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Would McCain or Obama be Better for Britain?

Christopher Meyer, former British Ambassador to the United States during 9/11, writes in the Telegraph:
I have no idea - I have never met him - what Obama thinks of Britain, though in one of his attacks against Bush, he dismissively brackets the UK with Togo. McCain, whom I knew well and liked, is to all appearances a declared anglophile. But, none of this is relevant. America will act on an unsentimental calculation of where its national interest lies. The problem with the rhetoric of the Special Relationship is that it implicitly denies this reality, putting a burden of expectation on the ties between our two countries, which they cannot bear.

Whoever wins, Britain must rest its relationship with America on four propositions: is America our single most important ally and partner? Absolutely. Does this mean that our national interests will always coincide? Absolutely not. Should we stand up for our interests when they diverge from the Americans? Absolutely. Will having rows with the US from time to time fatally undermine the closeness of the relationship? Absolutely not.
While Meyer concludes with a subtle endorsement for Obama, overall he leaves the impression that neither Obama nor McCain will necessarily be better for Britain, since "America will act on an unsentimental calculation of where its national interest lies." That is, it does not matter who is president, because the United States will always act the same way, based on what is in its best interests.  As President Lincoln once said: "I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me."

However, the argument that neither president will be better for Britain (or other allies in Europe, or the transatlantic alliance as a whole) attributes too little influence to the US executive branch.  The fact is, different presidents push different policies and weigh the importance of allie's opinions differently.  If Al Gore had been president in 2003, there is a good chance the US would not be at war in Iraq (or at least would have approached it in a less unilateral way), which would have prevented the transatlantic alliance from reaching a major low following the Iraq invasion. 

McCain and Obama have different approaches to foreign relations, different world views, and different personal styles -- and one of them will be "better" for Britain than the other, regardless of events.


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Pat Patterson on :

I'm not to sure about "unsentimental calculation," as that would mean the US still held the Panama Canal and Subic Bay. Germany would have become Morganthau's suggestion an agrarian society and Reza Pahlavi would not speak English and would have been on the Peacock Throne for almost thirty years. But I also think that good relations, even a special relation, is vital to both the US and Britain. As both can use the other as a buffer to deflect a serious disruption of relations with France and Germany.

Marie Claude on :

"As both can use the other as a buffer to deflect a serious disruption of relations with France and Germany." yeah, Sarko magy operes on Bush... didn't you remarck that resplanding smile he gets when he sees him The Brits will always be on the side of their interests, sometimes on the US side (uh, I remarqued lately that they say they are leaving the vessel in afghanistan.... though) sometimes on the EU, specially when they need our subventions

David on :

Two venerable publications in Britain - The Economist and The Financial Times - have endorsed Barack Obama. McCain has already consigned Russia to a new "Axis of Evil", so he would be more likely to drag Britain into another unnecessary (hot or cold) war. Obama has displayed an openness to listening to our partners and recommitting to the global institutions that America was instrumental in creating in the first place. I posted on the sidebar a NY Times column by Nick Kristof where he urges America to "Rejoin the World". Here's an excerpt: "In the aftermath of World War II, the United States led the international effort to construct global institutions to promote peace and prosperity. These included the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and they served our interests. Now, in the aftermath of the cold war, we need to rethink and refurbish this architecture for the next half century or more. The United States needs to be a part of the International Criminal Court and should lead the push for a new climate change treaty, for example. The new president should be an architect of this emerging order, rather than AWOL as the Bush administration has been. For eight years, the United States has been in self-imposed exile, and that is one reason Mr. Bush’s presidency has failed on so many levels. After Tuesday, let’s rejoin the world." An America "rejoined" with world would be good for Britain and good for the planet.

Reid of America on :

David, You believe in fairy tale politics.

David on :

No, I believe in a better America. And there are tens of millions like me - as you will see on Tuesday.

Don S on :

"The United States needs to be a part of the International Criminal Court" No, David, it does not need to be part o the ICC. The ICC may well need the US, but the way the international system is currently constituted the US needs no part of the ICC. The way this sysem works is that non-signatories can simply thumb their noses at the treaty, signatories must comply. Taliban is a non-signatory, so war crimes perpetrated against US soldiers by Taliban are not actionable. Supposed war crimes by US soldiers against the Taliban are, and if the US army court-martial process for such thing does not bring a verdict pleasing to Germans (for an example) they can try the soldiers again in the Hague. Moreover, some signatories are MORE equal than others. France got an exception to the ICC treaty; when the US asked for the same exception it was denied. One suspects that a test case would be brought fairly quickly against a US soldier or (better) an officer, to 'blood' the treaty. To show it has teeth. Why would the US be 'singled out' under ICC? Is that not paranoia? No. To come under ICC a country has to fight. Germany doesn't fight therefore a German is unlikely ever to find him or herself in a Nederlands jail. The US (UK, Canada) do fight, so these jails need to be made english-friendly. Only if the US made it a strict condition that it would never deploy forces in combat on behalf of NATO ever again would I consent to the US entering this treaty. Or if ALL the remainder of NATO actually began contributing their fair share to combat missions, which is of course impossible. If German and Belgian judges are going to send US soldiers to jail I want Germans and Belgians to share ALL the risks - equally.

Marie Claude on :

this is ridicule, one day you can be the evil, the other day the just, depends on the policy and or of the people in charge. There have been too many simulacres of justice depending on policies wether you win your war wether you loose it, the collateral damages are inherent each country and its population is morally relevant for its army behaviour, the rest depends on if you are on the side of the winners or of the loosers

David on :

Well, then the US must work to change it to make it more equitable - not just thumb its nose at international law (as Bush/Cheney have with their torture policy). The ICC quote is Kristof's - not mine. But I very much agree with this statement by Kristof: "The new president should be an architect of this emerging order..."

Don S on :

How can it be made more equitable, David? Nations which fight will have to jail their own soldiers to norms set in europe - or see show trials in the Hague mounted against their soldiers. Nations which refuse to fight (Germany et al) - will not. No fight, no foul. The only way to 'win' in such a system is to force others to do your fighting that you benefit by. And yes the US DID try to make the treaty more equitable. The Clinton administration negociated in good faith, but Europe really decided what would be in the treaty and told the US to ratify it as it was. The Senate refused to do so, having seen what was in the treaty.

Zyme on :

Moving through the local supermarket, today I discovered there is a Pommes Frites brand "Mc Cain" in store here. Instinctively and without further consideration, I had to obtain it :)

Zyme on :

Wait - Pommes Frites are called French Fries in english right? :)

Reid of America on :

There is no chance the US will join the ICC regardless who wins the election. It would require 67 Senators to approve the treaty joining the ICC. Even if the Democrats have 60+ senate seats it will be hard to get 30 votes. It is blatantly obvious the ICC is a political court that is designed to facilitate soft power Europeans to control hard power America. Even Democrats realize this. After the disgraceful and incompetent prosecution of Milosevic I'm suprised anyone still takes the court seriously. Year after year after year after year of trial and finally Milosevic died of boredom. The trial should have taken 1 week and then he should have been executed.

John Boy Walton on :

Quote: "It is blatantly obvious the ICC is a political court that is designed to facilitate soft power Europeans to control hard power America. Even Democrats realize this. After the disgraceful and incompetent prosecution of Milosevic I'm suprised anyone still takes the court seriously." Your surprise can be easily explained: you chose the wrong target. Milosevic was accused before the ICTY and not the ICC. Please note, there are three International Criminal Courts in The Hague, the Netherlands: 1) the ICC, which is the first permanent court for international crimes [url][/url], 2) the ad-hoc International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), [url][/url] 3) the ad-hoc International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [url][/url]- To create an ad-hoc UN tribunal you need an UN resolution first. The ICC is a permanent court based on a treaty, joined by 108 countries.

John in Michigan, USA on :

I think everyone, even most supporters of the Kyoto treaty and the ICC treaty, agree that ratification by the US Senate will remain unlikely for the foreseeable future. I wonder if we can agree as to which one is less likely? I'm guessing the ICC treaty has a slightly worse chance than Kyoto.

Kyle on :

Agree the ICC has little to no chance of being passed regardless of who is president. Regarding Kyoto, opinion in the US regarding the need to address global warming has changed radically over the past 8 years, particularly among the Republicans. Even Bush seems to have jumped on the global warming train. Both McCain and Obama are selling themselves as environmental protectors, and I think they both mean it, in their own ways... if Kyoto is dead, there is a chance that some new global treaty will be negotiated (or at least attempted) in the next presidential term, that will include the US

John in Michigan, USA on :

I've studied the data quite a bit and still find myself on the side of the skeptics re human-caused global warming (AGW). Clinton was in favor of Kyoto over a decade ago, and his party controlled the Senate, and still the informal Senate vote count was 90+ against (out of 100). Since then, the evidence for AGW has gotten weaker, not stronger. Believers now have to explain the "pause" in global temperature changes since 1998, plus the awkward fact that even before 1998, the observed increases only briefly sustained the low end of the range of predicted increases. I agree that the political dialog has shifted as a result of this election campaign. However, once the politicians immerse themselves in the details, and realize the scale of what would be required to conform with Kyoto, they will realize that the current Bush administration position is the only viable way to get the treaty approved. That position is that it makes no sense to act unless countries like China and India are part of the agreement to limit emissions. A different approach that might have a chance in the US would be to pass limits that fall short of the Kyoto levels but would represent symbolic reductions. This is what McCain and Obama seem to favor. The irony here is that the Kyoto levels themselves are purely symbolic; if you look at the IPCC estimates, if Kyoto had been adopted according to the schedule, it wouldn't have prevented global warming, it would only have postponed global warming for a brief period (maybe 1 year). It would have required additional, post-Kyoto reductions equivalent to 5-10 simultaneous (not consecutive) Kyoto treaties in order to prevent the IPCC's projected global warming. Since Kyoto was not adopted on time, it will now allegedly require even more dramatic reductions today. Fortunately for all of us, the IPCC is completely wrong on their estimates, and there is no current danger of AGW. I will concede that it is a good thing that we are now monitoring the global climate in a way that we didn't do 20+ years ago. But everything we've learned during these 20+ years has demonstrated that we are still in the very early stages of understanding the global climate, and that we cannot predict it with any accuracy.

Zyme on :

Human caused global warming is nothing I can believe into either. There sure may be some effect - but it is of no importance compared to the natural factors. When you look at documentaries from the 1970s (after temperatures sank from the 1940s to 1970s for about 30 years), it was expected that we would live in snow and ice very soon. Now we are expected to become a desert. Oh well. Recently I have read that the North-East Passage around Russia is more and more free of ice and would be decreasing trading distance to Japan and China for approximately 40 % once it is open 12 months a year. Rather than investing billions into something we cannot stop, we should rather adopt to new challenges and opportunities.

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