Cowboys and Liberals

by Lord William Rees-Mogg

“Obviously the U.S. election result is among the most important of these events… Yet the global issues themselves will not be changed. The United States will still have to have an economic policy, and foreign policies towards the Middle East and Europe, the areas of highest tension.”


All of the world seems to be moving at once.  There is the American election, whose outcome is not known to any of us as I write.  There is the signing of The European Constitution, which I suppose will be called the Second Rome Treaty.  There is the revolt of the European Parliament against the new European Commission.  There is the serious illness of Yasir Arafat who has dominated Palestinian politics, and has frustrated successive peace processes for forty years or more.  There is the vote in the Knesset in favour of Ariel Sharon’s proposed withdrawal of Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip.  The cauldron of international affairs is certainly bubbling, and I have not even mentioned the situation in Iraq.  Nor have I mentioned the high price of oil, or the recovery of the gold price to something very close to the highest levels in more than a decade.

Obviously the U.S. election result is among the most important of these events.  However, we should not exaggerate the room for manoeuvre that either candidate would have, if elected.  The essential interests of the United States are what they are, and will be what they will be.  The U.S. electorate has concentrated, I think rightly, on the contrasting personalities and cultures of the two men.  The decisions they would make in the White House would be shaped much more by what sort of men they are, than by the platforms on which they might be elected.  Senator Kerry is a “Massachusetts Liberal,” to use the phrase pinned on him by his Republican opponents.  He happens to come from Yale rather than Harvard, but he might just as well be a Harvard man.  His roots go back to the early days of New England.  He has the intellectual caution of a thoughtful and careful temperament.  He is not an intellectual of the quality of Woodrow Wilson, but he would make the sort of president for whom Woodrow Wilson seems an appropriate comparison.

George Bush is not described by his opponents as a “Texas Cowboy” – though one hears the phrase used in Europe often enough – because the Republicans think that “Texas Cowboy” is a favourable brand image with Americans, particularly in the South and West.  If one were to hold a poll between the “Massachusetts Liberal” and the “Texas Cowboy,” the Texas Cowboy, as such, would probably win.

Yet the global issues themselves will not be changed.  The United States will still have to have an economic policy, and foreign policies towards the Middle East and Europe, the areas of highest tension.  Senator Kerry thinks that Europe would be easier for him to handle.  That might last for about twenty-four hours.  It has already been pointed out in Germany that his tough line on trade, and his desire to get the help of German troops in Iraq, would both be highly contentious matters.  The Germans do not want to make concessions to U.S. trade, and they certainly do not want to send German soldiers to Baghdad. That is not wildly popular even in Britain, and is not helping Tony Blair’s campaign for re-election.  No doubt the Senator would be friendlier towards European political leaders, but his kind words would not butter any European parsnips.

The claims of the European Parliament to approve the members of the new Commission, combined with the signing of the Treaty for a European Constitution, present the next administration with a greater challenge.  The United States has helped to create a monster in Europe, a jealous twin for American power.  Most Americans believe that a continental American power is a good thing – they are proud of their country’s Constitutional democracy.  They have assumed that a similar United States of Europe would be equally benign.

Unfortunately, nations define themselves by competition for power.  The separate European nations have been happy to be protected by American power against the threat of the Soviet Union.  In the absence of the Soviet Union, a United States of Europe will see the United States of America as a rival rather than a protector.  That is obvious to almost everyone in Europe, but so far, to hardly any Americans, and certainly not to Senator Kerry.  I wonder when the truth of European rivalry will be recognized by Americans.