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2/20/16

US Presidential Elections:US candidates ignore Europe at their peril - by Leonid Bershidsky

In stump speeches and debates, the US presidential candidates only bring up Europe to make domestic political points or highlight the dangers of Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) terrorism or immigration. But ignoring the other major part of what is commonly known as “the West” is a mistake.

If European countries are mentioned at all on the campaign trail, it is in passing. Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton says that “only China, Germany and the US” can be the sustainable energy power of the future, and she wants it to be the US. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, her Democratic rival, says Germany offers free university education to its citizens, so the US can afford it, too.

Among Republican contenders, Florida Senator Marco Rubio mocks Sanders by saying that the self-described socialist should be running for office in one of the Scandinavian countries. In an early debate, former Florida governor Jeb Bush made a quip about French working hours to highlight Rubio’s spotty attendance record in the Senate, then had to apologise for the remark. Billionaire Donald Trump likes to say that France has the “toughest gun laws in the world”, which failed to prevent the terror attacks in Paris last year. He also has called Brussels “a hellhole” because of its large immigrant population.

That’s pretty much it. Electioneering, of course, is mainly about domestic issues. But it would be wrong to assume that foreign policy doesn’t matter in the 2016 election. One reason that former surgeon Ben Carson, one of the early Republican front-runners, has plummeted in the polls is that he’s been incoherent and gaffe-prone on foreign policy. Sanders is criticised for having a limited understanding of the topic, especially compared with Clinton.

No candidate debate goes without at least some discussion of international issues. The threat from Daesh is the dominant one. Then there’s Iran: The more hardline Republican candidates denounce the accord reached by the Obama administration and demand a tougher stand. Texas Senator Ted Cruz sums up the position in stump speeches: “If someone says they want to kill you, believe them.” It never fails to get a laugh.

These days, European leaders get the impression that even the Obama administration is uninterested in their problems.

Yet it is imperative for the US to show a lot of goodwill toward Europe. It is in its vital interests to keep the European Union together and ensure its success.

The EU is the biggest US trading partner, with three times as much US investment as all of Asia. If it fell apart, the economic effect on the US would be immediate. Among other things, individual European countries would be free to engage in a cut-throat tax competition, creating a sucking sound for US companies the likes of which no protectionist can imagine.

The success of the European integration project is essential to the peaceful existence of the western world, which the US claims to lead. That leadership would lose its meaning if Europe were to disintegrate into smaller, self-interested parts. That would be a disaster, not a reason for Schadenfreude and not one of those “European issues” the presidential candidates like to ignore. ( Bloomberg)

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