What Does the US Vote Mean for Germany? | Current Affairs | DW | 02.11.2004
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Current Affairs

What Does the US Vote Mean for Germany?

A vast majority of Europeans are hoping for a change in the White House after the US election. But while John Kerry is the candidate of choice, would a Democratic administration be the best thing for US-German relations?

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Would swapping presidents just put a new face on old problems?

US presidential candidate John Kerry enjoys great popularity in Europe. In Germany, the Massachusetts senator commands an overwhelming majority in opinion polls, with almost 80 percent in favor of the Democrat.

But while the German public favors a change in the White House, deriving mostly from distaste for incumbent George W. Bush's policies, would a Kerry administration be the best thing for US-European and, in particular, US-German, relations?

Kerry speaks five languages, including fluent French. He went to school in Switzerland. He takes his vacations in France and has a European-born wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry.

Jackson Janes of the Institute for Contemporary German Studies in Washington admitted these were good credentials for a future president. But he has reservations that these qualities will bring about a White House more endeared to Europe.

Kerry would neither be the opposite of Bush nor would he reform US foreign policy to engage with and consider the interests and ideas of Europe, Janes said. "This is complete nonsense," he told German public TV broadcaster ARD's "Tagesschau" news program. "All this friction which is here today, will still be there."

This friction comes in many guises: the Bush White House's refusal to back the Kyoto Protocol and the International Criminal Court, US policy in the Middle East and Israel, the American insistence on the right to defend its own security by force -- pre-emptive or preventative -- if necessary.

Different president, same problems

John Kerry in Florida mit Thumbnail

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry

All these points of contention certainly wouldn't not be resolved from one day to the next; President Kerry would still face the same problems and issues that President Bush did. But a better atmosphere would likely be created if the reins of power were handed over to the Democrat.

However, it could also lead to more problems than solutions in Germany -- foremost among them being Iraq.

If the Democratic challenger is elected, his campaign pledge to create a stronger coalition and alliance in Iraq could take on contentious and even unsettling dimensions for some European countries, according to US Ambassador to Germany Daniel Coats in the Berliner Zeitung newspaper on Monday.

"Senator Kerry has indicated he would ask (for troops), so that's going to produce some difficult questions and some tensions here between the US and Germany -- if that happens," Coats told the paper.

Similar tensions over German stance on Iraq?

Gerhard Schröder gibt SPD-Vorsitz an Fraktionschef Franz Müntefering ab

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder angered Bush during campaigning for the German general elections in Sept. 2002 when he vehemently opposed any military "adventure" in Iraq. Subsequently, Schröder has refused to send any troops to the war-torn country, but Germany is helping train Iraqi military officers and police outside the country.

Speaking during campaigning on Oct. 5, Kerry acknowledged that foreign powers would not "trade their young for our young in body-bags," but he said he would be able to get them involved in missions like securing Iraq's borders. "Those borders have become a sieve for weapons of mass destruction and those weapons of mass destruction are terrorists that are crossing them and coming in and blowing themselves up in cars," he said.

Kerry added that the current administration had no credibility to enlist US allies. "Every step of the way these folks have pushed them away," he said. "What I will do is bring new credibility, a fresh start."

Sticky situation for Schröder

Bundeswehr im Auslandseinsatz

German troops in Iraq would be on any agenda for Germany and a new president.

That could put Schröder in a difficult position. Berlin would consider a Kerry administration friendly, and Germany would be one of the first stops for a new president. But if that visit included a call for military support in Iraq, a potential thawing of relations could quickly turn icy again and a new friend could be swiftly alienated.

If, on the other hand, Schröder changes track for the new administration, the German chancellor would face outrage at home that could have a decisive influence on his own chances for re-election in 2006.

Jackson Janes contended that Kerry would not demand a troop deployment from Schröder. "I do not believe that he expects Germany to send troops to Iraq. But I believe he would expect development aid. And much more than Germany has provided up to now," Janes told German television.

Re-election less demanding for Germany

Wenns hilft

President George W. Bush

Bush's re-election, however, would likely just lead to a continuation of the animosity between the two governments.

"I cannot imagine that Bush would say: what I have done during the first four years was a mistake. On the contrary," said Janes. Re-election, he believes, would be seen as endorsement of the first term and justification for the way the US treats the Europeans.

Either way, the result and the future of US-European relations lies in the hands of American voters, and it will surely be a challenge for all European countries, regardless of whether Bush or Kerry wins.

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