By Ralf Fücks
American Institute For Contemporary German Studies
November 21, 2008, AICGS Advisor
With Barack Obama the U.S. will become both more American and more European
Until only very recently the consensus was that Europe and America were growing ever further apart. The key words of unilateralism, Guantanamo, International Criminal Court, war on terror, and climate policy were plenty of evidence of the transatlantic divide, and all those wanting to further underline the deep foreign policy differences pointed out the shift in the growth momentum from the American east coast westwards. It seemed that Europe was becoming less important for the U.S. by the same measures that Asia was becoming more important.
[THIS IS STILL THE CASE]
Yet this picture was distorted even before the next president of the United States was elected. And all the more so now that Barack Obama and his team are preparing to assume power. The troika of France, Great Britain, and Germany negotiated with Iran in the name of the U.S. as well. During the Georgian crisis it was European multi-talent Nicolas Sarkozy who brokered an agreement with Russia to end the war, while the White House remained in the background. And when the credit crisis came, the cooperation between the U.S. and Europe was decisive in containing the panic in the markets. China, India and other threshold countries have not become less important, but Europe will remain the U.S.'s central partner in many major international questions.
With Obama's election the U.S. will become both more American and more European. It will become more American because he has rehabilitated the values of the American constitution and given the country its self esteem back, [??? HE HAS???] as he represents the ethnic diversity of America and has brought sections of society into national politics that were previously on the sidelines. The basis of American democracy has become broader. At the same time, the U.S. will move closer to the European model in terms of both social policy and foreign policy.
The new U.S. administration will place greater emphasis on international cooperation and stop seeing international law as an unwelcome nuisance. This is not in any way saying that America will not act in what it considers to be its national interest in cases of conflict; in the future the U.S. will continue to refuse to bow to international bodies. But the Obama administration will listen to others and seek a joint approach. By entering into dialogue with its partners, America will also expect them to shoulder more of the responsibility. This will not necessarily be comfortable for Europe - but it does open up the opportunity for frank dialogue and constructive cooperation. This applies equally to international policy on climate and the restructuring of the financial markets, to a new approach in Afghanistan, as well as the resurrection of active disarmament policy. There will also be fresh impetus for policy in the Middle East once the taboo of negotiating with Damascus is dropped. The sooner Europe develops initiatives of its own on these questions and adopts a proactive approach to the new administration instead of one of wait-and-see what they will be confronted with, the better.
Redistributor in Chief
The preoccupation with America's global foreign policy tends to overshadow the paradigm shift in social policy that is soon to occur. The room for a change of direction in the area of foreign policy is substantially smaller than what exists in the area of issues that the Obama team now intends to address in order to remedy the mistakes of the past years and decades. With Barack Obama the neo-liberal revolution that began in the eighties will finally come to an end. Not since Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal will an American president take up office with an agenda that has such a decided focus on social policy issues: equal opportunities, general health insurance, good and affordable education for everyone, modernization of public infrastructure, and greater compatibility of family and work. Barack Obama is prepared to tackle the taboo of "redistribution of wealth," and branding him as a "socialist" or "Redistributor in Chief" did nothing for the Republican cause. Once this would probably have cost a Democratic candidate for president the election, but not this time.
The way the Bush administration reacted to the threatened collapse of the banking system showed in itself that "times are changing" in the U.S. as well: an end to the wave of privatizations and the orgy of deregulation, recognition that the market needs regulation backed by politicians [??? SINCE WHEN DO AMERICANS HAVE RESPECT FOR POLITICIANS THAT WISH TO DICTATE TO THEM???] and the law [WHEN THE LAW IS FOUNDED ON POLITICAL WHIM, RATHER THAN OBJECTIVE SCIENCE OR ECONOMICS???].
The relationship between the market and the state will also be redefined in the home of capitalism. This does not mean that America will copy the old-school style of the European welfare state. The U.S. will remain a country in which initiative, self-responsibility, and the entrepreneurial spirit have a major role to play. [THANK YOU, SIR, FOR THE REASSURANCE!!] And this is where Europe could learn something from America.
But the draining of public infrastructure, the deep divide between sections of society, and the economic uncertainty that is spreading have all now reached a point where they threaten both the social cohesion and the economic future of America. This was the core message of the Obama campaign and it was well-received, even among the privileged.
[THERE IS NO ACCOUNTING FOR THE LACK OF COMMON SENSE & EDUCATION POSSESSED BY TODAY'S AMERICANS WHO ARE SEDUCED BY GRANDE & SULTRY ORATORY DEVOID OF SUBSTANCE & EXPERIENCE. THIS HAS RESULTED, SADLY, IN THE FAILURE OF MANY, EVEN THOSE PRIVILEGED, TO SEE THE SUBTLE RISE OF LIBERAL FASCISM, A COUSIN OF THE MORE MUSCULAR RIGHT-WING FACISM THAT ELIMINATED PUBLIC DISSENT AND DEBATE THROUGH REPUTATION DISPARAGEMENT, LEGAL PROSECUTION AND EVEN PERSECUTION, AS IT SWEPT THROUGH GERMANY, MUCH LIKE A TSUNAMI WAVE, DURING THE 1930'S.]
Green Wave in the White House
Transatlantic convergence seems to be likely in the fields of climate and energy policies as well. The way ahead had already been prepared over the last few years by initiatives taken by cities, states, and businesses that saw climate protection not as an unavoidable necessity but as an economic chance. This green wave has now reached the White House. A few days before Barack Obama was elected, the head of his transition team, John Podesta, spoke at an event of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Washington. He announced that Barack Obama, if elected, would make climate protection a top priority, made the connection between dependence on oil, climate change and increasing competition to gain resources in short supply, announced the introduction of a national CO2 emission trading (cap & trade), and pleaded for greater energy efficiency.
What was striking was the connection he made between averting a looming recession and making "green investments." According to Podesta, it is not about kick-starting consumption but about investment in education, science, and the ecological modernization of the economy in order to stimulate growth that can be sustained. Hopefully this message will also be heard in Europe.
Washington's expectations of a renewed transatlantic partnership are huge. Podesta expressed this in the formula that Europe should not use the past as an excuse to evade future cooperation. This does not only apply to Afghanistan and Iraq. The door for transatlantic initiatives is open and the courage to make changes should not just come from the American side.
Ralf Fücks is on the executive board of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, which is affiliated with the German Green Party, and is a regular participant in AICGS events.