June 16, 2008
Europe after the Bush disaster
Ken Gude | The Guardian
As George Bush flaps helplessly across Europe like a lame duck with a broken wing, the eagerness on display for his departure from the international scene has not been met with an appreciation of the size and scope of the problems that have festered during his tenure. The Bush presidency has been an unmitigated disaster and it is understandable to hope that it ends as quickly as possible. Yet we must be prepared for the consequences of the last eight years and simply ushering Bush out of the door will not wipe away all the damage no matter who is elected to succeed him.
I count no fewer than six multifaceted top-tier issues that require urgent and sustained attention as Bush arrives in London today: Iraq and the broader Middle East; climate change and energy geopolitics; trade, debt, and systemic poverty; Afghanistan, Pakistan, and international terrorism; the rise of Asian powers China, Russia, and India; and, Iran and nuclear proliferation — and that list does not even include other pressing crises such as Darfur or Guantanamo. Yet before we can even begin to address these problems, the threshold challenge for the new administration will be to rejuvenate the trans-Atlantic alliance.
The United States is weaker now than at any point since the end of the Cold War and perhaps far longer than that. Suspicions about American power have grown both because it has been deployed recklessly and because its limits have been clearly exposed. America’s traditional European allies have been in turn rebuked from abroad for a perceived lack of support or undermined at home because of it.
A good deal of the responsibility for the current state of trans-Atlantic relations can be traced to Washington, but that has also made it easier for the Europeans to say no to things they would rather not do. The United States is still the world’s dominant military and economic power, but reasonable questions persist about whether any post-Bush American president can hope to lead the international community in the manner of his predecessors or whether that leadership is in fact desired.
The total failure of the Bush foreign policy has made one lesson abundantly clear; even a nation as powerful as the United States cannot accomplish its objectives in today’s international environment without meaningful contributions from a broad set of allies. Another consequence of the Bush debacle is the task of securing that support is now vastly more difficult. The next president must rebuild the moral foundation of American international leadership and convince Europeans to join the United States in a true partnership as we work to address the challenges of the modern world. Some will be understandably reticent, others outright opposed. Yet the problems we face are so great that we no longer have the luxury of sitting on the sidelines in the hope that someone else will take care of our problems.
For those looking for clues to what the world would be like without a strong and respected United States leading an alliance of capable partners, go no further than the faltering NATO effort in Afghanistan. With US forces bogged down in Iraq, it is not possible for America to contribute enough ground forces so NATO has had to go hat in hand to other member-states seeking to fill the void. Some countries have admirably stepped up, but others have not, and as a result the success of the Afghan mission hangs in the balance. Make no mistake, Afghanistan is not Iraq. It was a United Nations approved military mission in direct response to an unprovoked attack on the United States. Its early success had the potential to finally return Afghanistan to the community of nations after decades of conflict.
NATO took over the mission, its first beyond the borders of Europe, in 2003 and now the most successful and enduring multilateral security institution of the 20th century is struggling to demonstrate its relevance in the radically different global security environment of the 21st.
Amid the rubble of the Bush presidency and even in the face of these enormous challenges, there is still hope. His reign has been such an obvious catastrophe that it may be easier to turn the page on the last eight years, creating the opening for a new era of trans-Atlantic relations.
The next administration will have to earn its way back to international leadership, a process that comes with an implicit challenge to America’s allies. The burdens of global leadership are going to be shared more broadly.
Is Europe ready?