"I've met foreign leaders who can't go out and say this publicly, but boy, they look at you and say, 'You've got to win this, you've got to beat this guy, we need a new policy,' things like that."
Senator John Kerry, March 6, 2004
"As the president has made very clear, there is a difference between leading a coalition of the many and submitting to the objections of a few. George W. Bush will never seek a permission slip to defend the American people."
Vice President Dick Cheney, September 1, 2004
"[Democrats] stress that America needs the help of her friends to combat an evil that threatens us all, that our alliances are as important to victory as are our armies. We agree. And, as we've been a good friend to other countries in moments of shared perils, so we have good reason to expect their solidarity with us in this struggle."
Senator John McCain, August 30, 2004
"Kerry would let Paris decide when America needs defending. I want Bush to decide."
Senator Zell Miller, September 1, 2004
THE QUALITY of the United States' relations with key allies and the role those allies play in American foreign policy decision-making has proved a surprisingly high-profile issue in this year's presidential campaign. But perhaps this should be no surprise. It will matter profoundly--for Americans, our allies, and our enemies--who wins in November, a contention borne out by a major new poll on transatlantic attitudes conducted by the German Marshall Fund of the United States and Italy's Compagnia di San Paolo.
On the question of transatlantic relations, Americans may be from Mars and Europeans from Venus. But there are equally sharp divisions within the United States over how our country conducts its affairs in the world. You might almost say, with John Edwards, that there are "two Americas." And one of these Americas is European.
The America of many Democratic voters is distinctly European in its preference for multilateral solutions, its desire to see the rise of a new European superpower, and its ambivalence on the legitimacy of using military force. The other America--that of many Republican voters--welcomes allied support but favors acting alone when we must, supports using military force to protect vital interests with or without multilateral approval, wants the United States to remain the only superpower, and believes strongly that military power is a force for justice and peace.
Europeans may be right to hope that a Kerry administration would take a more deferential approach to America's allies and would resort to force less readily absent international consensus. But would the American people be better served if America's power to fight terrorism, end dictatorship, and enhance freedom were harnessed to a worldview in the White House that was, in a word, European? And is the way to repair transatlantic relations really to elect a president whose base would appear to feel right at home within the European Union?
This last is not an exaggeration. Our poll found that the opinions of Democratic voters on a range of issues closely resemble opinions across Europe. Democrats (62 percent) are even more likely than Europeans (40 percent) to express strong disapproval of President Bush's foreign policy (the countries polled include the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and Slovakia). Because Democrats presumably blame Bush for the state of transatlantic relations, they are more determined to support strong European leadership in the world, perhaps as an antidote to American power. Democrats believe with greater intensity than Republicans that strong E.U. leadership is very desirable. Similarly, far more Democrats (67 percent) than Republicans (48 percent) believe that the U.S.-European partnership should become closer. But this is an unrequited love: Only 33 percent of Europeans feel the same. Democrats want to move closer to Europe at a time when a majority of Europeans want to act more independently.
In our U.S. polling, stark divisions emerged over whether the United States should remain the world's sole superpower, or whether an E.U. superpower is desirable. Republicans are the party of hegemony: 52 percent want the United States to remain the sole superpower, while a strong plurality (46 percent) of Democrats would welcome the rise of an E.U. superpower. And 81 percent of Democrats who support the rise of an E.U. superstate would favor it even if it sometimes opposed U.S. policies. Democrats, in the main, are willing both to see the rise of an alternative power center in the world and to tolerate its opposition to American leadership; Republicans by and large believe the world is a better place when America is predominant.
COMPARED WITH REPUBLICANS, Democrats and their European confreres show different degrees of willingness to use force, depending on the nature of the threat. Republicans are more willing to use force against "hard" threats like terrorism, while Democrats and Europeans are more likely to support using force for "soft" missions like humanitarian relief. But we see a stark divide between Republicans, on the one hand, and Democrats and Europeans, on the other, over using force without an international mandate. Many Americans and Europeans support using military force for a variety of causes, provided there is international approval from the U.N. or some other body. However, absent such approval, Republicans overwhelmingly (71 percent) would still support using force, while Democrats (56 percent) and Europeans (70 percent) would not.
Overall, most Americans would bypass the U.N. to protect U.S. vital interests. Most Democrats would not. Eighty-four percent of Republicans and 59 percent of independents but only 40 percent of Democrats say that bypassing the U.N. is justified when vital interests are at stake. Democrats are even less willing to bypass the U.N. than Europeans, and far less likely to support acting without a U.N. mandate than the publics in Britain, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, and Slovakia, where more sensible majorities would not wait for U.N. approval. When John Kerry says that he would never give the U.N. a veto over American policy, he speaks for himself and a hawkish Democratic elite--but not for most Democratic voters.
Democrats (81 percent) are also more likely than Europeans (71 percent) to view the U.N. favorably. Most Republicans (56 percent) do not. Democratic support for the U.N. has increased in the past two years, their support for Kofi Annan and Co. rising in league with their anger over Bush policies.
Like many Europeans, Democrats believe that we should never go to war, as in Iraq, without the U.N.'s blessing. Eighty-one percent of Democrats and 82 percent of Europeans (but only 26 percent of Republicans) believe a U.N. mandate would be essential for an Iraq-type operation in the future. In equal numbers, Democrats (80 percent) and Europeans (80 percent) do not believe the war in Iraq was worth the costs; 77 percent of Republicans believe it was. Mentioning that the war in Iraq "liberated the Iraqi people" actually diminishes Democratic support for the war by 3 percentage points, even as it raises independent support for the war and decreases European opposition to the war.
If John Kerry is elected president, pressure from within his party to withdraw American forces from Iraq will be severe. Sixty-three percent of Democrats disapprove of the presence of their country's troops in Iraq, compared with strong levels of support among Republicans (83 percent), independents (54 percent), and majorities in the hardiest of our European allies, Great Britain and the Netherlands. Democratic support for the commitment of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, at 53 percent, is also disturbingly low--Afghanistan was, after all, a classic war of self-defense, and is a country that cries out for Clinton-style nation-building. Many European publics show more robust support for their forces' mission in Afghanistan.
Despite most Democrats' opposition on troops in Iraq, our poll demonstrates that the legitimacy afforded by U.N. approval would trump Democratic--and European--opponents' doubts about the mission. A U.N. mandate for a multinational force in Iraq causes Democratic support for our troops to jump from 35 percent to 66 percent. In the European countries whose governments most oppose U.S. policy in Iraq, public support for contributing soldiers to a U.N. force jumps to 63 percent in France, 66 percent in Spain, and 57 percent in Germany. For Democrats, as for those French, German, and Spanish voters whose governments continue to oppose us on Iraq, the U.N.'s blessing magically dissolves our differences. But this is too good to be true--since the U.N. has actually endorsed the mission of the U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq. Alas, there are no French, German, or Spanish troops in sight.
At the heart of the partisan divide over foreign policy, as with the transatlantic divide over the Iraq war, are profound differences over the role of power in world affairs. Most Republicans (66 percent), but only minorities of Democrats (35 percent) and Europeans (14 percent), believe strongly that war is sometimes necessary to obtain justice. Asked whether the best way to ensure peace is through military strength, 73 percent of Republicans agree, compared with only 48 percent of Democrats and 28 percent of Europeans. Most Republicans (63 percent) strongly agree that military action is the most appropriate way to fight terrorism, compared with only 23 percent of Democrats and 21 percent of Europeans. Democrats, like Europeans, are more likely than Republicans to believe that economic power is more important than military power in world affairs, and they are far more likely to believe that economic aid to improve living standards overseas is the most effective way to fight terrorism.
Democrats are nearly four times more likely than Republicans to believe that their country is spending too much on defense, while Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats to believe we are not spending enough. Like Europeans, Democrats are far more apt to base their vote in the next elections on how a party handles domestic and economic issues, while Republicans are more likely to vote based on how a party handles foreign policy and terrorism.
Like many Europeans, many Democrats seem uneasy over the role of military power in international relations. It goes without saying that our enemies betray no such qualms.
EUROPEANS OFTEN CRITICIZE the Bush administration for its willingness to use America's military dominance to solve international problems. If a Democratic president who answered to his base were in office, our friends across the Atlantic would probably show less concern about America's Hobbesian qualities, since Democrats are far less likely than Republicans to believe that war, military power, and force in the absence of allied consensus are instruments of choice--or even necessity--in international politics. But who would benefit from the Western democracies' aversion to wielding the power that protects them from the barbarians at the gate?
Should President Bush be reelected, the challenge for Europeans will be to help reform existing institutions or create new mechanisms of cooperation that can reconcile Americans' determination to act boldly abroad with Europeans' determination to influence the shape of the world order Americans aspire to build. The good news for Europeans is that Republicans still want to be good partners, despite our differences: 79 percent agree on the importance of acting closely with allies on national security issues, 72 percent believe that strong E.U. leadership in the world is desirable, and 63 percent believe that the United States and Europe share enough common values to cooperate. Republicans are actually more likely than Democrats to believe that Europe is more important to U.S. interests than Asia. And on Iraq and Afghanistan, Republicans are likely to appreciate deeply the continued support of many European countries for their troops stationed there. There is indeed a strong basis for transatlantic cooperation in a second Bush administration, despite our differences.
Ironically, if John Kerry wins, Europe's task may be harder. Should Kerry govern by the preferences of his base, rather than following the better instincts of the Democratic foreign policy elite, the challenge for Europe will not be to restrain an American Leviathan on the march, but to fill the vacuum left by an America in retreat--from Iraq, among other places--through a greater European willingness to act internationally when a U.S. administration that is less comfortable wielding American power will not. Europeans and a new Democratic administration would have to reconcile their high regard for multilateralism and their mutual ambivalence about the uses of military power with their solemn obligation to act assertively against international terrorists--who would likely be emboldened by the Western democracies' reluctance to deploy such power decisively against self-declared enemies.
Given these realities, it is hard to be confident that the world would enjoy higher levels of security, stability, and freedom were President Bush to be defeated in November. Perhaps a Democratic restoration would yield a world that might seem more harmonious and peaceful, and we would for a time relish the illusion of comity and stability. With warm transatlantic relations restored and American power politely held in check, we likely would go abroad less frequently in search of monsters to destroy, and maybe, for a time, they would not come looking for us.
Perhaps the United States and Europe would again see eye to eye on the international challenges of the day, valuing consensus over the allied divisions brought about by the war in Iraq, and opting to exercise together the softer forms of power and influence, rather than wielding the hard power that has caused so much transatlantic tension over the past few years. Perhaps we would, as John Kerry has said, wage a "more sensitive" war on terrorism, and it would help us all to get along.
But would we really be safer?
Daniel C. Twining, a former foreign policy adviser to Senator John McCain, is a director at the German Marshall Fund. These are his personal views. The full results of the "Transatlantic Trends 2004" poll can be seen at www.transatlantictrends.org.