The Atlanticist

Article published on June 8, 2004
community published
Article published on June 8, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Europeans are betting that a Kerry administration will jumpstart relations with the US. But will that be enough to transform the country's unpopular foreign policy?

He is the sort of American Europeans like, an internationalist who believes in dialogue and consensus building. On John Kerry, Europe is pinning its hopes for a return to the way things were before Florida (the state who allowed Bush to be elected), before Iraq, before George W. Bush ever entered the White House. The resume of the Massachusetts Senator reads like a dream for anyone hoping to rekindle the "old alliance." The offspring of a patrician New England family, raised by a diplomat father who helped reconstruct post-war Europe, he went to school in Switzerland, apparently speaks French and Italian, and even has a French cousin. Those credentials are a lush contrast compared to the flat planes of Crawford, Texas. More importantly, it’s material Europeans can work with and which, some like to believe, will rekindle limping transatlantic relations.

A coming shift ?

But beneath the appealing veneer, is America's foreign policy really going to be that different under John Kerry? Can Europe really expect a fundamental shift? Or is the "you are either with us or against us" doctrine here to stay? Guillaume Parmentier of the Institut Français des Relations Internationales (IFRI) expects a Kerry administration to be completely different to the Bush one. He explains that with Kerry at the helm "there would be no deliberate effort to undermine European unity as was the case over Iraq." Kerry's foreign policy would be more in line with Secretary of State Colin Powell's internationalist approach, explains Parmentier, by steering clear of Paul Wolfowitz's neo-conservative clique or the nationalist embrace of the Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney. Even though a Kerry administration is bound to be more Euro-friendly, it would be utopic to believe that it will fundamentally alter US foreign policy. At the base of how America conducts its international relations, is an unmatched military, economic and, some might even argue, cultural dominance.

"Terrorism forms the alpha omega of America's foreign policy"

In the end, dialogue and international co-operation is nice but it won't prevent the US from pursuing its own agenda even if it sometimes riles its European allies. "With a Bostonian administration replacing a Texan one they think that everything will return to the way it was before," explains conservative Parisian MP Pierre Lelouche. Europeans, according to him, have yet to fully understand the post-9/11 reality. "Terrorism right now" he says, "forms the alpha omega of America's foreign policy" and will dictate how it conducts its foreign affairs for years to come.

Ironically, to begin to understand what America's foreign policy could be like under a Kerry administration one needs to look no further than the current White House. In recent weeks Bush and his British sidekick have cajoled the United Nations into a new resolution over the transfer of power in Iraq. In exchange they have pledged greater UN oversight. And using the 60th anniversary of the D-day landings as a backdrop, it has worked hard to rekindle relations with its European allies. Word for word that just about sums up what John Kerry has pledged he would do if elected president.

"America's dominance is here to stay"

Although America's frivolity for international co-operation took shape on the rubble of the World Trade Centre, it certainly did not begin when Bush II walked into the oval office. Already under Bill Clinton, one of the most popular American presidents in Europe, the US had opted out of crucial international agreements like the international ban on land mines, and had bargained hard over the Kyoto protocol on gas emissions. The reality is that even if Kerry wins in November and the US strengthens relations with Europe "at the end of the day it will still be able to do what it wants to do, " notes Guillaume Parmentier of IFRI. In a recent television interview former French foreign minister Hubert Védrine went further, warning that until Europe forms a real, cohesive alternative power, America's unilateral dominance "is here to stay."