What if McCain Wins?
This article first appeared in Newsweek.
1 November 2008
If John McCain becomes the next U.S. president, it will send europe into a fit of despair not seen on the old continent in decades. After all, Barack Obama is Europe's candidate, so much so that French President Nicolas Sarkozy—so happy to spend a vacation day with George W. Bush—turned Obama's fleeting summer stopover in Paris into an orchestrated photo op, to milk maximum publicity from the Democratic candidate. In Britain, Conservative M.P.s seem to have forgotten that McCain had been the keynote foreign speaker at the Conservative Party
conference just last year and now openly wear Obama buttons as they gossip in the House of Commons corridors and tearoom. German Christian Democrats from Angela Merkel's party swelled the 200,000-strong crowd who listened to Obama in Berlin in July. For the European left, Obama is the savior, McCain irrelevant. The intelligentsia and the political weeklies in every European capital seem to have long ago agreed to write off McCain and splash Obama's face on every front cover. If he loses, narrowly or otherwise, there will be a sense that America has lost its senses.
Ever since McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate, Europe has looked down its collective nose at the thought of a McCain presidency. Little matter that Europe is awash with populist politicians of its own. Italy's Silvio Berlusconi or the late Jorg Haider in Austria proved that crude sloganeering and appeals to the gut rather than the intellect were as common in Europe, despite the self-regarding belief of Europeans that their political life is conducted on a higher plane than in America. McCain has been seen as the quintessential American from Mars who appeared to Europeans from Venus as a politician who never saw a geopolitical problem that could not be solved by throwing troops at it.
By contrast, instead of taking steps on its own to shape a united European Union that is willing to invest in security, extend the euro to Britain and lower the protectionist barriers that distort the single market, Europe has invested all of its hopes for a happy tomorrow in Obama. But in the excitement of waiting for the end of the Bush-Cheney years, which Europe blamed for all the woes of the world, few have examined the small print of his ideology. He has made clear that America would never take orders from the United Nations, yet the Europeans said they wanted more multilateral global decision making. He has said Jerusalem should be the undivided capital of Israel, while Europeans have long ago awarded half of Jerusalem to the Palestinians as capital of their putative state. Obama has said America might have to bomb Pakistan in order to chase out Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda from their hiding holes on the northwest frontier. To win U.S. labor support Obama has questioned free trade, the neoprotectionism that if enacted would cripple European exports. And while Obama had the good fortune not to be a member of Congress when the votes on Iraq in 2003 had taken place, he seems enthusiastic nonetheless about increasing troop presence in Afghanistan despite increasing European pessimism that any victory is possible.
So for a handful of politicians and professional policymakers there might be a sense of relief if McCain wins. A Republican, to be sure, and one with an odd vice president. But America and the world survived Spiro Agnew and Dan Quayle. And McCain is anti-Bush across a range of policies. He has patrolled Europe's security conferences over the years. For many worried about Vladimir Putin's divide-and-rule authoritarianism—including leaders in East Europe, the Nordic countries and tougher politicians like Britain's clearsighted foreign secretary, David Miliband—a Washington that had few illusions about Russia's Soviet-style aggressive posturing would be welcome.
The fairy tale of Obamania has caused Europe temporarily to suspend all of its centuries-old cynicisms about the politics of Camelot and Sir Galahads single-handedly saving the world from evil. But with a Republican president holding sway, there could still be a kind of relief that it would mean politics as usual. The calls would be made. "John, cher ami," Sarkozy would say. "Mein lieber Freund," Angela Merkel would trill. "Come and visit your roots in Scotland," Gordon Brown would urge. In the wider European population, however, there would be a stunned refusal to accept the result.
Once again, it would seem that America had let down Europe, because despite the existence of the EU, Europeans still do not believe deep down that they can stand on their own feet without America. And with no leadership on offer to take on Europe's disappointment, to provide hope to Europe's pessimism, the continent would become more sullen, more inward-looking, more nationalistic and less and less able to be the united partner that the United States needs to defend democracy and promote freedom around the world.