — not just to peaceniks, but to Europeans of more moderate expectations, who view Kerry as hope for improving trans-Atlantic relations and getting U.S. foreign policy back to the “right” direction.

A fairly moderate example of such wishful thinking is offered by Philip Gordon and Dominique Moisi, in the article titled “Kerry offers chance of a transatlantic thaw,” published in the Financial Times on July 26. The authors provided a laundry list of five things that both Europe and the U.S. should do to improve relations.

According to the authors, the U.S. should change its tone and style, swap control over Iraq for legitimacy, dedicate more political capital to the Arab-Israel peace process, restore U.S. moral authority, and reconcile its attitude toward multilateral treaties. Europe should change its tone and style, help to rebuild Iraq, be serious about weapons proliferation, assist unilateral withdrawal by Israel from Gaza, and fulfill commitments to develop military capabilities. Even if this list seems fairly succinct, expectations that the Kerry administration will be able to achieve all-of-the-above are inflated. Such change requires more than a change in president. Change in several policies is more dependent on structural factors than on the individual who holds the presidency.

The authors rightly draw attention to the fact that improving transatlantic relations is a two-way process. Let’s assume the U.S. president does change tone and style. Will Messrs. Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schr√∂der go forth and change their tone and style as well? Even if this were to happen, what would this mean substantively speaking? Will they assume a friendly manner while continuing to decline to help the U.S. out in Iraq?

Europe may feature high in the minds of Harvard professors, but Europeans should keep in mind that the last constituency Kerry needs to win is Harvard Yard. If he is going to be American president, then it is worth recognizing that Europe is but a blip on the radar screen of the average American. In all likelihood, improving transatlantic relations will require a lot of patience from both sides. But Americans lack patience — particularly for things they consider unimportant.

By Meelis Kitsing

This article first appeared on http://www.techcentralstati…