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McCain on Obama's AfPak Metrics

Senator John McCain finds Obama's metrics for evaluating progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan too vague, writes Foreign Policy:

"It's just not the level of detail that we had hoped for," said McCain. "We need more substance ... we're going to have to pressure them to give us some more." For example, the document lists as one Afghanistan metric "support from allies." "It's like that old joke 'How's your wife?" McCain quipped. "Compared to what?"

Smart and funny comment.

War Hero Versus Shooting Star

As Andrew Hammel from the University of Düsseldorf pointed out in his interview with Jörg Wolf recently, most Germans "haven't the faintest idea what John McCain stands for" politically. If you thought you could find out by reading his autobiography, think again. "Faith of My Fathers" could just as well be placed on the bookshelf labeled "military history".

In his so-called "family memoir", John McCain describes in detail wartime adventures of his father and his grandfather. Both were named like himself: John Sidney McCain, and both were four-star admirals in the Navy. John McCain the third (72) succeeded them to military academy and became a bomber pilot. After childhood and youth full of fits of rage and fistfights followed the stereotypical life of a soldier, including fights, romantic escapades, alcohol and gambling.

Continue reading "War Hero Versus Shooting Star"

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.

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:
Continue reading "Social Welfare in Europe and North America"

The Best Way to Energize the Republican Base

If Americans will not elect Obama, then the "the world's verdict will be harsh," opines Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian: "An America that disdains Obama for his global support risks turning current anti-Bush feeling into something far worse.

EURSOC argues that this statement could be used by the McCain campaign and promises to offer "offer a prize to any reader who can think of a better way to energise the Republican base."

Well, the website Europeans for Obama might motivate some conservatives to go to the polls in November.

"Lipstick on a Pig": The 'Silly Season' Commences

Soeren Kern quotes some of the European commentary on Sarah Palin and concludes in the American Thinker that it ranges "from ridicule, to ridicule, to more ridicule, to reluctant acknowledgment that Barack Obama may have met his match." (HT: Marie Claude)

Donald Stadler comments on recent developments in the US presidential campaign in this guest blog post for Atlantic Review:

Every four years the people of the US descend into a period of raving lunacy rivaled only by such spectacles as Carneval in Venice, Oktoberfest in München and any presidential visit by GW Bush to Germany. Usually this commences about the beginning of October and continues until the presidential election early in November: in 2000 the period was prolonged and the lunacy deepened due to post-election events I shall not further describe. This year it would seem the season has come early. I was first alerted to this by a comment written on a blog entry on Andrew Hammel's excellent (and usually light-hearted) German Joys blog.

Continue reading ""Lipstick on a Pig": The 'Silly Season' Commences"