If the presidential election still looks open in America itself–the polls show the two candidates continually overtaking each other–Senator John Kerry is agreed to be the firm favorite in Europe. The senator himself claims that European leaders quietly wish him luck, and according to the polls European voters have a deep distaste for George W. Bush too.
This European backing may not be altogether helpful to Kerry. When Adlai Stevenson was asked to explain his landslide defeat by Ike, he quipped: “I was running in the wrong continent.”
To judge from how often he talks about Europe, however, Kerry thinks that European support is an electoral bonus as well as a diplomatic one. His theory seems to be that if he is elected, he can rely on the European “allies” to help the U.S. in Iraq and elsewhere–and that the American people, knowing this, will vote for him and multilateralism.
But his theory rests on the unstated and shaky assumption that “Europe” equals France and Germany. To be fair, “Europe” did mean France and Germany until yesterday. They jointly dominated the European Union. Once Paris and Brussels had agreed on some policy initiative, they had little difficulty in recruiting enough smaller countries to push it through.
Now that the EU consists of 25 member states, however, Franco-German dominance is crumbling. Eastern Europe is more pro-American than Paris and Brussels; the Baltic states are more free market than the Brussels bureaucracy; all value the national sovereignty they recently recovered from the Soviet Union.
There is now a second bloc of EU countries that look to Britain, Poland, and Italy to advance an Atlanticist agenda of free trade, free markets, and deregulation against the Euro-mercantilists under Franco-German leadership. These two blocs are almost equally balanced. As a result there are several “European” views on most issues.
Take the question of who supports Kerry. Spain’s Zapatero (who holds office partly by courtesy of Osama bin Laden) is the only head of government who has openly declared for Kerry. But France’s President Chirac and Germany’s Gerhard Schroeder are silently in Kerry’s corner. And most Scandinavian and socialist leaders join them there.
Britain’s Tony Blair and Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, however, have a clear interest in Bush’s reelection. His defeat would weaken them at home. And their support for Bush is shared by some leaders in countries like Poland, Hungary, Latvia, and even Holland who have taken major political risks to put troops in Iraq.
Kerry is oblivious to all this. In particular, he seems not to realize that he and his fellow Democrats have been repeatedly insulting the fifteen European countries in the U.S.-led Iraq Coalition. Although they include the some of the leading military powers in the EU and NATO, they were dismissed at the Boston convention as “countries you can buy on e-Bay.” That kind of thing rankles at least as much as Donald Rumsfeld’s “Old Europe”–and it annoys America’s friends rather than its rivals.
So although half of Europe is leaning to Kerry, it is the wrong half!
And how will the U.S. benefit? Neither France nor Germany nor their camp-followers are likely to heed Kerry’s call for troops in Iraq. Some have no troops to send–Germany spends just over one per cent of its gross domestic product on defense–and others like over-stretched France will not commit scarce troops to a venture they believe doomed. Some leaders even want to see the U.S. humbled.
Will France and Germany take a different attitude in future crises if Senator Kerry, as he promises, regularly consults them in a spirit of multilateralism? Again, the prospects are bleak. France and Germany have an outlook on foreign policy entirely different from the viewpoint even of liberal Democrats such as Senator Kerry.
Ever since September 11th, most Americans have concluded that the war on terrorism ultimately requires a willingness to take preemptive military action against the terrorists and their state sponsors before our cities lie in ruins. They would like European support for such a strategy–even a chastened Bush administration now accepts the need for better alliance consultation–but they will not give Europe a veto on it.
In the current Commentary magazine, Norman Podhoretz mounts a powerful defense of this outlook as a response to the three linked threats of terrorism, rogue states and nuclear proliferation. Reluctantly, Podhoretz sees these threats–not utopian visions of global governance by the U.N.–as the future.
He concludes: “To move into the future meant to substitute pre-emption for deterrence, and to rely on American military might rather than the “soft power” represented by the UN and the other relics of World War III.”
In contrast, France and Germany are stuck in the past. They prefer to root their own defense in deterrence, international law and institutions such as the United Nations. As Podhoretz terms it, they are relying on instruments designed for the Cold War rather than for al Qaeda. And whatever consultations a President Kerry offered, they would be unlikely to support the new U.S. strategy–or even to refrain from obstructing it.
Like an inverted Kerry, however, Podhoretz attributes to “the Europeans” what is in fact the view of only half of Europe. Those countries with troops in Iraq have in practice already endorsed the American strategy. There are European political leaders, in addition to Tony Blair, who will make the principled case for it if given encouragement and backing from Washington. And the political debate in Europe is, despite appearances, finely balanced.
Finely balanced–not safely pro-American. The sunny belief–promulgated by the Wall Street Journal editorial page–that the newly appointed EU Commission shows that free-market and Atlanticist Europeans are in the ascendant is as misleading as Mr. Podhoretz’s neoconservative despair. An election defeat for Berlusconi in Italy, like the defeat of Aznar’s conservatives in Spain, could swing the pendulum back towards Paris and Berlin. So might a switch of allegiance by smaller countries in return for economic or diplomatic benefits. France and Germany will certainly be trying to win them round. There is all to play for.
What this means is that the U.S. must now engage in tough-minded alliance management politics designed to tip the European balance firmly and permanently towards the pro-American Anglo-Italian-Polish bloc–and to revive Atlanticism in European politics
Early last week the president took a small step towards this when he announced that U.S. troops abroad would be “redistributed”–some returning home, some moving from Germany to Eastern Europe. But more needs to be done–and it need not all be negative or obstructive.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, who is greatly respected throughout Europe, might lead the Bush administration in offering a grand new transatlantic bargain under which the U.S. gives Europe greater influence on defense and diplomacy in return for an American role in Europe’s making of economic regulations. That would mean tough but subtle diplomatic interventions by Powell not only in NATO (which the U.S. leads) but also in the EU of which the U.S. is not even a member. If it were to succeed, it would transform the reputation of the Bush administration and of Bush himself in Europe. But it would undoubtedly be uphill work.
Senator Kerry’s task is simpler: He must switch his support from our European rivals to our European friends.
–John O’Sullivan is the editor of The National Interest and editor at large of National Review. He can be contacted through Benador Associates at www.benadorassociates.com..