Goodbye, Cowboy Diplomacy What Can Europe Expect from the Next White House?

Who will be America's next president, Barack Obama or John McCain, or perhaps Hillary Clinton after all? What will he or she expect from allies? Europe is wondering which one of the three it should want in the White House.

By Erich Follath and

US Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has said the era of cowboy diplomacy is over. But what comes next?

US Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has said the era of cowboy diplomacy is over. But what comes next?

Hillary Clinton was exhausted, but clearly satisfied, beaming in a bright red jacket, careful to make sure that she wasn't blocking the US flag behind her when the TV cameras rolled. The papers called her the "Comeback Lady."

By winning the important presidential primaries in Ohio and Texas, Clinton added new excitement to the race for the Democrat Party's nomination of its presidential candidate. That was last Tuesday. Now the resurrected candidate is sitting with a group of generals in the ballroom of the Westin Hotel in Washington. The photo op comes at just the right time for Clinton. Look at me, it says, America's future commander-in-chief. Her most recent, and more aggressive strategy against her Democratic rival has succeeded. She has raised a storm and sowed doubts -- doubts that the other candidate can stand up to the challenges of a real crisis when, as one of her TV ads suggests, the red telephone rings in the White House at 3 a.m. and the person answering will have to decide whether to go to war or remain at peace.

Barack Obama looked weary and, for the first time in this marathon campaign, truly battered -- like Superman brought back down to earth. The knockout he had planned failed to materialize. "No matter what happens tonight," he said, "we have nearly the same delegate lead that we did this morning, and we are on our way to winning this nomination." Obama is right, at least as far as the math goes. His previous week's lead over Clinton shrank by only a handful of delegates. According to CNN's calculations, Obama is still ahead with 1,321 delegates to Clinton's 1,186. But simple mathematics and the prospect of scraping by in a narrow victory doesn't exactly fit into Obama's visionary campaign.

He remains the frontrunner, after winning 12 of the last 15 primaries. But he has lost some of his momentum, and the wind of change is no longer at his back, pushing him to victory. Instead, it has shifted and is now blowing in his face. The press, which had been relatively uncritical of Obama and celebrated him as a black rising star, is suddenly hypercritical, blowing up minor incidents like his embarrassing, but not illegal ties to a campaign donor who is now on trial for corruption and even helped Obama buy his house.

Perhaps even worse is the fact that his rival has managed to downgrade Obama, previously seen as a new kind of politician, into a candidate motivated by tactical considerations, one who occasionally says things in public that he doesn't mean. A candidate who, for example, promises his voters to renegotiate the free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, while indirectly letting these two trading partners know, through a close advisor, that his promise is nothing but campaign rhetoric.

In addition, his opponent has now aired a new proposal that is balm to the spirit of Democrats increasingly demoralized over the rivalry between the two candidates. She has brought the idea of a joint Clinton/Obama candidacy into play -- with her as presidential candidate and him in the vice-presidential slot, of course. She knows that this is something Obama can hardly accept. Unless he suffers a heavy loss in the next important primary, in Pennsylvania on April 22 (188 delegates), he will remain ahead, even if he is unable to reach the magic number of 2,025 delegates needed for the nomination.

McCain is No Dream Republican Candidate

If Clinton does indeed carry on a fight that could culminate in a stalemate at the Democratic Party convention in late August, there is still a good chance that the superdelegates will pick Obama. All opinion polls conducted to date have shown that the fresh-faced Obama, 46, stands a better chance of beating Republican candidate John McCain, 71, who is a generation older than Obama, than the more staid Hillary Clinton, 60.

Meanwhile, the Republicans can sit back and watch the Democrats rip each other apart. Their selection process has ended. McCain's last serious rival, Baptist preacher and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, withdrew his candidacy last week. McCain, the senator from Arizona, is not his party's dream candidate. He is not religious or conservative enough for most Republicans, and he does not reflect the views of the majority of his party when it comes to issues like abortion and granting citizenship to illegal immigrants. Nevertheless, they will vote for McCain enthusiastically. He promises the hope of continued party rule, which is more than most Republicans could have hoped for after the disastrous years of having their fellow Republican, George W. Bush, in the White House.

But what would each of the candidates mean for the rest of the world as president? Which candidate is good for the Europeans, and for Germans in particular?

Obama, Clinton and McCain have one thing in common: They have recognized that maintaining the status quo in Washington is not an option. They know that one of their main challenges will be to reestablish fundamental confidence in the United States, which has plunged worldwide. In this respect, each of them is a step forward for all Europeans, the overwhelming majority of whom are looking forward to the current president's last day in the White House.


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