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Cheers and Tears for the American Flag

My colleague Jesse Schwartz wrote an op-ed about his transatlantic travels since 2004. Experiencing the US elections in Berlin, he concludes that America is more than a place again: America: New Beginnings, an Old Idea.

He describes the mood at an election party:

As Obama's electoral vote count rose, so did the ebullience. Excitement soon gave way to pure euphoria. This was to be expected, especially from the Americans. But then I saw tears streaming down the face of grown men from Zambia, a fourteen year old girl from Berlin and her mother, Germans, Americans, Irish, white, black, old, young, everyone. The catharsis was overwhelming. America the idea, that ineffable concept, was pouring from people's eyes. This confluence of historic moments had produced something I had never thought possible from my experiences of the past five years. Cheers. Cheers for America. Cheers for the American flag. Uproarious Cheers when Obama told the world, "God bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America." Cheers for all things American. And above all Cheers for the idea that is America.

Excited About Obama, Realistic about Transatlantic Cooperation

German and American policy pundits and exchange students look forward to a new phase in transatlantic relations, but also recognize the limits of further US-European cooperation. That's my conclusion from speaking to dozens of America enthusiasts at Telekom representation in Berlin, where one of the many election night parties took place.

Here's my interview with Dr. John C. Hulsman and Dr. Henning Riecke of the German Council of Foreign Relations as well as Johannes Thimm, a Ph.D. candidate at the Free University:



You will find the interview with the German Fulbright alumni and the US exchange students on

Five Reasons Obama would not be Elected in Europe

Denis Boyles argues in the National Review that while the vast majority of Europeans are hoping Obama will be elected President of the United States today, he would not have a chance of success were he running to lead any European country. Boyles offers five reasons why:

1. “His tax policies are frightening,” in that they are too far left for Europe.
2. “His views on abortion are way too extreme for Europeans.”
3. “His lack of experience means trouble.”
4. “He’s in love with failed ideas.” Boyles calls Obama a “socialist romantic”, compares his policies to the EU Constitution, and then argues that the dream of Obama and all liberals is to have kids raised by the state – the first argument makes no sense and the second argument is simply not true.
5. “His name, incidentally, is Barack Hussein Obama. Sorry to save this for last, but the sad fact is a politician with Obama’s racial and ethnic background wouldn’t stand a chance in the U.K., France, Germany, Italy, or anywhere else in the European Union no matter how charming his speeches were.”

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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 to Conclude from the Townhall Debate?

I think it is great that the US presidential candidates have several televised debates. And I appreciate it, that this US tradition and democratic principle has arrived in Germany in 2002, although here we only have one debate per election. (Please correct me if I am wrong.)

I have read a couple of articles about yesterday's Townhall debate, but apparently it was not too exciting. James Joyner was "bored to tears" about an hour into the debate. His conclusion in Outside the Beltway:

Overall, this was McCain's best debate performance.  It's conceivable that he won it on "points."  The  bottom line, again, though, is that Obama went toe to toe with him and didn't clearly lose.  That's a win given that he went into the debate with a lead and that McCain's hoping to win based on superior seasoning.

What do you think of the presidential elections? Did Obama and McCain give any clues about policy issues that are important for Europe?

Many American friends (incl. our co-blogger Kyle) are enormously interested in this election; even on the border of obsession. Of course, I understand why this election is so special, but I do not share this huge interest and excitement. I am probably even less excited than my fellow Germans.

While there are significant policy, style, judgement, and character differences between Obama and McCain, I am not sure these differences will matter as much as most people think they will. The next president will be less powerful and will have less room for maneuver than past presidents due to the financial crisis and the Iraq war.

Social Welfare in Europe and North America

This is a guest post from Andrew Zvirzdin.  Originally from upstate New York, Andrew is currently pursuing a Master's degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Bologna, Italy. He previously studied at Université Libre Bruxelles, University of Rome Tor Vergata, and Brigham Young University. He has worked on the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament and as an Assistant Editor for Scandinavian Studies. Andrew specializes in political economy, international finance, and EU–US relations.

Andrew ZvirzdinFreedom Fries are out of style, but Europe is still taking a beating this campaign season. Republicans are gleefully using Barack Obama's recent visit to Europe as evidence that he wishes to import European-style welfare states back to the United States “to grab even more of our liberty and destroy our hard-earned livelihood,” as Mike Huckabee recently put it.

Just how evil are European welfare states compared to the United States?

OECD data indicates that the differences may not be as large as we may think. Consider two key indicators:
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