President Bush, who may well be the worst president in the history of the United States (a view held by historian Sean Wilentz of Princeton University, for example), has brought the country's reputation to an all-time low worldwide. In the eyes of much of the world, the America of George W. Bush is no longer a beacon of democracy. Instead, it stands for contempt for international law (because of the US's unilateral war in Iraq), torture at Abu Ghraib, bending the law in Guantanamo and selfish environmental policies that do more harm than good to the world's climate.
US Democratic presidential candidate and Senator Barack Obama would expect more from Washington's allies in Afghanistan.
Each of the three presidential candidates has declared regaining moral credibility and recapturing a global leadership role by setting the right example as a major goal of his or her administration, but they differ when it comes to their foreign policy proposals designed to repair America Inc. At first glance, the differences seem minor, but upon closer inspection they are significant -- and they offer a surprising, but not always pleasant, outlook for German politics. Obama, Clinton and McCain all want to close ranks with the US's allies, and they all claim multilateralism instead of going it alone as their motto. But the inclusion of the allies in the decision-making process also means that the next American president will want them to take on more active roles.
Whether the Republican, a frequent attendee at the Munich Security Conference, or the Democrats -- with Clinton already quite familiar with Berlin, while Obama has made few European trips so far -- come into power, they will want Germany, as a NATO partner, to assume more responsibility, especially in Afghanistan. While Berlin has managed to fend off the urgent requests coming from a weakened Bush administration, this will become much more difficult when it is dealing with any new US commander-in-chief.
Asking the Europeans to Do more in Afghanistan
Obama, the inexperienced candidate, whose opponents criticize him for being too "soft" on fighting terrorism, is trying to seal off what could be a dangerous flank for him. He recently said that it is unacceptable that the Americans and the British are bearing the brunt of "the dirty work" in Afghanistan. If he becomes president, Obama will demand that the German military, the Bundeswehr, which has been stationed in the relatively safe northern part of the country until now, ultimately participate in combat missions in the south.
Every mission in southern Afghanistan is fraught with danger. Afghanistan experts believe that it is naïve to think that the Taliban can be defeated, no matter how many NATO troops are deployed to the region. Air strikes, the only effective weapon against the radical Islamists, who often hide in villages, also exact a high civilian death toll and fuel hatred among the population. At least Obama, unlike McCain, who emphasizes military options, plans to prioritize civilian reconstruction for the country.
Unlike Bush, whose demonstratively warm endorsement of his former rival could be more harmful than not, McCain is opposed to allowing interrogation methods that border on torture. As a former POW in North Vietnam, McCain knows what torture means. Like his Democratic opponents, he would probably close the detainee camp at Guantanamo. Nevertheless, his worldview remains shaped by his military career. "We can afford to spend more on national defense," says McCain, as if the United States weren't already spending more on defense today than the rest of the world combined.
McCain also hasn't ruled out a military strike against the regime in Tehran, although he has said that it wouldn't be his "preferred option." Speaking to veterans last year, he got carried away when he changed the words to a popular Beach Boys song, "Barbara Ann," enthusiastically singing: "Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran." When he was criticized for the slip-up later on, he refused to apologize.
McCain wants to throw "revanchist" Russia out of the G-8 group of nations -- without considering the resulting loss of face for Moscow -- and turn the prestigious group of highly industrialized nations into a club of "leading market democracies," including India and Brazil. "I looked into Putin's eyes and I saw three letters: K, G and B," says McCain.
He wants to put the People's Republic of China in its place. McCain sees Beijing's modernization of its nuclear arsenal and its testing of anti-satellite weapons -- a matter of course for Washington -- as "provocative acts," which he refuses to accept without explanation.
Clinton's approach is different, and more levelheaded. She knows that she needs Moscow and Beijing, despite all the criticism of human rights violations and democratic deficiencies, to resolve problems like the North Korean nuclear disarmament issue. She wants to return to "a pragmatic willingness to look at the facts on the ground and make decisions based on evidence rather than ideology." She would probably ratify the ban on nuclear weapons testing Washington has placed on ice. "The era of cowboy diplomacy is over," she says. Her goal is to seek mutually acceptable solutions within the framework of international institutions. "To lead a great nation must command the respect of others," she says. "The Bush administration has squandered (that) respect."