The New Bush Administration and Europe

It is no secret that the majority of Europeans would have preferred that Senator John Kerry win the recent US presidential election. In the view of most European people and most European politicians, President Bush’s style as well as his policies have caused a severe rift in transatlantic relations. As Bronwen Maddox of the Washington Post noted on the Sunday after the election, “It is hard to overstate the sense of shock across Europe at the popular mandate that Americans have given this George Bush.”[1]  New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman put it this way, “While every European country is welcoming the inauguration of President Bush, the prevailing mood on the continent still seems to be one of shock and awe that America actually elected this man.”[2] According to Timothy Garton Ash, Professor of European Studies at Oxford, revitalizing the transatlantic alliance depended on a Bush defeat. In Ash’s view, only Kerry would have had a chance reconstructing the transatlantic West on a new basis. Kerrey would have been able to say that he wanted a united Europe as a strong partner of the United States, whereas no one in Europe will believe Bush even if he were to say it.[3]

The issue for transatlantic relations is whether Bush will pursue the same policies in the same way in his second, and last, administration. During this first term, Bush’s message to Europe was “You need us more than we need you.” Therefore, the US will decide on its own what course to pursue and invite others to join but will not modify its policies to accommodate the desires even of its closest allies. Before analyzing that question, it is important to note that the differences between the United States and Europe involve not just Iraq but extend to many other issues, including the Kyoto protocol, the International Criminal Court, and the fissile materials cut-off treaty. And that Europeans are not alone in their concern about President Bush’s second term. In mid-January 2005, a BBC World Service survey of about 22,000 people in 21 countries found that the majority of respondents felt that Bush’s reelection would make the world more dangerous.[4]

An answer to the question of the impact of Bush’s second term on the transatlantic relationship must begin with an understanding of why Bush won the election. Many people around the world assume that in giving the president 51% of the vote, Americans approve of his policies, particularly his foreign policies. But this is not the case. Post election polls show that Americans disapprove of the war in Iraq, want the US to pursue a more balanced foreign policy, and are not happy with Bush’s handling of foreign affairs.[5] The president won because he came across in the campaign as a strong wartime leader whose resolve and strength would see us through this period of danger that began on September 11, 2001, whereas Kerry appeared too indecisive to provide the leadership the world needs. Bush also came across as a regular guy while Kerry appeared to be an elitist who could not understand or relate to the needs of average Americans. What was important to many of the President’s voters was not Bush’s record but what they perceived as his private soul. In the view of many, he is a good Christian, so his policy failures can be forgiven.[6]

However the president himself does not seem to grasp the reasons for his re-election. In an interview with the Washington Post shortly before his inauguration, the President claimed that his re-election validated his policy in Iraq as well as his overall approach to dealing with the world. According to the president, “We had an accountability moment and that’s called the 2004 election, and the American people listened to different assessments about what was taking place in Iraq, and they looked at the two candidates and chose me.”[7]

To emphasize that he saw the election as validating his policies, the president awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor (which in the past has been awarded to people like Mother Teresa and John Paul II) to the three architects of his policy in Iraq; namely, George Tenet, the former Director of Central Intelligence, who told the president that it was a “slam dunk” that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction; General Tommy Franks, the commander of the US invasion of Iraq, who did not ensure that there were enough troops to stabilize the country after the fall of Saddam; and Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq whose sweeping de-Bathification policy created chaos in the country and fueled the insurgency. As one former Army Lieutenant, who fought in Iraq noted, “[The awards] validate how out of touch Washington is with the reality of what is on the ground in Iraq.”[8]

Actually, when it came to Iraq, the American people did not have a real choice in the election because both major candidates supported the war. Senator Kerrey, like most Democrats in Congress, voted to authorize the use of force against Iraq, and, surprisingly and inexplicably, stated during the campaign that he would have voted the same way even when it turned that the reasons that the President gave the Congress and the American people for going to war were bogus. If anything, Kerry would have deepened American involvement in the conflict because in the campaign he endorsed making even larger troop commitments to that beleaguered nation.

There are already some indications that Bush promises to conduct an even more aggressive and more bellicose foreign policy in his second administration. In his inaugural address on January 22, 2005 the President claimed that the goal of US foreign policy would no longer be confined just to defeating the radical jihadists who attacked the US and its interests over the past decade, or even to bringing democracy just to the Middle East. Rather the goal of the United States in his second administration would be to end tyranny and bring freedom to world. To emphasize this point the President used the word freedom 27 times in a 20 minute speech.  While administration spokesmen, and even the President’s father, claimed that the speech marked no significant shift in US policy around the globe, it appeared to put the US on a course in which moralism and idealism rather than realpolitic would form the philosophical foundations of US policy -- a course that is bound to create more problems and strain the transatlantic relationship even further.[9]

In his first press conference two days after the election and in his first post-election foreign policy trip, President Bush seemed to confirm the worst fears of his critics. In his press conference, he said he would reach out but only to those who shared his values.[10] In his visit to Canada, about one month after his re-election, the president said that while a second term in office would be an important opportunity to reach out to our friends and that diplomacy would be a theme of his second four years, he made it clear his public remarks and in his private conversations with Canadian Prime Minister David Martin that diplomacy would be on his terms. He told the Canadians that while he would be willing to explain his policies to our allies, he would not engage in endless debate and had no regrets about the way in which he ignored the United Nations in invading Iraq. And in a private meeting with Martin, Bush lectured the Prime Minister about opposing the US Missile Defense System. A top Canadian official who attended the meeting with Bush and Martin said “If he’s going to take that speech to Europe, he’s not going to get a good reception.”[11]

The initial appointments that the president made to his foreign policy team seemed to reinforce his rhetoric. The prudent Secretary of State, Colin Powell, was replaced at the State Department by Bush’s loyal national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, who had remarked in 2003 that our policy toward Europe would consist of embracing Russia, ignoring Germany and punishing France. The more warlike and outspoken Donald Rumsfeld, who disparaged France and Germany by referring to them as old Europe and who bungled the occupation of Iraq, was kept on as Secretary of Defense. The criteria for his second term cabinet appeared to be loyalty to the President’s policies rather than fresh ideas or new perspectives.

There are some hopeful signs, however, that Bush’s second term may not be a repeat of his first. In his Washington Post interview, the president also acknowledged that the United States standing has declined in some parts of the world and said he had asked Dr. Rice, his new Secretary of State, to embark on a public diplomacy campaign that explains our motives and our intentions. The president admitted that there’s no question that we’ve got to do a better job of explaining what America is all about.

According to her associates, Dr. Rice’s goals include restoring America’s reputation in the capitals of Europe through a vigorous campaign of public diplomacy, actively promoting free institutions throughout the Middle East, reviving US involvement in the Israeli/ Palestinian crisis and increasing the American focus on free trade and economic issues, all of which should go over well in European capitals.[12] Indeed Rice promised that either she or her deputy will visit every NATO ally this spring. The President himself is scheduled to go to Europe in late February.

Secretary Rice’s personal choices for high level positions in the State Department also have the potential for ameliorating some of the problems in transatlantic relations. As Richard Holbrooke, US Ambassador to the UN and Assistant Secretary of State in the Clinton administration, noted, nothing is more revealing and in the long run and more important in conducting foreign policy than personnel choices.[13]

So far Rice has opted for outstanding career diplomats and professionals not ideologues or partisan political appointees. For Deputy Secretary of State, she has selected Robert Zoellick, currently the US trade negotiator and undersecretary of state for economic affairs in the administration of the first President Bush, a person that is both liked and respected throughout Europe. The state department’s number three position, the undersecretary of political affairs, will go to Nicholas Burns a career professional who has been Ambassador to Turkey and is currently US Ambassador to NATO. The Assistant Secretary of State for European affairs is scheduled to go to either Daniel Fried, a senior National Security Council official, or Eric Edelman, currently our Ambassador to Turkey. The other regional bureaus are also scheduled to go to career professionals.

According to people like Ambassador Holbrooke, these appointments indicate that the second Bush Administration may want to conduct a foreign policy that is more centrist, oriented toward problem solving, essentially non ideological and focused on traditional diplomacy to improve America’s shaky image and relationships around the globe, especially in Europe.

Recent history also indicates that the conventional wisdom about what second terms will be like for American Presidents can be wrong. The conventional wisdom holds that a reelected president, who will never have to face the electorate again, can be even more forceful in his approach to foreign policy in his second term than in his first. For example, many people predicted that the second Reagan administration would see an even tougher stand against the “evil empire” as well as an acceleration of the nuclear arms race. After all in Reagan I, détente had been scrapped in favor of a massive military buildup. Similarly, many pundits predicted that a second Clinton Administration would see an even more passive foreign policy than the first. In his first four years in office, President Clinton refused to get involved in Rwanda, beat a hasty retreat from Somalia, delayed intervention in Bosnia, and all but ignored the Middle East.

But in the second administrations of both Reagan and Clinton, the experts turned out to be wrong. In his second term, Ronald Reagan embraced the overtures from the new Soviet leader, Gorbachev, to negotiate arms control agreements with the Soviet Union. And in his second term, President Clinton launched a war in Kosovo without UN approval, became negotiator in chief between the Palestinians and Israelis, and expanded NATO. A president whose first term was marked by indifference to foreign affairs spent virtually all of his second term deeply immersed in global issues.[14]

Bush is also likely to be constrained in his second term by political and economic factors from pursuing the aggressive, unilateral and military centered foreign policies that he did in his first four years. The political constraints are as likely to come from members of his own party as well as the opposition Democrats.

In the first Bush Administration, many Republican legislators were loath to challenge the president because the party’s prospects for keeping control of Congress were tied to Bush’s political health. Therefore, his re-election had to be their priority. But now that he has run his last campaign, Bush’s hold on Congressional Republicans, who must run every two years, has already begun to decline. Many Republican legislators are already showing signs of independence. Several Republican Senators, including John McCain, Chuck Hagel, and Trent Lott, have expressed a lack of confidence in the newly reappointed Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, the chief architect of our policies in Iraq.[15] Similarly, many conservative supporters of President Bush feel that the war on Iraq has become a political liability for the Republicans and are arguing publicly for a speedy exit from Iraq because it runs counter to the traditional conservative disdain for altruistic interventions to make far off points of the globe safe for American democracy. For example, Paul Weyrich, founder of the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation, and William Buckley, the Godfather of the American Conservative movement, have publicly criticized the president’s policy in Iraq. Shortly after the election, Weyrich urged the president to rethink his policy in Iraq because we are stuck in a guerrilla war with no end in sight and the war has stretched our military too thin to respond to other threats, and real enemies like Al Qaeda are benefiting from the an Islamic backlash against our occupation of an Islamic country. Buckley criticized the Iraqi invasion by saying the president had never satisfactorily explained who and what we are at war with. Donald Devine, vice chairman of the American Conservative Union, went so far as to say that conservatives voted for Bush primarily because he is likely to withdraw from Iraq sooner than Kerry would. According to Devine, Bush’s maddening repetition of slogans about the war was the only politically possible tactic for a man who had already made up his mind to leave at the earliest possible moment. In his critique of the Bush policy, Democratic Senator, Edward Kennedy justified his case for withdrawing from Iraq by quoting several conservatives including Weyrich.[16]

Many Republicans are also concerned with the cost of the war and its impact on the federal deficit, which is expected to top $427 billion in 2005. Coupled with the US trade deficit, the federal government is now borrowing over a trillion dollars a year from abroad. America’s debt to the rest of the world now exceeds $3 trillion and in ten years is projected to exceed $11 trillion. The current debt amounts to more than 28% of America’s gross domestic product, up from less than 14% just four years ago.

The profligate ways of the United States will have a direct impact on Europe. The US and Europe are one another’s largest trade partners, largest investors, and largest employers. Europe’s net direct investment in the United States exceeds $1 trillion, and European holdings of US equities are valued at more than $900 billion, while Europe, primarily old Europe, holds more than $1 trillion in long term debt securities, including US Treasury bonds.[17]

Just as the rifts in transatlantic relations in the first Bush administration were not confined to Iraq, it is important to remind ourselves that the problems in transatlantic relations in the second Bush Administration will not only involve Iraq. There will also be disagreements over how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program, arms trade with China, relations with Russia, the Middle East peace process, the International Criminal Court, global warming, and America’s ability to manage the global economic system.

 

However, the most critical issue confronting the United States and Europe will be the issue of Iran’s nuclear weapons. If this issue is not handled properly, the transatlantic relationship may be permanently damaged. So far the United States and the Europeans, even the United States’ closest European ally, the United Kingdom, have not agreed on a common policy.[18] For more than a year, the major powers in Europe (France, Germany, and Britain), as well as other countries in the European Union, have seen preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon as a race against time, and against the hardliners in the Bush Administration. The Europeans have been negotiating with the Iranian Mullahs to get them to give up their nuclear weapons programs in return for economic aid and trade benefits. So far the Iranians have agreed to halt their nuclear enrichment program, but only temporarily. The Europeans have been trying to persuade Iran to agree to a permanent halt as well as dismantle the machinery used to make nuclear power.

For more than a year, the Europeans have been urging the Bush Administration to join the negotiations with the Iranians. The Europeans recognize that without US involvement they do not have enough leverage to get the Iranians to agree to a permanent freeze. Force, or the threat of force, and the promise of American aid are vital bargaining tools with Iran. Yet the Bush Administration refuses to get involved, putting the Europeans into a lose lose position. Without direct US involvement the effort will probably collapse and if the matter is referred to the Security Council for sanctions against Iran, the resolution will likely be vetoed by China or Russia. The US then could blame the Europeans and the UN for leaving them with no option but to launch a military strike against Iran, an action that would not be supported by the Europeans, and which will permanently damage the transatlantic alliance no matter how many trips Bush and Rice make to Europe or how many speeches administration officials give about the importance of the transatlantic alliance.




[1] Bronwen Maddox, “Europe’s View: We Have to Talk,” Washington Post, November 7, 2004, p. B1.

[2] Thomas Friedman, “An American in Paris,” New York Times, January 20, 2005, p. 27.

[3] Timothy Garton Ash, “ President Kerry and Europe: Revitalizing an Alliance Depends on Bush’s Defeat,” Washington Post, October 27, 2004, p. B7.

[4] Peter Baker, “Bush Doctrine to Get Chilly Reception,” Washington Post, January 23, 2005, p. A1.

[5] John Harris and Christopher Muste, “56 Percent in Survey Say Iraq War Was a Mistake,” Washington Post, December 21, 2004, p. A1.

[6] James J. Zogby, “Why Bush Won,” Truthout/Perspective, December 21, 2004. “The Talk of the Town,” The New Yorker, November 15, 2004, p. 35.

[7] Jim VandeHei and Michael Fletcher, “Bush Says Election Ratified Iraq Policy,” Washington Post, January 16, 2005, p. A1.

[8] Ann Gerhart, “Bush give Medal of Freedom to Pivotal Iraq Figures,” Washington Post, December 15, 2004, p. C1.

[9] Dan Balz and Jim VandeHei, “Bush Speech Not a Sign of Policy Shift, Officials Say,” Washington Post, January 22, 2005, p. A1. Jim VandeHei, Bush’s Father Warns Against Extrapolating From Speech,” Washington Post, January 23, 2005, p. A6.

[10] The New Yorker, Op. Cit.

[11] Elizabeth Bumiller, “Bush in Canada, Declares He’ll Reach Out to Friends,” New York Times, December 2, 2004, p. A1. Peter Baker, “Bush Doctrine to Get Chilly Reception,” Washington Post, January 23, 2005, p. A1.

[12] Todd Purdam, “As Rice Prepares to Move Up, Diplomacy May Be On the Rise, Too,” New York Times, January 17, 2005, p. A1.

[13] Richard Holbrooke, “Tea Leaves at Foggy Bottom,” Washington Post, January 18, 2005, p. A17.

[14] Edward Lutwak, “Governing Against Type,” New York Times, November 28, 2004, p. WK 11.

[15] Robert Novak, “Dodging Blame: Why Are These Neocons Attacking Rumsfeld?” Washington Post, December 23, 2004, p. A23.  

[16] David Kirkpatrick, “The Antiwar Right is Ready to Rumble, New York Times, November 7, 2004, p. Wk 5. “Kennedy Lays Out Plan for Withdrawal from Iraq” Truthout/Report, January 27, 2005.

[17] Felix G. Rohatyn, “Bush Should Talk to Europe’s Investors,” Washington Post, January 4, 2005, p. A15.

[18] For an excellent analysis of the difference between the United States and Europe over how to handle Iran see Seymour Hersh, “The Coming Wars,” The New Yorker, January 24 and 31, 2005, pp. 40-47.

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