For the first time since 1928, there is no incumbent president or vice president running for election as party candidate in the 2008 presidential elections. The field is wide open, with an unprecedented number of leading candidates.
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama lead for the Democrats. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (the Mormon businessman), former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani (the twice divorcee), Arizona senator John McCain (the former prisoner of war) and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (the evangelic pastor) are running for the Republicans.
Clinton and McCain have emerged as favourites, but the unpredictability of the primary system could lead any of these candidates to win their party nomination. Three possible scenarios affecting the outcome of the 2008 election upon transatlantic relations.
Soothed transatlantic tensions
Firstly, the arrival of a new US president brings a long-awaited end to the period of tensions that has marked the period from 2001-8. Possible outcomes of this renewed cooperation would include French return to the military command structure of Nato, extended European involvement in Afghanistan (and even Iraq), and US acceptance of some form of renewed climate change protocol.
A Clinton victory promises the possibility at least of restoration to the status quo ante. It would bring back officials from the first Clinton administration with a deep familiarity of transatlantic issues - her current advisors include Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State and Richard Holbrooke, former US ambassador to Germany and to the UN.
Europe in its own hood
Secondly, a ‘peaceful drift’ in transatlantic relations would see Europe focussing increasingly on its own neighbourhood with the US withdrawing into isolationism. The latter may be thought of as a Republican tendency, but an Obama victory could, after a brief honeymoon period, produce a similar result.
For example, Barack speaks out in favour of multilateralism, but has few concrete suggestions. When an American president has a clear foreign policy vision, domestic interests eventually dictate policy. His lack of experience in foreign policy has been exposed by a series of campaign gaffs – from proclaiming his willingness on 2 August 2007 to invade Pakistan - 'If president Musharraf won’t act, we will' - to sitting down with Iranian mullahs for negotiations.
There is also the possibility of ongoing transatlantic rupture. Of the Republican candidates, McCain has the best capacity to establish a rapport with Atlanticists such as Sarkozy, Merkel and Brown. Yet he is likely to prove as much of a 'maverick' in foreign affairs as in his career in the US Senate. European leaders should not expect much of a voice in his White House.
Meanwhile, though he is now third in the polls, Giuliani is most clearly within the tradition of the Bush presidency: his foreign policy advisor is the arch neoconservative Norman Podhoretz, who has openly declared the onset of 'World War IV' after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, in his 2007 book World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism. In June 2007 he expressed his support of bombing Iran.
In Europe, assumptions that whoever takes the Democrat nomination will be set to win the election cannot be taken for granted. As Pablo Pardo, Washington correspondent for El Mundo, remarks, 'if the primary winners are Clinton and McCain, there is a sizeable chance that McCain will go on to win the presidential contest. Hillary is widely disliked among the Republican base and among many independents.' Meanwhile, even a Democrat president is likely to face severe domestic pressures not to concede ground to foreign partners, whether on trade, emissions reductions, or support for US allies such as Israel.
Seven years on, Europeans should not wait indefinitely in the hope of redefining US interests post-Bush. As Philip Stephens writes in the Jan 23 edition of the Financial Times, while the ‘European interest lies in a more measured, multilateralist America,’ nonetheless ’Europe will only properly influence Washington’s leadership if it can demonstrate a capacity to exercise its own.’
'I hope and pray we bomb the Iranians' - editor-in-chief of NY-based American monthly magazine 'Commentary', Norman Podhoretz speaks to newly-launched blog 'Contentions'
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In-text photo and video: (contentions/ Youtube)
In-text photos: A Youtube blogger calls Obama 'a joke' after his Pakistan comment (BeyondtheNews/ Youtube)