Deeply frustrated by the Bush administration’s policies, many people and governments in Europe hope for a fundamental change in American foreign policy after the upcoming presidential election. But it would take a medium-sized political miracle for these hopes not to be disappointed, and such a miracle will not happen – whoever is elected.
The Bush administration made numerous foreign-policy blunders with far-reaching consequences. But Bush neither invented American unilateralism nor triggered the transatlantic rift between the United States and Europe. To be sure, Bush reinforced both trends, but their real causes lie in objective historical factors, namely America’s being the sole world power since 1989 and Europe’s self-inflicted weakness. As long as America remains the sole world power, the next US President will be neither able nor willing to change the basic framework of America’s foreign policy.
It will, of course, be important who wins the presidency: a candidate expected to continue Bush’s foreign policy or someone ready for a new beginning. In the former case, the transatlantic rift will deepen dramatically. Four, or even eight, more years of US policy à la Bush would inflict such damage on the substance of the transatlantic alliance as to threaten its very existence.
But if America’s next president is committed to a new direction, US foreign policy might again become more multilateral, more focused on international institutions and alliances, and willing to bring the relationship between military force and diplomacy back to within its historical proportions. That is the good news.