The 2008 campaign has already served one foreign-policy purpose: It has changed how America's Western allies see the country. Under the Bush presidency, anti-Americanism has reached new—and absurd—heights, and in too many countries the United States became pigeon-holed as the country of Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, and global warming. The Bush administration's public diplomacy in Europe has been nothing short of shocking. It is all too appropriate that the position of assistant secretary of state for public diplomacy is currently vacant (though nominee James K. Glassman will likely be confirmed soon).
The 2008 campaign has reminded the public overseas, and especially in allied countries, of the diversity and vibrancy of American democracy. It is hard for even the most hardened anti-American not to be impressed by the fact that the Democrats will nominate either an African-American or a women as their candidate, while watching this twisting and turning campaign play out gives the lie to the view that United States is some kind of corporate oligarchy.
Another piece of good news is that all three candidates with a realistic chance of being the next president play well abroad in a way that George W. Bush does not. Indeed, with a more pro-American leadership in Europe and the sting being drawn from Iraq by the success of the surge, the next president will have a real window of opportunity to chalk up some quick wins in 2009. The rest of the democratic world will be keen to show America that cooperating is worth its while.
The next president should seize this opportunity to get America's NATO allies to step up in Afghanistan. As Mike noted earlier today, there is a real danger that the progress of recent years is slipping away; a surge in European forces would be a powerful statement to the Afghans that they will not be abandoned again and that the Taliban will ultimately be defeated. A new president who shuts down Gitmo and works on climate change will amass a lot of diplomatic capital. He or she should plan to expend a large amount of it on Afghanistan as the trans-Atlantic honeymoon will wear off sooner rather than later. Many of the complaints about Bush are actually deeper complaints about core U.S. foreign policies that the next president will not change. No occupant of the Oval Office is ever going to accept U.N. primacy or other countries having a veto over U.S. policy making, for instance. But the next president will have a chance to make progress before the rest of the world realizes this.
James Forsyth is a former assistant editor at FP and an ongoing contributor to Passport. He now writes for The Spectator and The Business in London, and he has been covering the 2008 campaign from the ground.
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