The United States and Western Europe since 1945: From "Empire" by Invitation to Transatlantic Drift

By Geir Lundestad | Go to book overview

10 Transatlantic Drift: The Present and the Future

George W. Bush and 11 September

In the 2000 election most Western Europeans preferred Al Gore to George W. Bush. As so often, Europe went with the known quantity, and although it had taken a while for trust and reciprocity to develop under the Clinton-Gore administration, toward the end the American-European relationship functioned relatively well. It helped that the Democrats in Washington had faced left-of-center governments in London (Tony Blair) and Berlin (Gerhard Schröder) as well as in most of the smaller European countries. In Paris cohabitation continued with Gaullist President Jacques Chirac and Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. Sympathy for Bush was strongest in conservative-led Rome (Silvio Berlusconi) and Madrid (José Maria Aznar).

After Bush was elected President, there was a move to the right in Western Europe too. Right-of-center governments were formed in Norway, Denmark, Portugal, Holland, Turkey, Finland, and even in France after the elections there in June 2002, but this strengthened Atlantic relations only marginally—right-of-center did not mean the same thing in the United States and in Western Europe, or even necessarily inside Western Europe for that matter. In Britain Labour was reelected in a landslide in June 2001 while in Germany the SPD-Green coalition just scraped home in the September 2002 elections.

When George W. Bush took over as President with the most limited of mandates, Europe did not really know what to make of him. Like Bill Clinton he was inexperienced in international affairs and initially he wanted to concentrate on his domestic agenda of tax cuts and educational reform. He inherited little of his father's foreign policy experience, but many of his father's key advisers, including Vice President Richard Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and even National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. In his somewhat laid-back attitude, his cowboy-inspired language, his emphasis on religion, and, most important, his deep conservative nationalism, he appeared to resemble Ronald Reagan more than his father.

While traditional isolationism had long been dead, the new administration insisted that America's interests should come first. Of course national interest comes first in every country, but in pointing this out Bush wanted to distinguish

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