Sun Jan 6th, 2008 at 05:28:39 PM EST
The next US President is going to be a huge improvement for relations between the US and Europe. If, as seems likely, it's going to be a Democrat.
If we focus on the relations of the EU and of our individual countries with the US, there are substantial differences between the three Democrats who could still win the Democratic nomination: Clinton, Edwards and Obama. Those differences are nowhere near as big as the differences between these three and any Republican, but they're important.
Europe is still going to have challenges to work out with all three candidates. All three are still firm believers in American exceptionalism, but express it in different ways.
(Adapted from Obama and Europe)
"I still believe that America is the last, best hope of Earth." - Barack Obama
"We cannot achieve any of the solutions that we need to be pursuing without American leadership, and we cannot achieve any of them alone." - Hillary Clinton
"We must do everything in our power to reclaim the United States' historic role as a beacon for the world and become, once again, a shining example for other nations to follow." - John Edwards
Hillary Clinton, on the face of it, is the most hawkish of the three candidates. If she becomes President, her current foreign policy advisor Richard Holbrooke will likely become Secretary of State. Both Clinton and Holbrooke have a tough, hard-nosed approach to politics and negotiations. On the other hand, Clinton is also a cautious operator. She should be expected to take a hard line in a confrontation, but not to embark on any adventures without careful planning.
The speech from which the Clinton quote above is taken from is strikingly humble and realistic. However, that doesn't get her past her support for the amendment that classifies the Iran Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organisation. It also doesn't get her past calling Obama "irresponsible and frankly, naive" for proposing to sit down with the leaders of what the US calls 'rogue countries', adding that she "wouldn't want to be used for propaganda purposes".
Clinton is still the one most concerned with posturing and toughness. That's because -- that's who she is. She is a cautious, smart hawk. Fundamentally different from Bush on two out of three counts, but a hawk all the same.
John Edwards is probably the most dovish candidate. The EU will run into issues with Edwards over trade policy, not foreign policy.
The core constituency for the Edwards campaign is the working class, and he will move to protect the interests of that constituency by taking protectionist measures. As Edwards' main campaign theme is fighting for the people, he may be all too happy to get into a row.
Another campaign theme of Edwards is fighting the (corporate/lobbying) system in Washington. The EU should expect him to take that fight further to the international institutions dealing with trade. Edwards could well challenge the WTO, the IMF, the World Bank, the G8, and so on. However, this also provides an opportunity for the EU to re-order these institutions together with the US. France and the Mediterranean countries would be very interested in that, the UK and other trading countries like the Netherlands and Denmark, not so much.
Much of what Edwards proposes -- labour standards, environmental standards, capital controls... it's also favoured by most European countries. But, to varying degrees, and not by all. On trade policy, the European Union has a large amount of influence, much more than on foreign policy, and there are some elements of the EU that are strongly in favour of free trade.
If Edwards becomes President it is vital for the EU to engage him immediately and constructively on trade issues, otherwise a confrontation will be nigh-inevitable.
Barack Obama, who now seems the favourite to win the elections, is both the best, the most challenging and the most dangerous candidate for the EU. To start with the danger, Obama is not a dove. Despite being the only one of these three to oppose the war in Iraq from the start, he is as likely to start a military confrontation as Clinton is, perhaps even more so.
The reason is that Barack Obama, more than Clinton, more than Edwards, believes in the moral duty of the US to lead the world. David Vickrey called this expression of exceptionalism 'exemplarism' in a recent editorial on the Atlantic Review. The interventionist reflex this leads to in the event of humanitarian crises will be reinforced by Obama's foreign policy advisor, Samantha Power, who should go on to become National Security Advisor under an Obama presidency. Power near-literally wrote the book on interventions in humanitarian crises.
On the other hand, a main theme of Obama's campaign and his wider political career has been reaching across the aisle to 'get work done'. This bipartisanship can be frowned upon in the current context of American politics, but extended to international relations, it would be of great use. In terms of style, then, Obama is the least confrontational of the three candidates and the one most likely to find common ground with the EU.
This will also become a challenge, as Obama is the candidate likely to ask for the most, and get the most. He's the one most likely to get Europeans to do something they initially really did not want to do (and maybe, for good reason).
Worryingly, Obama does not seem to have all too much interest of his own in Europe.
Summarising: Europe should be optimistic about any of these three candidates as a President. But we are still going to have differences and Europe should prepare for that.
The people of the United States of America should not expect the transatlantic alliance to immediately get back to the level it was at before Bush. We have differences, and Bush broke a lot of things down.
Building it up again takes more than a more inspiring leadership. It takes years of work.