The presidential contest currently under way in the US has generated unprecedented interest in the UK and Europe. Were it left to us on this side of the pond, Barack Obama would win with a landslide. On account of his youth, his colour and his relatively liberal views, Obama is the darling of Europe's liberals, while not only they, but also European conservatives widely look forward to his presidency as a welcome departure from the hawkish, abrasive unilateralism of George W. Bush's administration. Yet while Obama as US president would be likely to go down well with the European and, indeed, the world public, this would above all be for the negative reason that - like Clinton before him - he probably would not do very much in the field of foreign affairs. By not rocking the boat or rapping knuckles, a President Obama would appease European liberals and conservatives alike. But by the same token, he may prove inadequate in meeting very real threats to peace and stability in Europe. Nowhere are these threats more real than in the south-eastern borderlands of our continent: the Balkans, Turkey and the Caucasus.
So popular a hate figure has the unilateralist US hawk become among our chattering classes, that it is widely forgotten just how much damage was done by Clinton's dovish, multilateralist, do-nothing approach to foreign policy - not only to global peace and security, but to democratic Europe's relations with the US. Coming to power as a critic of Bush Senior's inactivity over the bloodbath in Bosnia, Clinton, in the face of the determination of his European allies to avoid military action and to appease Serb aggression, quickly backed away from his electoral promise of tougher action. The result was the worst crisis in US relations with Britain and France since Suez, as Clinton vacillated between Congressional pressure for intervention in defence of Bosnia on the one hand, and Anglo-French resistance to intervention on the other. Where decisive US leadership was needed, the Democratic president was lacking. In summer 1995, Clinton did belatedly opt to intervene against the Bosnian Serbs, and then the Europeans quickly fell into line and the Bosnian war was brought to an end, but only on the basis of the unprincipled Dayton settlement that has bedevilled regional stability ever since.
Clinton enjoyed advantages in the global arena unprecedented for a US leader since Roosevelt, most notably the absence of a Russian threat. But rather than take advantage of the opportunity of the Soviet collapse to reshape Eurasia, he sat back and allowed the Russians to dismember Georgia, and tacitly supported their brutal assault on Chechnya in 1994. He did not predict that a Russia capable of employing such murderous violence against its own, Chechen civilians would likely prove a danger to the West in the long run, or that, fifteen years later, a beleaguered Georgia would represent the threatened frontline before this threat. So, as in other parts of the world, the Bush Administration in South East Europe has had to try to clear up the problems left unresolved by its predecessor. And it has done so with some success: NATO expansion has been accelerated and US relations with former Communist bloc countries boosted; Kosovo's independence has been recognised; Macedonia has been recognised by the US under its constitutional name; and cooperation with Georgia has been strengthened.
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