Imagining America as Europe
Unsurprisingly, the current primary season of the U.S. presidential campaign focuses more on domestic issues (and personalities) than will the general election procedures in the fall. With the New Hampshire primary and others to follow, the rhetoric of both Democratic and Republican candidates emphasizes national, rather than international, issues. When foreign policy makes an appearance at this early stage, it usually arises in the context of U.S. behavior toward challenging powers such as Russia and China or American action (or inaction) in the Middle East. And even these discussions often revolve as much around America's bruised self-image as a superpower in an increasingly confusing world as they do around actual foreign policy challenges. Europe, America's traditional ally, rarely makes an appearance.
Given the multitude of crises facing Europe today, one might assume this to be different. But with the exception of discussion about a potentially imported terror threat, this is not the case, at least at this early stage. Despite some unflattering portrayals, Europeans should not take offense. Political campaigns are invitations for hyperbole and flowery language. During election seasons, the U.S., like most countries, looks inward, turning most foreign policy issues into props in domestic debates. It is in this regard that Europe does have one important role to play in the lead up to November 2016: that of a projection screen. On both the Democratic and Republican sides, Europe is an easily understood symbol.