Central to John Kerry's campaign pitch is his alternative to President Bush's tendency toward a go-it-alone foreign policy. Mr. Kerry maintains that the president's approach has severely damaged relations between Washington and its closest allies - friends America needs more than ever in the global war on terrorism.
As the president begins a month of summits and bilateral meetings in Europe and elsewhere today, the world should not be surprised to see Mr. Bush trying to refute that characterization.
Conversely, it would not be surprising if America's allies used these visits to draw closer to the president's goal of a democratic Iraq and Middle East.
After the rawest relations since World War II, what might drive America and its allies toward each other are the facts on the ground.
The biggest fact covering the largest ground is an unstable Iraq (though from Bush's side, the need to deflate Kerry's argument must come into play, as well). It is in no country's interest to see Iraq's democratic experiment fail. Certainly Bush, who has staked his presidency on the war on terrorism, will do everything he can to ensure Iraq succeeds. And since terrorists brought jihad to Europe's doorstep in Madrid this spring, Europe's leaders surely are more sensitized to the implications of failure in Iraq - turning that country into a long-term haven for terrorists and setting back the cause of democratic reform in the Middle East.
One can already observe the outreach on the part of the Bush administration. Its most recent and visible step toward its allies is its joint resolution with the Blair government, seeking UN support for the coming transfer of authority in Iraq. Several members of the UN Security Council have had problems with the resolution - as does the new Iraqi interim government. Bush, however, sounded positively conciliatory this week, saying, for instance, he could be "flexible" on the issue of US troops in Iraq, and throwing out bons mots to the French media in advance of his trip to Paris Saturday.
What might the administration expect in terms of help from its allies who opposed the war? Not troops in Iraq, as it wisely recognizes - not with the steady stream of casualties, anti-Bush sentiment in Europe, and certainly not with the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal continuing to play out. But Iraqi security forces need to be trained, the country needs to be reconstructed, and NATO needs reinforcing in Afghanistan, especially as that country prepares for elections.
The coming weeks may show the role of pragmatism in driving the US back to friends with whom it disagreed on Iraq. The rapprochement is not likely to occur with the tone and consistency that Kerry says he would practice. But voters, and history, will judge whether Bush unilateralism, sprinkled with multilateralism when necessary, is in America's best interest.