(Washington-based independent journalist, has been writing about defense, security, business and technology for 15 years. His work has appeared in publications such as Fortune, Forbes, Chief Executive, Information Week, Defense Technology International, Homeland Security and Computerworld)
The next US president may be able to improve America's tarnished image in Europe, but many allies have already headed for the hills and the task is indeed a formidable one, Peter Buxbaum writes for ISN Security Watch.
Will the next president of the United States improve American's image in Europe? It depends, of course, on who wins the November election.
But only in part. America's Iraq fiasco and the Bush administration's unilateralism has so tarnished the US persona that even the country's closest allies, with only a few notable exceptions, have headed for the hills.
The case in point is Afghanistan, the one conflict that the consensus opinion views as a necessary and righteous war against the perpetrators of 9/11 and their protectors. The US misadventure in Mesopotamia has so compromised US capabilities to confront the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan that it has soured America's NATO allies to the US conception of the global war on terror. The Germans have said recently that they will not deploy troops to the more dangerous areas of southern Afghanistan, while French and Turkish troops appear to have taken more of a peacekeeping than an offensive posture.
So the task of polishing the US image to a shine will be a formidable one. The question is which of the approaches of the three remaining candidates is most likely to achieve this aim.
No about face
Europeans seeking an about-face on US policy will likely to be disappointed no matter who is elected. John McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are all interventionists who would continue chasing terrorists around the world while also deploying US power for peacekeeping and humanitarian missions.
All three have advocated beefed-up NATO operations in Afghanistan, while also speaking approvingly of mounting a multilateral mission in Darfur. All three have also deployed Cold War-like rhetoric for one reason or another.
McCain and Obama are the easiest cases to discern, while Clinton's is more ambiguous. McCain, consistently more hawkish on the war in Iraq than even President George W Bush himself, is most interested in preserving and projecting American power. Obama - a citizen of the world who has succeeded in transcending ethnicity at the domestic political level - is more likely to pursue true partnerships with America's European allies, which would assert western interests in the war on terror as well as perform peacekeeping and humanitarian missions globally. Clinton would seek to mobilize European partners by harkening to the US-European success in defeating the Soviet Union in the Cold War past.
The candidates' policies toward the US presence in Iraq will have to be one of the key prisms through which Europeans will view the United States.
McCain has vowed that he will not pull US forces out of Iraq, and might actually station them there for another 100 years. This would continue to restrict the US military in operations it will be able to conduct elsewhere and would force reliance on others. A President McCain would expect NATO and other forces to continue to provide the lion's share of human resources in the conduct of operations in Afghanistan, and perhaps at other flashpoints in the so-called war on terror. McCain has already advocated that NATO increase its troop presence in Afghanistan.
McCain can also be expected to continue the Bush policy of avoiding the multilateral processes of the United Nations. He has advocated establishing a League of Democracies, which "would form the core of an international order of peace based on freedom." The League "could act where the UN fails to act, to relieve human suffering in places like Darfur," McCain said in a campaign speech. "It could bring concerted pressure to bear on tyrants in Burma or Zimbabwe, with or without Moscow's and Beijing's approval. It could unite to impose sanctions on Iran and thwart its nuclear ambitions."
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have both advocated withdrawing US troops from Iraq, a policy that would be supported by most of America's European friends. But Obama would seek to recruit allies with lofty rhetoric appealing to high ideals while Clinton would galvanize them with neo-Cold War verbiage.
Obama invokes the memories of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and John F Kennedy, when he presents his world view. "They ensured that America, by deed and example, led and lifted the world," he said on the campaign trail.
"As Roosevelt built the most formidable military the world had ever seen, his Four Freedoms gave purpose to our struggle against fascism," he continued. "Truman championed a bold new architecture to respond to the Soviet threat, one that paired military strength with the Marshall Plan and helped secure the peace and well-being of nations around the world. Kennedy modernized our military doctrine, strengthened our conventional forces and created the Peace Corps and the Alliance for Progress. They used our strengths to show people everywhere America at its best."
Clinton is not without her appeal to good works, but prefers to couch her world view in the nitty gritty of policy details. She appeals for a new definition of national security which would incorporate trade and energy policies. On the trade front, she would confront what she sees as China's excesses.
Clinton would "take aggressive steps to stop China from manipulating its currency," she said in a campaign speech, and would "start breaking our reliance on China for not only what they provide to us in terms of the way they buy our dollars and buy our debt but also to be held to higher standards for what they import into our market.
"When we talk about foreign policy, we have to talk about fiscal policy, energy policy and so much else besides just the narrow view that has been primarily driven by the Bush Administration over the last seven years," Clinton added.
John McCain appears to be anxious to confront Russia, while Obama would rely on NATO to push back against a Russian move in the Balkans. Russia, in McCain's view "looks more and more like some 19th-century autocracy, marked by diminishing political freedoms, shadowy intrigue and mysterious assassinations," he said, in a speech. "Beyond its borders Moscow has tried to expand its influence over its neighbors in Eastern, Central and even Western Europe.
"We need a new western approach to this revanchist Russia," McCain continued. "We should start by ensuring that the G-8, the group of eight highly industrialized states, becomes again a club of leading market democracies. It should include Brazil and India but exclude Russia."
Obama would confront Serbia and Russia in the event that those nations attempt to compromise the integrity of the newly independent Kosovo. "We have a strong international structure anchored in NATO to deal with this issue," he said in a recent campaign debate with Hillary Clinton. "We have recognized the country of Kosovo as an independent, sovereign nation, and I think that that carries with it, then, certain obligations to ensure that they are not invaded."
Clinton, by contrast, blames Bush for the deterioration in US-Russian relations. "After September 11, President Bush focused US-Russian relations around just one issue, fighting terrorism," she said, in a speech. "Mr Putin saw that this meant he had a free pass to act as he liked at home and in Russia's neighborhood. In the meantime, America's relations with our European allies, who are absolutely essential to an effective Russia policy, frayed."
While McCain and Obama's willingness to confront Russia may sound like a retreat to Cold War geopolitics, Hillary Clinton seeks to reinvigorate NATO by invoking Cold War ideology, but to a different aim. "The war on terror, like the Cold War, is fundamentally a battle over ideas and values," she said, in a campaign speech. "Let's be sure that the American military does not fight terrorism alone. It is time that we demanded that our alliances, including NATO, are united with us in this fight."
Winning back Europe
Whatever their campaign rhetoric, the next president will be challenged to change America's perception among its European partners.
McCain's promise to retain Bush's postures and expand his policies means that a McCain presidency will almost certainly not alter America's perceptions in the world. His strident rhetoric against Russia will also no doubt fall flat on a continent reluctant to return to the Cold War.
But the Democrats are handicapped because they feel obliged to talk tough on foreign affairs and to strike a militaristic pose. Besides having to overcome eight years of Bush unilateralism, the next US president will also have to face decreasing NATO military budgets and overloaded and exhausted NATO military organizations. Europeans will be reluctant to follow the US lead into an escalated Afghanistan operation after a seven-year war that has fallen short of its aims, no matter the rhetoric or the incentives.
The election of John McCain can only be seen as a third term for George W Bush, at least as foreign policy is concerned.
Obama and Clinton have a better chance of recruiting European support on a broader range of issues. Obama's personality and rhetoric are more likely to appeal to Europeans while Clinton's promised reform of the US-Russia policy and broadened definition of national security means that Europeans will be able to engage with America on a range of issues that go beyond military operations and the war on terror.