SAIS Next Europe

U.S. Election

October 8, 2008 5:26 PM

Russians: Palin Who?

Americans aren't the only ones smirking at Sarah Palin's claims of expertise in Russian affairs. The Russians are cracking a smile, too.

The authors of a recent article in the Russian daily newspaper "Izvestia" questioned the dubious logic linking the Alaska's proximity to Russia with Palin's foreign policy know-how. They concluded, rather sarcastically, that the former alone is enough to qualify the Alaskan governor as a global politics 'specialist.' The article further discussed Palin's publicity stunt of visiting the Minneapolis Museum of Russian Art in early September and noted that journalists present at the scene somehow failed to probe her familiarity with Russian artwork.

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October 9, 2008 11:11 AM

Brits Idolize U.S. Election Drama

The Big News in the UK for the last two weeks has been the same as pretty much everywhere else around the world: Financial panic! Market carnage! The abyss! Gemma strips off!

Okay, maybe that last one is only familiar to fans of the British tabloid The Sun, but they are the biggest group of "newspaper" readers in Britain.

Meanwhile, languishing on page two was one of the main events on the UK political calendar - the Conservative Party Conference. A few bits of news trickled out: there was the annual Conservative promise to freeze or abolish some unpopular tax (this year it was the council tax, last year an inheritance tax) and party leader David Cameron's promise to handle the current global crisis better than America has. But British media have been much more focused on politics across the pond.

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October 10, 2008 1:22 PM

Obamania in Germany

In July, a 200,000-strong crowd cheered for Barack Obama when he gave his speech in Berlin. If you stroll down German streets these days, you will come across many people wearing Obama shirts and stickers as fashionable accessories.

A recent survey now revealed that the presidential candidate enjoys a favorability rating of 83% in Germany. More than 50% of Germans think that transatlantic relations will improve if Obama is elected. For John McCain that figure stands at 11%.

What is perplexing about this is that most Germans would vote for Obama, even though they do not share many of his policy positions. If he were to implement large parts of his foreign and security agenda, it could quickly turn him unpopular in Germany.

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October 14, 2008 3:37 PM

McCain Falls Plainly on Spain

It was no "Bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb Iran," but John McCain recently committed another embarrassing foreign policy gaffe - this one with Spain. First he appeared not to know that Spain was in Europe, not Latin America, and to mix up Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero with the Zapatistas. Then foreign policy advisor Randy Scheunemann said McCain had indeed refused to commit to meeting with Zapatero. Spain is not only one of Europe's largest economies, but it is a NATO ally with troops in Afghanistan. Perhaps McCain was tired. He certainly knows where Spain is: he is a U.S. Senator, after all, and he knocked out half the country's electricity when his plane hit some power lines back in the 1960s.

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October 17, 2008 1:34 PM

Choose-Your-Own Exceptionalism

In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, Iraq war cheerleader Fouad Ajami argues that Obama's foreign policy marks "the sharpest break yet with the national consensus... over American exceptionalism." The problem with Ajami's argument is that there is no such consensus.

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October 21, 2008 5:17 PM

McCain's Edge in Albania

Obama would probably be the clear victor if the American election were held in Europe. But in little Albania, McCain would probably win.

Albanians tend to view both candidates through the double lens of support for Kosovar independence and support for Albania's integration into Western institutions. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February, but the new state's struggle for legitimacy is far from over. Since both Albania and Kosovo are predominantly ethnic-Albanian, the Albanian government has been the staunchest supporter of their "brethren in Kosovo".

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October 24, 2008 2:16 PM

Reason Rules in Tussle with Kremlin

The Russian mission to New York gleefully alerted the press this weekend that they had had received an odd fundraising request: John McCain's campaign urged the Russians to "stop the Democrats from seizing control of Washington and implementing their radically liberal policy for our nation." Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin turned down the request and told the media, to illustrate that Russia doesn't try to influence elections abroad.

The solicitation of the Russians was clearly an accident - people receive unwanted fundraising solicitations all the time. But it's somewhat amusing, given McCain's stance on Russia.

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November 4, 2008 1:10 PM

A European Stroll Through Today's Manhattan

1) Nomen est omen: When the Lehman Brothers donated $5 million for the expansion of the NYU Downtown Hospital's emergency room in 2003, the investment bank certainly did not think that itself could become a case for emergency treatment one day. Lehman Brothers field the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history in September 2008, and its different subsidiaries have been acquired by Barclays and Nomura Holdings.

2) Countdown for the presidential elections. With democratic candidate Barack Obama having become a pop icon, a store in New York holds a "Obama Sale."

Photo credit: Susanne Harsch

November 13, 2008 11:30 AM

In Search of Europe's Obama

Obama's victory rocks Europe's moral certainty over the United States. Most Europeans see the U.S. returning to the western values that the Bush administration had subverted. But with the historical victory of an African-American with a Kenyan father becoming the U.S. president, Europe is suddenly haunted by a question that leads it into self-doubt: would Europe be able to vote for its own Obama? Looking at the current political landscape the answer has to be No. But the Obama presidency could indeed be a crucial external impulse for change in this respect - but not because Europe wants to live up to its own ideal of a society with equal opportunities for every citizen. In fact the reason can be found in Europe's ever pressing problems linked to its inability to integrate immigrants. Indeed, change is already under way in most European countries, though in slow motion.

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November 13, 2008 11:34 AM

Who Will Lead the 'Next Europe', and To Where?

Last month I received a phone call from my eleven-year-old cousin, who wanted my thoughts for a class paper on "what it means to be American." The last two years have borne witness to an often rancorous debate over that very subject, a debate that played out on a global stage. Discussions of "American exceptionalism" prompted proud proclamations from this side of the Atlantic and engendered skepticism abroad. After all, what does make America so special?

On Election night, America offered one answer to that question, placing its hopes and its future in the hands of Barack Obama, our first African-American president. Tears of joy and shouts of happiness at a uniquely American achievement quickly spread beyond our borders, spawning images of shared euphoria across Europe from Paris to Athens. Common to both celebrations, though - those here and abroad - was a familiar refrain: "Only in America."

As I watched Parisians share in the Obamania, I couldn't help but ask the obvious question: could it happen there? Could they too elect a minority to the highest office in the land? Could an Algerian descendant occupy the Palais de l'Élysée? Could a second-generation Turk become German chancellor? Is Fortress Europe ready for a changing world?

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November 13, 2008 11:48 AM

The Change the Old World Doesn't Believe In -- Yet

If Europeans could have voted in the U.S. presidential election, they would have voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama. More than two-thirds of Germans, Italians and Spanish queried recently by a Harris Interactive poll supported Obama; less than one in ten favored John McCain. Only one percent of those polled in France supported McCain.

The main reason Europeans give for supporting Obama is his perceived ability to represent change from the Bush administration. Other strengths are his personality and youth. None of this is particularly surprising, and confirms most anecdotal evidence.

What is particularly striking about the poll is not what Europeans think about America but how they think about themselves.

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November 13, 2008 12:19 PM

Let Americans Celebrate Transformation

Like many fellow expats, I've felt especially European in the past eight years. And like many, I've felt especially American in the past two weeks. In 2008--for the first time in ten leap years--I returned to the U.S. to celebrate an election on U Street in Washington, DC. And from this vantage point, I beg to differ from my German (and British) friends.

Yes, they caught the excitement. And yes, the Germans personally backed Obama by a greater margin than Massachusetts. But the sophisticated Brits arched their eyebrows, wondering if No Drama Obama could ever be tough enough. (After he beat the Clintons at their own game?) And chattering-class Germans first reached a consensus half a year ago that it didn't make much difference who won this election; either way, they would be asked to send more troops to Afghanistan. (No difference on Guantanamo? On the torture that McCain endured as a hero, opposed as a maverick, and finally tolerated as a candidate?) Then on Nov. 5 the German commentators concluded that after ratcheting our expectations so high, we're all bound to be disappointed.

I suppose I should chalk this up to the difference between Americans' instrumental "yes we can" optimism and Germans' instrumental "the sky is falling" pessimism. Americans plunge into crises to cope by trial and error. See, for example, the Republicans' embrace of not only big, but humongous government in the financial meltdown. Germans, by contrast, worry about looming crises for years in advance and then chip away at cumulative remedies in the interim before the thereby diminished doomsday hits. See, sort of, their enthusiasm for fighting climate change.

Well, OK. We need both approaches. That's what our transatlantic alliance is for. It's supposed to avoid both deadlock and the lowest common denominator and find a synergy of contrary wisdoms that is more than the sum of the alliance's parts. But don't expect the New World to be disillusioned quite as fast as the Old. After an election campaign that for once needed to last this long to test John McCain's steadiness, Barack Obama's learning curve, and voters' racial maturity, we need a little more time to find our new equilibrium. Grant us at least until January 20 to dance on the tables of the U Street bars, savor this closure of our civil war, and name a fresh crop of babies Barack.

After all, transformation doesn't come every leapyear.

Elizabeth Pond is a Berlin-based author, journalist, and non-resident Senior Fellow at the SAIS Center for Transatlantic Relations.

November 26, 2008 12:21 PM

Obama's Wish List for Europe

European leaders have embraced Barack Obama's victory in the 2008 U.S. presidential elections, expecting the beginning of a new, brighter chapter in transatlantic relations. French President Nicolas Sarkozy expressed the feelings of many when he stated that Obama's election "has raised enormous hope in France, in Europe and beyond."

The new president is expected to make some policy reversals - such as closing the Guantanamo Bay detention camp - that will please many Europeans. But the initial euphoria about change in the Washington could wear off quickly as Europeans realize that America's overall national interest - remaining the leading economic and military power in the world - will not change and will continue to guide US foreign policy.

NATO's 60th anniversary summit in France and Germany in April, 2009 may well offer Europeans their first reality check on the 44th president. While the global financial crisis is likely to dominate the transatlantic agenda until then, key security challenges will need to be addressed urgently. We therefore expect Obama to arrive at the summit not only to praise the Alliance's past achievements, but to also present a "wish list" of things he expects America's European allies to contribute to US political and military efforts around the globe. The demands will signal that the new administration takes its partnership with Europe seriously - something Europeans routinely request.

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