Kerry - as seen by Europe
Can he get more global support for the war on terrorism? Not likely, say analysts.
LONDON — Europe hasn't followed events in Boston this closely since the Tea Party of 1773. America's allies across the Atlantic have been riveted by the Democratic convention, and intrigued by John Kerry's promise to prosecute the war on terror vigorously by rebuilding the international bridges damaged during the past four years.
But does the Kerry vision translate into a safer world? Would a Kerry presidency deepen multinational cooperation in the global battle against jihadists? Hopes are high in some European quarters.
The results may prove more complex and even disappointing to these Europeans, analysts warn. Despite deep divisions over Iraq, counterterrorism cooperation is already at an all-time high, even with countries like France and Germany. The Kerry camp vows to "isolate extremists rather than isolating ourselves." But that may prove difficult with the Iraq and Palestinian questions still looming large over US relations with the wider world. Al Qaeda and its jihadists, meanwhile, are unlikely to give a new US president - dove or hawk - a honeymoon period, experts say.
Yet certain improvements in the international climate could emerge from a Kerry presidency, political analysts say. A change of style, a leader promising reconciliation, coalition, and multilateralism, would offer the chance to thaw frosty relations between Washington and some European leaders.
"France, Germany, and Spain have backed themselves into a difficult position with the Bush administration, making it almost impossible to work with them," says Mark Joyce, head of the transatlantic program at the Royal United Services Institute, a security think-tank in London. "That might be repaired under a Kerry administration. In Paris they are praying for a Kerry presidency."
Kerry's own advisers talk of being "far smarter and wiser in getting the support of friends and allies." The hope is that, for example, by rebuilding bridges with France, Washington might be able to soften French opposition to using NATO forces in Iraq and broaden the "coalition of the willing." A new president might also offer European leaders like French President Jacques Chirac a chance to restore relations with the American leadership without losing face.
Indeed, some European politicians are warning: Be careful what you wish for. Die Presse in Vienna editorialized that a Kerry victory would mean that Europe could then no longer "turn up its nose at the coarse Texan George Bush and duck its responsibilities in international crises."
And it will take more than chumminess and goodwill to get a Kerry administration to resolve some of the recent transatlantic rifts over trade tariffs and quotas. "A change of style, of personality, could be a good thing, but I don't believe that it will remove all the problems," says Sergio Romano, a former Italian ambassador and a political commentator. "For example, the economic 'war' between Europe and US is going to be a fact of life for a long time."
One hope dangled by the Kerry camp is that improved international ties could help "tear down the walls" that separate intelligence agencies both domestically and internationally. Intelligence experts are skeptical. They say international cooperation has improved immeasurably since Sept. 11, that information sharing is routine and enthusiastic, given that every major country in Europe is concerned that it might be next on the terror hit list.
"Cooperation is at a higher level than it has been ever before in the history of terrorism and that's a very good sign," says Paul Wilkinson, head of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. "It exists even where there have been important policy differences. France and Germany were deeply opposed to the invasion of Iraq, but have continued to give close cooperation on terrorism."
Further synergies may be hard to achieve: There comes a point where spy agencies are reluctant to give up their jealously guarded secrets. An intelligence service is defined by the agents and informers who sustain it, and giving these away is tantamount to surrendering essential assets. "You don't give away your capital very easily," says Mr. Romano. "Don't expect too much more along those lines."
The Kerry-Edwards message towards the terrorists has been clear: expect no let-up. But analysts say it is the wider diaspora of disaffected Muslims that will be crucial. Those communities must decide whether they are with or against the jihadists.
"The hard-core terrorists - you can't change their minds - but you have to offer a more attractive vision of the future to the footsoldiers and that comes right back to policy issues like Palestine," says Rosemary Hollis, Middle East expert at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.
A breakthrough in Israel would, it has long been argued, generate an important reservoir of goodwill to sustain relations with the Muslim world. But new presidents tend to take a long time to make any headway in the Middle East. Many only find traction during a second mandate.
"This is an area on which people on this side of the Atlantic will be disappointed," says Joyce. "There won't be a major shift in a Kerry administration. Democrats are traditionally quite pro-Israeli and the signs that Kerry will take a drastically different approach are not really there."
Dr. Hollis adds: "A difference of style may not be enough to get an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that will translate into a sense that the US is a just and fair player again."
So with little political capital to be won from the Middle East, how else could a Kerry team reach out to disenchanted Muslims? US troops have left Saudi Arabia, but their formidable presence elsewhere in the region still riles.
Professor Wilkinson says the answer lies in taking a multilateral approach, and ensuring that one's own house is in order.
"Whoever wins the November election is going to find that multilateral multipronged, intelligence-led strategy absolutely vital," he says.
But to win "the battle of ideas" and prevent the creation of new generations of suicide bombers, he says, "we must live up to principles of human rights and democratic law so that young people throughout the Muslim world see we do practice these ideals."