The Trouble with Hope

PARIS – America’s presidential election campaign is being followed in Europe with passionate interest. It is seen as a long saga full of surprises. The human and intellectual qualities of the three remaining candidates are even viewed with some envy on this side of the Atlantic, where you can hear statements such as: “Could we borrow just one of your candidates?” Many Europeans feel all three candidates are superb, and that, contrast to previous elections, America is suffering from an embarrassment of riches.

But Europeans’ interest in this presidential election cannot mask the fact that what they expect from it is far from clear. Europeans may want a more “normal” America, closer to their own values, but they simultaneously worry that a more modest America would demand more of them in the realm of “hard” military power.

America as a model or America as a protector – this “European dilemma” is in itself new. For, in the immediate aftermath of World War II, most Europeans viewed the United States as both its defender against the Soviet Union’s expansionist aims and the key external actor for their deeply wounded continent’s moral and economic reconstruction.

This is no longer the case. The collapse of the USSR, America’s self-inflicted wounds – particularly in Iraq – and the spectacular rise of Asia have changed European perceptions of the US. America is no longer the protector or model that it used to be, nor is it alone in terms of influence and power.