Accessibility links

Breaking News

Campaign 2004: The Candidates on European Allies - 2004-08-17

Relations with Europe have been an important aspect of US foreign policy for nearly six decades. President Bush says he is mending differences with European allies over the Iraq war while Democratic challenger John Kerry pledges to create a new era of alliances if elected president. VOA's Brent Hurd reports on the future of transatlantic relations under a second Bush term or a new Kerry administration.

June was an unusual month of transatlantic gatherings. President Bush's touchdown in Istanbul marked the fourth significant meeting between European and American leadership in a single month.

“It has been my honor to welcome these very important leaders of different faiths to this dialogue,” the president said. “They represent the very best of Turkey, which is a country that is secular in its politics and strong in its faith. We're going to work together to make sure NATO is configured militarily to meet the threats of the 21st century.”

Many analysts say that his message at the NATO summit reflected a larger effort to bridge what some consider the most extensive transatlantic divide in recent history. Earlier that month, President Bush traveled to France for the D-Day anniversary and hosted many European allies at the G8 summit of major industrialized nations. Days later he dashed to Ireland to meet with European Union officials.

James Goldgeier, a political science professor at George Washington University, says President Bush's attempts to win over most European allies will remain futile until a fundamental change occurs. “The big problem is you really can't get allies involved unless you involve them in decision making. The United States under the current administration takes the view they really don't want a lot of allied involvement with decision making.”

Professor Goldgeier says President Bush's history of unilateral action has left many allies feeling shut out. He points out the administration's rejection of the Kyoto treaty on global warming as an example. “The Clinton administration was not eagerly pursing Kyoto -- a very important treaty to the Europeans -- anymore than the Bush administration was pursuing it. But the style was completely different. The Bush administration said without any consultations or discussions beforehand that we are not going to sign this treaty and good luck to you. There was no effort to work ahead of time with the Europeans and say this is not a treaty that we are going to be able to get on board with and there are just too many things we can not agree with so let's try to work some alternative out.”

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry says he will take a different approach to allies. “I pledge to you, within weeks on your behalf, I will return to the United Nations and we will rejoin the community of nations and turn over a new proud chapter in America's relations with the world.” Could John Kerry's expectation of European support if he is elected be too high? Simon Serfaty, Europe program director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies says this is possible. “I just don't understand where Senator John Kerry expects to find additional forces either on European continent and beyond. I find it difficult to believe many countries would bring more troops into the present situation in Iraq. But the Europeans will have to decide if they will do for Kerry what they would not do for Bush.”

Mr. Serfaty warns that structural differences between the United States and Europe will remain regardless of the who wins the election. The use of overwhelming American military power and the need to confront terrorism will continue with either a second Bush term or a new Kerry presidency. But he says the European-American relationship is too vital for either side to neglect. “We -- Americans and Europeans -- form a community of compatible values, converging interests and common goals. We have the intimacy of a couple that has been married for 50 odd years. After that period of time, love may have faded but in the end, the two parts of the couple have become so very alike and assets have been weaved together so intimately that divorce is not possible. There is nothing that America or Europe can do alone, that they can not be better and more effectively together.”

Mr. Serfaty believes a fresh approach to European partnership will be a positive step for either President Bush or a new President Kerry. He says if John Kerry wins, he should immediately reach out to the Europeans. If George Bush is re-elected, he recommends that the Europeans should extend a hand of revitalization to him.