Kerry's foreign policy may be more of the same

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The Independent US

Many foreign governments and ordinary citizens around the world are looking to a John Kerry victory in the 2 November Presidential election, with hope bordering on desperation. But they might keep in mind Lord Palmerston's maxim that great nations have no permanent friends or foes, only permanent interests.

Many foreign governments and ordinary citizens around the world are looking to a John Kerry victory in the 2 November Presidential election, with hope bordering on desperation. But they might keep in mind Lord Palmerston's maxim that great nations have no permanent friends or foes, only permanent interests.

The foreign policy style of a Kerry administration would be very different, less abrasive and more respectful of the United Nations and former allies (even perhaps involving an early visit by the new Democratic President to the house in France where he spent childhood holidays?).

A more conciliatory approach would be favoured by most Americans, if a recent CNN/Gallup poll is correct. It found that, by 65 to 27 per cent, voters want Bush to pay more attention to views of other countries.

But geopolitical realities suggest that the substance of US policy would be much the same. Mr Kerry insists he could reach out and persuade doubters to join the US-led coalition in Iraq, enabling him to start reducing the US troop deployment within six months of entering office. But no country, certainly not France or Germany the two major countries who could help, have given the slightest indication of a change of heart with a Democrat in the White House.

Crucially moreover, he agrees with Mr Bush that Washington cannot "cut and run". Like the current administration, he is pinning his hopes on the elections scheduled for January. There is no question of a total early pullout.

On Israel, there is even less to choose between the candidates. No Presidential contender dare alienate the Jewish vote. Mr Kerry promises a more active US engagement in Middle East peacemaking - but he has also made clear he will be as faithful a friend to the Jewish state as Mr Bush.

On North Korea and Iran, Mr Kerry has pledged to tackle their suspected nuclear weapons programmes. He would open bilateral talks with the North Koreans over their nuclear programme, something Mr Bush refuses to do. Much the same goes for Iran. In both cases however, there is no sign that such an approach would gain results where Mr Bush as failed.

The most visible changes would be in the style of policy making. Gone would be the abrasive individuals Europeans most love to hate - Dick Cheney, the extraordinarily powerful vice-President, and Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary. His deputy Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, the No.3 Pentagon official and the other neo-conservatives would be back in the think-tanks whence they came.

A Kerry administration would see very different names, some familiar some less so. The top candidates for Secretary of State are Richard Holbrooke, the former UN ambassador who was President Clinton's special envoy during the Balkans crisis and prime architect of the 1995 Dayton accords on Bosnia, and Senator Joe Biden, a close friend of Mr Kerry on Capitol Hill and senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Alternatively, Mr Holbrooke - or possibly Rand Beers, a top Kerry foreign policy adviser - could become national security adviser at the White House.

At the Pentagon, Mr Kerry might be tempted to pick a Republican, both as a bipartisan gesture, and to shore up his national security credentials.

His dream choice would be Senator John McCain of Arizona. But Mr McCain, who was informally courted by the Massachusetts senator as his running mate, has indicated he is not interested in the job. Alternatives might be Richard Lugar of Indiana, chairman of the Foreign Relations committee, or Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who on occasion has strongly criticised President Bush's Iraq policy.

But in terms of personality, change could be less than it seems. Mr Holbrooke can be abrasive and impatient. Mr Biden is no patsy, once saying of Jacques Chirac that he "has an ego as big as this room".

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