Thursday, November 04, 2004

A bit more willing this time around? 

What are the foreign policy implications of the election in terms of America's relations with the rest of the world? I wrote yesterday that "holding your breath and turning blue for the next four years is no longer a viable option" for foreign governments, and therefore we are likely to see a thaw of sorts between those from Mars and those from Venus.

Is it starting

" 'The United States and the European Union are linked by strong cultural, economic and political ties, and by our shared values. This makes us each other's natural and indispensable partners,' said Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, who holds the EU's rotating presidency.

" 'Together, Europe and the United States face many critical challenges in the years ahead. As in the past, our best hope for success lies in common action,' EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana said in a statement...

" 'On behalf of France, and on my personal behalf, I would like to express to you my most sincere congratulations for your re-election to the presidency of the United States of America,' Chirac wrote in a letter to Bush. 'I hope that your second term will provide an opportunity to reinforce the Franco-American friendship.'

"German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who also clashed with Bush over Iraq, voiced hope that his country would continue its 'good cooperation' with the United States...

"Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said from Bonn that he hoped the new US government 'would help to bring peace to the Middle East'...

"In Madrid, Spain's Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said his government 'wishes to contribute to effective and constructive cooperation with the Bush government'."
And Russia's Vladimir Putin had this to day:

"I am convinced that international terrorism gave itself the goal of not allowing the re-election of Bush. The statement by bin Laden in the final stages of the pre-election campaign is the best confirmation of this... If Bush wins, then I can only feel joy that the American people did not allow itself to be intimidated, and made the most sensible decision...

"Relations will not be easy. Between such countries as the United States and Russia with such a scale of mutual obligations, there are always some problems... Our relations in the last four years have undergone a big change, for the good of our peoples, of our countries, and for the good of our security... [Bush is] a reliable and predictable partner... [he] has proved to be a firm man, with a strong character, and a coherent policy."
Now, it's easy to dismiss all these comments as polite diplomatic chatter; after all, hardly anyone in the international arena - arguably, with the occasional exception of French officials - ever says what they actually think, and elections, like funerals, always provide an opportunity for an obligatory kind word to be said.

But I think there's more to it all than just rhetoric. Here is why:

For the past few years, the "international community" has built its policy vis-a-vis the United States on an assumption that Bush, that uncomfortable aberration from Texas, would be a one-termer. Walled in inside their own echo chamber, reinforced and amplified by the American mainstream media's anti-Bush stance, foreign governments have managed to convince themselves that no incumbent could survive electoraly the "quagmire" of Iraq abroad and the groundswell of opposition at home. In other words, the leaders from Caracas to Paris, and from Cairo to Kuala Lumpur, made the assumption that since they wouldn't vote for Bush, and the "New York Times" wouldn't vote for Bush, the American people wouldn't either - that is, for all the sophisticates' sneering about America and the Americans, the "unwilling" governments around the world thought that in the end the US voters would behave as "rationally" as the Belgians or the Jordanians would in these circumstances.

It was not to be. George W Bush has been clearly and convincingly re-elected and his policies at home - and most importantly abroad - re-endorsed by the majority of the electorate. And France, Germany, the EU, the UN, and all others are stuck with W in the White House for the next four years. Going back to the good old days of doing nothing and doing it all together is no longer a possibility.

Whatever we might think of foreign leaders and their ideological preferences, these people also tend to be realists. Now the uncertainty is over and it's time for plan B. Another few years of Cold War is not a productive option for anyone. The governments around the world are realizing, to use Lyndon B Johnson's favorite formulation, that it's better to be inside the tent pissing out than the other way around. As a mate of mine likes to say, even piss kills if from a a great enough height, but as the international community has discovered it's difficult enough to achieve the necessary deadly height if you're planning to urinate on a hegemon and a hyper-power.

The United States throughout the crisis of the last few years has generally tried to maintain good relations with everyone, including its many foreign detractors. I have a feeling that the second Bush term will see an even greater effort to reach out to international critics and skeptics - not to dilute the current policies of the Administration, but more on a symbolic level to help the Frances and Germanys of this world save some face.

So, one big happy multilateral family again? Non. But a detente, perhaps? Oui.


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