Kerry: Softer speech, same stick

Posted in United States | 14-Aug-04 | Author: Josef Joffe| Source: Joong Ang Daily

Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry waves to a supporter as he walks the streets of Portland, Oregon on August 13, 2004.
Most Europeans and many Asians are openly rooting for John Kerry, fervently hoping that the Democrat will expel George W. Bush from the White House on Nov. 2. They think that their problems with America over the last four years were personal rather than structural. Hence, get rid of Mr. Bush and a new era of good feeling will dawn over the Atlantic and Pacific.

The Europeans could not be more wrong. They look at Mr. Kerry and note proudly that he wears Hermes ties, speaks French and went to a Swiss boarding school. They forget that Mr. Chirac, the French president, speaks English with a pronounced American accent, yet opposes U.S. policy at every twist and turn.

Unfortunately, only about 20 or 30 percent of the problems between the United States and its allies are due to Mr. Bush. If Kerry is elected, he will surely use language that is diplomatic and respectful, soothing the pride of America's friends and former friends. But no gesture of respect can bridge the structural issues. What are they?

The best shorthand answer consists of five words: "end of the Cold War." Strategic dependence has plummeted all around. Because the Soviet Union is no more, the Europeans no longer need the U.S. for protection, and so are no longer willing to be nice to Washington. For the same reason, the U.S. no longer needs the strategic real estate that was Western Europe during the Cold War. Similar trends have affected the relationship between the United States and its key Cold War allies in Asia, Japan and South Korea.

But more than just the end of the Cold War has wreaked havoc on America's alliances. The key event here is 9-11, the attack that launched, if you wish, World War IV, the onslaught of Islamic terrorism (the Cold War being World War III). Though global in scope and total in objective, the terrorists' primary target is the United States, and that has enormous consequences. The United States feels at war; the Europeans do not. Hence, they look at the world through very different lenses.

Add to this a vast power differential. The U.S. will soon be spending more on its military than the rest of the world combined, and has clearly been more willing to use force around the world. The Europeans believe in international cooperation, compromise and institutions; they look at force with great distaste ?? perhaps because Europe was the most violent place in the world during the first half of the 20th century. A president named Kerry will not bridge this gap.

Indeed, any American president will want to keep all options open rather than submit to institutions like the UN or the International Criminal Court. Unilateralism, which the Europeans hated so much during the Bush era, will remain a distinct feature of American grand strategy.

If Kerry is elected, he will be more multilateralist only in style. He won't withdraw from Iraq; instead, he wants to assemble "a very different kind of alliance" that will shift the burden of order to European shoulders. This will not please the Europeans, or all those other nations who want nothing to do with the war. Nor will the Europeans, basically pro-Arab, support America's objectives in the Middle East. And they are very reluctant to join the war on terrorism, which Kerry will prosecute with the same fervor as does Bush.

In fact, if Kerry actually wins, the Europeans might well wish that Bush had stayed in power. Bush is a universally despised figure in Europe. To say no to him was the easy and popular thing to do. With Kerry in the White House, Berlin, France and Madrid will still want to say no. But how do you oppose and denigrate America when its president wears Hermes ties, speaking softly while carrying the same big stick?

* The writer is the editor of Die Zeit, a German weekly, and a research fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institute.

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