What do Europeans expect?
Whether it was the crowds in Berlin this summer or newspaper polls asking how Europeans would vote in the U.S. presidential elections, Senator Barack Obama has been seen as more popular in Europe than Senator John McCain. We found Europeans to have a significantly more favorable opinion of Senator Obama than Senator McCain (69% to 26%) in this year's Transatlantic Trends. Europeans also said that if Senator Obama is elected, relations will improve; if Senator McCain is elected, relations will stay the same (interestingly, Americans had the same opinion). The question in many minds is whether these expectations are accompanied by support for the policies the next U.S. president is likely to pursue. Take the case of Afghanistan. In this year's survey, we chose to go beyond the"reconstruction vs. combat" choice asked in the past in part because I've been convinced that this is a false dichotomy. Both U.S. candidates for example speak of seeking a"comprehensive strategy" including elements of both reconstruction and combat. As one American policymaker said to me, it doesn't help to build schools if they're attacked once you leave and we know that you can't shoot your way to success. So we asked whether the American and European publics would support a range of different missions: economic reconstruction, combating narcotics production, training Afghan security forces, and combating the Taliban. Interestingly, all three non-combat missions received support from Europeans while their support dropped sharply for combat (Americans supported all four missions). Did European favorability toward the candidates have any influence on their support for the options in Afghanistan? Apparently not. While both Obama and McCain are likely to ask Europeans for more in Afghanistan, we found no difference in the support for the options in Afghanistan between Europeans favorable to Obama or to McCain. Both groups had relatively high support for the three non-combat missions, and both groups had low support for combatting the Taliban. Does this mean that Europeans may favor Obama but not share his sense of what to do in Afghanistan? Perhaps. It suggests that Americans may need to do a better job articulating their vision of the mission in Afghanistan. It also suggests that there may be room to negotiate support for a range of non-combat missions, and it highlights the challenges that either Obama or McCain will face when they seek to mend relations with our allies.
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