Next U.S. Leader Cannot Undo Bush’s Mess
Editor's Column
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Fyodor A. Lukyanov

Russia in Global Affairs
National Research University–Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia
Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs
Research Professor;
Valdai Discussion Club
Research Director


SPIN RSCI: 4139-3941
ORCID: 0000-0003-1364-4094
ResearcherID: N-3527-2016
Scopus AuthorID: 24481505000


E-mail: [email protected]
Tel.: (+7) 495 980 7353
Address: Office 112, 29 Malaya Ordynka Str., Moscow 115184, Russia

The U.S. presidential election campaign is entering its decisive
phase. The candidates for the rival parties seem to have been
determined, and now the real struggle begins.

U.S. President George W. Bush is suffering record-low approval
ratings, and his exit is eagerly awaited both at home and abroad.
Europeans are especially looking forward to a change in the White
House. A rebirth of unity among Western countries, which the Bush
administration has all but destroyed, is one of the most popular
discussion topics on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Bush administration was ruined by its arrogance.
Washington’s certainty that it could take on the world
single-handedly reached its height following the military invasion
of Iraq. As a result, U.S. relations with its European allies have
been seriously damaged. Although Washington has been trying since
the end of 2004 to rectify matters by withdrawing from its
blatantly unilateral approach to global affairs, it has been unable
to restore even the appearance of mutual understanding with its
European partners. The conflict at last month’s NATO summit in
Bucharest over membership for Ukraine and Georgia served as vivid
proof of European discontent with Washington.

As far as the crisis in Iraq is concerned, one thing is certain
— the United States cannot afford to pull its troops out of the
country. The experience of the last 18 months has clearly shown
that the degree of even relative stability in Iraq is directly
proportional to the number of U.S. divisions stationed there. If it
does turn out to be possible to shift the responsibility for
maintaining order over to Iraqi institutions, it will have to be a
long, gradual process, and it will necessarily entail reliance on
the occupation forces.

A hasty withdrawal would spell catastrophe for Iraq itself,
which would cease to exist as a unified state. Both U.S.
presidential candidates probably understand this, even though
Senator Barack Obama has promised to bring the troops home

In practice, this will mean that the new U.S. president will
distance himself from Bush’s failed policies and turn to allies for
help in Iraq. By appealing to the ideal of trans-Atlantic
solidarity, Washington will call on Europeans to share the burden
of stabilizing Iraq.

But the current situation in Afghanistan is a good indication of
how much enthusiasm continental Europe is likely to have for
sharing the burden in Iraq. For example, the United States and NATO
have not been able to persuade Germany to relocate its forces to
the southern part of the country where allied forces are battling
the Taliban — even though the Afghanistan military campaign (in
contrast to that in Iraq) is being carried out in accordance with
United Nations resolutions and enjoys widespread support.

Of course, we could assume that the United States will try to
shift the balance of power within NATO, as the European member
countries have been trying to do under France’s leadership. But
Europe’s motive for gaining a greater role in NATO is to ensure
that the alliance won’t be dragged into operations at odds with its
understanding of the organization’s mission. Europe would like to
see NATO as a crisis manager for regional problems of interest to
the Old World — from Kosovo to Chad. For the United States, NATO
is a tool with which it exercises global leadership.

It is hard to imagine what could convince Europe to forego its
own wishes and support the United States as the dominant player in
global affairs. Only the appearance of a common enemy as powerful
and threatening as the former Soviet Union might be able to
accomplish this. But Russia, which has few allies that can be taken
seriously, lacks the potential to play that role, despite its high
opinion of itself as a reborn global superpower.

Senator John McCain has formulated a concrete idea for a
trans-Atlantic coalition to counter new dangers. His favorite
brainchild is a league of democracies. This alliance would unite
democratic countries around the world, from the United States and
Brazil to India and South Korea. They would stand in opposition to
authoritarian states, primarily China and Russia. This is the logic
behind McCain’s call to remove Russia from the Group of Eight and
replace it with Brazil and India, but not China.

This model has all of the markings of neoconservative publicist
Robert Kagan. In 2002, Kagan proclaimed that the United States and
Europe had taken irreversibly divergent paths. Europe, he
explained, had lost its will, having plunged into its own morass,
leaving the United States as the only force in the world
realistically capable of decisive action. That stance served as the
grounds for the United States’ subsequent unilateral steps in Iraq
in open defiance of Europe’s wishes.

Now Kagan, instead of putting up walls between the Atlantic
coasts, is trying to build bridges between them. And to add urgency
to that process, he has identified a terrifying threat —
authoritarian capitalism from China and Russia — against which all
responsible democracies should unite. This constitutes a serious
bid for a systemic confrontation, replete with ideological

But if McCain were to occupy the Oval Office, his determination
to create a league of democracies might weaken. Looking at it
objectively, the majority of the world’s population would not be
included in such a league, and those excluded hold most of the
planet’s natural resources, along with a huge arsenal of nuclear
weapons. A new Cold War in this configuration would be extremely
dangerous — especially with the absence of international
institutions capable of regulating those relations. And mobilizing
all of Europe to join such a league would hardly be realistic.

In any case, the United States will probably start a new «peace
offensive» intended to win Europe’s allegiance and, at the same
time, to bring its activities in line with Washington’s interests.
Europe is unable to formulate a united political platform. It
therefore thrashes about in the attempt, which in turn only
increases its unease.

Russia has not ruled out the prospects of building a new
relationship with the European Union and the United States. Moscow
has made it known that if the West refuses to negotiate with Russia
as an equal, it will find other influential friends. It is no small
matter that President Dmitry Medvedev began his foreign policy
activity with Kazakhstan and China. And Moscow’s hint at
rapprochement with Beijing only serves to fuel Western ideologists’
warnings of a «new threat» from Russia and China.

Thus, it would seem that, instead of entering a new epoch in
international relations, we are still trapped in the same old
vicious circle.

| The Moscow