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National Perspective | International Outlook

Europe Sees Bush as Uncertain Blessing

August 02, 2000|JIM MANN | Jim Mann's column appears in this space every Wednesday

BERLIN — There's no better place than Berlin to contemplate a Bush restoration in American foreign policy and to see that the prospect is viewed overseas with more qualms than the Republicans would like to admit.

Berlin, after all, is a symbol of the foreign policy triumphs of the last Bush administration--that momentous era when the Berlin Wall tumbled, Germany was reunified, the Soviet Union collapsed and America won the Persian Gulf War.

"We wouldn't be sitting here in Berlin today were it not for the United States and the help and protection it gave us," observes Klaus-Peter Gottwald, a German foreign ministry official, from behind his desk in a restored building that, until a decade ago, was headquarters of East Germany's ruling Communist Party.

One recurrent theme in George W. Bush's presidential campaign this year has been the suggestion that he would return America's relations with the rest of the world to the path blazed during his father's presidency.

Father's Team May Be Back

Even before he picked Dick Cheney as his running mate, most of the younger Bush's top foreign policy advisors came from the team that served his father from 1989 to 1992, such as Condoleezza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, Robert Zoellick and Richard L. Armitage. If Bush wins, that team could well be joined by Colin L. Powell as secretary of State.

Moreover, in his speeches the Republican presidential candidate often criticizes the Clinton administration for going astray in foreign policy--for example, by failing to pay enough attention to the overseas alliances on which the last Bush administration relied so heavily.

"Alliances are not just for crises," the Texas governor said in his main foreign policy speech last November. "They are sustained by contact and trust. The Gulf War coalition, for example, was raised on the foundation of a president's vision and effort and integrity."

But the problem with Bush's critique is that America's allies, like the Germans, do not entirely agree. Here, few people accept the suggestion that a new Bush administration could or should bring American foreign policy back to the glory days before 1992.

It's a Different World Out There

"That was a long time ago and many things have happened since then," notes Joachim Krause, deputy director of the Research Institute of the German Society for Foreign Affairs.

If the veterans of the 1989-92 Bush foreign policy team take office in January, they will find themselves, like Rip Van Winkle, facing a different world.

At the time Bush's father left the White House, there were still armed Russian troops on German soil, the German capital was in Bonn and Europe had not yet become embroiled in wars in Bosnia and Kosovo.

In Berlin now, Checkpoint Charlie is nothing but a museum and "the wall" has become merely a metaphor for the lingering psychological and cultural differences between Germans from the East and those from the West.

America's alliances, such as those with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Japan, have changed in the last decade too. Allies like the Germans are less willing to support American policies toward Iraq or Iran.

"The alliances of 1992 were still primarily related to military security," observes Christoph Bertram, director of the German government's Research Institute for International Affairs. "But in 2001, the requirements for alliances will be very different. . . . Many of the problems today are not ones in which you can simply send in the Marines."

In fact, say German officials and specialists, while the early years of the Clinton administration were somewhat messy, its overall foreign policy record has not been as bad as the younger Bush asserts.

Indeed, in June, Bill Clinton was awarded the prestigious Charlemagne Prize for his contributions to Europe. The award cited Clinton's support for the European Union and his "courageous intervention" in Yugoslavia. Previous American winners included George C. Marshall and Henry A. Kissinger--but not, surprisingly, the elder Bush.

To be sure, Germans speak with considerable admiration of the stellar foreign policy team George W. Bush has assembled. Some worry that Vice President Al Gore has not managed to put together anything comparable.

Concerns Over GOP in Congress

"Is he [Gore] a man who's attracting the best and the brightest brains, people with a lot of creativity?" asked Krause.

At the same time, however, Germans say they have been worried for several years now by the Republican Congress' penchant for assertions of unilateral American power--such as the rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the pursuit of missile-defense systems.

And many fret that, if the Republicans take the White House again, they might--whether willingly or under congressional pressure--accelerate this trend toward American unilateralism.

"We Europeans have the experience that multilateralism works. And in a globalized world it's even more necessary," says Bertram. "The Republicans in Congress, and maybe even a Republican administration, view multilateral approaches as shackles on American power."

Bush May Be Better at Restraint

Such worries may well be unjustified. It may turn out that Bush, if elected, will be in a better position than Gore to restrain Republicans in Congress.

But it's clear in Berlin that the Europeans, despite their admiration for the last Bush administration, see the idea of Bush II as an uncertain blessing.

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Jim Mann's column appears in this space every Wednesday.

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