The American Interest
Policy, Politics & Culture
After the Election
Published on November 13, 2012

In Germany, 91 percent of the electorate would have voted for Obama. This comes close to the “Enver Hoxha Standard”, the 98 percent regularly won by Albania’s eternal dictator in the Soviet days. Barack Obama’s harvest in Germany is the mother of all landslides, rendered even more awesome by the miniscule 4 percent Mitt Romney has polled.

Such a victory (a virtual one, of course) sets Germany’s Obama admirers up for the second fall. Recall how Obama spoke in Berlin in the summer of 2008, when he bestrode the stage as rock star and redeemer. He attracted an audience of 200,000, about as much as a free Rolling Stones concert would have pulled in. These folks saw in Obama the perfect “un-Bush” and more: a kind of European social democrat, peace- and ecology-minded—“one of us,” so to speak. After four years, Mitt Romney got the same treatment as W.—according to the unspoken formula: “Republican = right-wing = evil.”

After Obama’s election, adulation segued into bitter disappointment, which is precisely in the stars today. First, the redeemer wouldn’t close Guantanamo. Second, this “peacenik” launched the “Surge” in Afghanistan—more war, not less. Third, Obama, allegedly a “global zero” guy, requested high double-digit billions from the Congress for the modernization of the U.S. strategic nuclear stockpile. Finally, the President didn’t beat swords into plowshares, but started to wield a new one—drone warfare. He has killed more bad guys with silent strikes from the sky than had W., this warmonger extraordinaire.

To judge from the media, drones are already Exhibit A in the current indictment: “extra-judicial murder”, “perversion of due process”, slaughter of the innocents. Worse, these clever drone monsters betray unbridled American power, just what had riled Europe’s soul in the Bush era. We love Obama, we hate America’s muscle and its refusal to behave like decent, peace-minded Europeans.

Therein lurks the disappointment of the next four years. Europeans think Obama is one of them, and to some extent he actually is—more so, at any rate, than any of his presidential predecessors. That said, Obama remains the chief executive of the one and only global power, a country with global clout, interest and responsibility. Above all, the United States cannot outsource its security to somebody else. There is no such “somebody.”

Unlike the Europeans, the United States has the money, the men and the guns—unless Obama proceeds to chop away at the defense budget. It has interests and obligations round the world, starting with the Middle East and extending to the Western Pacific, the strategic arena of the 21st century. The United States has never stopped using force as integral tool of grand strategy, nor will it do so under Obama II. Just the style will change: special ops instead of armies, drones instead of B-52s, navies instead of boots on the ground. In short, the United States will not behave like a very large Sweden.

For all his dislike of Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama II will not follow the European perception according to which Palestine, actually Israeli obstinacy, is the source of all trouble between the Levant and the Gulf. The next Administration will cherish the Arab Spring, but not confuse sympathies with strategic interests, which will bid Washington to stay in bed with such unsavory figures as the Saudi king and the Gulf sheiks. It will strenuously oppose Khameinist Iran, perhaps even use force, Europe’s nightmare.

Above all, the United States will complete the “rebalancing” from Europe to East Asia, including the resource-rich “-stan” countries, though ruled they are by anti-democratic strongmen. Even so, and even after another “reset,” the United States will keep a sharp eye on Russia, which is rapidly re-arming. That preoccupation presages a mano-a-mano with the German government, which is subtly campaigning for the repatriation of America’s last nuclear weapons from Western Europe.

So as Germany’s 91 percent are cheering Obama II, they are bound for disenchantment. America is different. Obama offers a wonderful canvas for projecting fond hopes or not-so-fond expectations of imminent decline that would defang American power. Yet America will neither decline nor turn into Europe-on-the-Mississippi. Meanwhile, Europeans will continue to gobble up movies, television series, pop music, pulp fiction, fast food and fashions Made in USA. So much seduction creates its own resentment. That is the oldest story in the European-American relationship: too much power over minds, too much power over the world. But the tie remains strong. English is easier than Chinese, and Europe, like Japan, will not outsource its security to the Middle Kingdom.

Josef Joffe is editor of Die Zeit, Distinguished Fellow of the Freeman-Spogli Institute for International Studies and Abramowitz Fellow of the Hoover Institution, both at Stanford.