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Trans-Atlantic Ties

Interview: Kate BowenSeptember 1, 2008

John McCain's nomination is nearly certain, but he's yet to win his party's full support. Republicans tend toward unilateralism, but McCain as president could have perks for Germany, says expert Stormy-Annika Mildner.

John McCain walks across the stage as he delivers a speech
John McCain isn't a typical RepublicanImage: AP

Stormy-Annika Mildner is an expert on trans-Atlantic relations and foreign trade policy at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin.

DW-WORLD.DE: It seems likely that John McCain will win the Republican nomination, but do you think he can win the support of his own party?

Stormy-Annika Mildner: First of all, it really does look very likely that he's going to get the nomination because he's already won 707 delegates and he only needs 1,191 to be nominated. But it's a bit more difficult to say if he is going to be able to win the presidency because it's not so clear whether he'll get the conservative Republican vote.

He's been considered divisive in his own party. Do you think that his nomination -- or even his presidency -- would mean a shift for the Conservatives? Or will he remain an exception within the conservative forces?

Mitt Romney
Mitt Romney has withdrawn from the Republican raceImage: AP

He is definitely more on the liberal side of the Republican Party and therefore an exception. But to win the election, he does need the Republican base. And thus he needs to convince the Conservatives that he's conservative enough for them. His record is not that clear.

To give you a couple of examples: He's voted against Bush's tax cuts, he's voted for an immigration law that would make it easier for illegal immigrants to become legal, he's supported stricter environmental regulation. He's also supported embryonic stem cell research and he's championed stricter campaign finance rules. That really does not make him a perfect candidate for the Conservatives.

In the next weeks, or even days, he must rally around that group, including the Christian right, and convince them that he is the right candidate for them.

So you don't think he represents a trend to the center for the Republicans?

No, I don't think so. In both parties, there have always been candidates who've leaned more to the right, the middle or the left. This time, the Republicans had two candidates on the conservative side, especially [Mike] Huckabee. McCain is a little bit more on the liberal side -- although he's shifted quite a bit to the right in the last few weeks. So I would say that this reflects the usual spectrum within the Republican Party.

What do you think a victory for McCain would mean for trans-Atlantic relations?

US, EU flags
Republicans tend to be more isolationist than DemocratsImage: AP

First of all, I would say that the Republicans' motto is "Going together where we must, but going alone where we can." For the Democrats, it would be the opposite: "Going together where we can, but going alone where we must." They put a greater emphasis on multi-lateral institutions, while the Republicans emphasize unilateralism a bit more, as we have seen in the past. A Democratic president could tend to be easier to cooperate with.

However, if you talked to people in the German government, the preference is not that clear cut. A lot of policymakers actually prefer the foreign policy specialist McCain because he's well aware of the problems in the world and he's dealt with them before. Obama is more a newcomer -- he's a wild card and we don't really know which direction he'll go.

Another area of great importance for us, since Germany is so dependent on international trade, is the trans-Atlantic trade relationship. In this area, Obama -- but also [Hillary] Clinton -- would definitely be more difficult to deal with. They have a more protectionist rhetoric; they favor free trade less than McCain. With McCain, I think that the trans-Atlantic economic partnership would have better prospects than under Obama or Clinton.

Unlike the Democratic candidates, McCain has been adamant about carrying on the war on terror. Do you see that as being problematic for Germany in particular? Would he continue demands that Germany send more troops to Afghanistan, for example?

I think that no matter which candidate wins, there will be greater demands on Germany to take on a greater responsibility in the world: For example, sending more combat troops to Afghanistan.

However, the likelihood that a Democrat would have greater demands on Germany is higher, which brings me back to the motto I mentioned before. And that would, without doubt, be problematic for Germany.

German soldier in Afghanistan
Germany is expected to take on more responsbilities on the global stageImage: AP

Some of the key issues facing Europe right now -- like the Darfur crisis or environmental protection -- don't top America's political agenda. Do you see McCain potentially playing a key role on any of these topics?

McCain does have quite a few ideas on the environment, the climate and energy security. I think that there are great chances in this area for closer cooperation between Europe and the United States.

With regard to other areas, I can't see Africa being a priority for a Republican president. I see his priorities lying in Iran, Pakistan, Russia -- the old, well-known hot-spots.