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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.

America Votes, but Europe Decides on the Future of Transatlantic Relations

Jan Techau, head of the Alfred von Oppenheim Center for European Studies at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) wrote an insightful op-ed in July, which is still very relevant. Techau described the European attitude towards the US election campaign:
It is just like when worried parents are wondering what kind of boyfriend their beloved daughter is going to be bringing home this time. It is true that they no longer have any say whatsoever in the choice, but nevertheless they have a very concrete idea of exactly what he should look like.
Although most Europeans believe that US voters will decide the future of transatlantic relations on November 4th, it is actually Europe that will determine the meaning, benevolence and usefulness of transatlantic. We have to make up our minds:
The burden of debt, trade deficit, crisis in the financial markets, the dollar exchange rate and recession force the giant [= the United States, ed.] onto a more pragmatic political course, but America will not be able to change its foreign policy as much as many Europeans would like to see. For this reason the question of who would be a more comfortable president for Europe is neither here nor there. The meaning, benevolence, and usefulness of transatlantic relations are in reality actually decided upon in Europe and not in America. It is the Europeans who will have to give up their reluctance in all things concerning global governance. Without robust and sometimes hard contributions to international stability and conflict resolution the world will become an unsafer place, as America becomes (in relative terms) weaker.
Read Jan Techau's op-ed: America Votes, but Europe Decides on the Future of Transatlantic Relations.

Barack Obama's Popularity in Germany

Andrew Hammel, who runs the popular blog German Joys and teaches Anglo-American Law at Heinrich Heine university, says that Germans are obsessed by Obama and do not have "the faintest idea what John McCain stands for."

I spoke to Andrew on the day after Senator Obama's speech in Berlin at the end of July. The video was filmed in a "beach bar" at the river Spree close to the German parliament. Believe it or not.

We were in a good summer mood, even though none of us consumed this cocktail, that is advertised on the board in the background with a creative spelling of the word "happiness." I am sure that the spelling of that cocktail's name is some kind of metaphor for transatlantic relations and our (mis-)understanding of each other...

What if President Obama Asks for German Combat Troops?

Andrew Hammel of German Joys says that US calls for German troops for southern Afghanistan have primarily a symbolic meaning.

American presidents need to be seen to be trying to get more European troops: "American politicians always need some kind of symbolic issue with European partners to maintain the idea that there is some distance between the American and European political orders." These policy disputes do not effect other transatlantic cooperation. Even an increase in Euro-bashing in the conservative blogosphere will not have significant political consequences, says Andrew Hammel in this video interview:

Students Not Interested in a "Nation in Decline"

Tapmag, a blog by students of the JFK-Institute for North America Studies at the Free University, Berlin, writes:

One indicator for the influence of a nation in the world is the number of people willing to devote their academic career to the studies of said nation. According to this measure, the future isn't looking very bright for the United States, if you follow this article in Time magazine. Applications for American Studies have significantly dropped in Great Britain in the last years, even though regional studies are still in fashion.

Okay, now the kids want to learn Chinese, so that they can talk to the next superpower. Fine. Let's see, if they are happy with that decision in three decades.

I am more concerned about this quote from the Walter Grünzweig, professor of American studies at Dortmund University: "Students don't trust us. We have to convince them that we're not part of the propaganda branch of the American Embassy."

A New Strategy for Afghanistan

This is a guest post by Dr. Assem Akram, author of two books on modern Afghan History and two works of fiction. He was born in Kabul in 1965, studied in Paris, where he obtained his PhD from the Sorbonne. He now lives in Springfield, Virginia, with his wife and two sons.

To save Afghanistan from the current downward spiral, radical changes and serious rethinking are needed. Here are laid out the four legs of a plan that would decisively change the equation:

1) Fast-pace the build-up of the Afghan Army so that it quickly reaches a minimum of 150,000 - and ideally 250,000 - men.

2) Reorient the mission of all US and international troops to cease all operations inside Afghanistan to exclusively concentrate - under a new UN mandate - on the border with Pakistan and hermetically close it.

3) Dramatically increase pressure - including imposing sanctions - on Pakistan to do its part to halt cross border militant violence.

4) Overhaul the Afghan political process to favor the creation of a new interim governing entity capable of showing independence, effectiveness, integrity; a Government that presents a new public face at the helm of a new strategy and which can restore confidence inside and outside of Afghanistan and radically change the existing equation.

Read his full article below the fold:

Continue reading "A New Strategy for Afghanistan"

Sleepwalking Into Another Balkan Crisis

Paddy Ashdown and Richard Holbrooke in The Guardian:

Almost exactly 13 years ago, American leadership brought an end to Bosnia's three-and-a-half-year war through the Dayton peace agreement. Today the country is in real danger of collapse. As in 1995, resolve and transatlantic unity are needed if we are not to sleepwalk into another crisis.

Germany is "the Center of Western Europe's Strategic Blindness"

Atlantic-community.org summarizes five press commentaries every day. Here's a sample from today, which exemplifies the Weekly Standard's simplistic weekly standard criticism of Western Europe, but it is full of catchy phrases, incl. its headline, and that is all that matters: "Old Europe, New Europe, Red Europe, blue Europe." And my colleague Jesse came up with an even better headline for his summary:
Effete Germany Cozies up to Russia, Scorns NATO

Seth Cropsey, The Hudson Institute | October 23, 2008

“Old” and “new” Europe parallel the blue and red state split in the US. ++ In old (western) Europe Obama is viewed as a “ray of hope;” new (central and eastern) Europe raises the question, “Who is Obama?” ++ This can be attributed to a difference in threat perceptions. ++ Nowhere is this exemplified more than in Germany. ++ There, a proto-Kantian foreign relations paradigm, coupled with the quest for a plushy welfare state, renders Germany at “the center of Western Europe’s strategic blindness.” ++ To Germans, “Russia is good… NATO is bad.”