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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 October, 2004, 11:32 GMT 12:32 UK
The world waits: Bush or Kerry?
Paul Reynolds
By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs correspondent, BBC News website

People around the world who expect a President Kerry to change US foreign policy dramatically might be in for a disappointment.

Video image of an ad aired ahead of a presidential debate on foreign policy
Bush campaign ad: Kerry has said that war should be a last resort
The election campaign has thrown up remarkably few fundamental differences of substance.

However, there would be a change of style and that for many would count. And count a lot. The dismissive talk of "old Europe" would be gone. Indeed, Mr Kerry likes "old Europe". He used to spend holidays at his mother's family's house in Brittany.

There would also be a shift of philosophy which could mean a shift of approach in whatever new crises are thrown up, as they always are. Mr Kerry does not share the world-changing views of the neo-conservatives who have been at the heart of the Bush team.

Video image of an ad aired ahead of a presidential debate on foreign policy
Kerry campaign ad: Mr Bush says he will stay in Iraq until the "job is done"
And yet, Mr Kerry, faced with the current problems, has so far come up with many of the same solutions.

"Any American president is boxed in so there will not be a lot of movement," says Philip Davies, Professor of American Studies at de Montfort University.

"But I would expect there to be an international honeymoon period for a President Kerry. Kerry is a man who was tempered by the wars of the late 20th Century and therefore has the potential for looking for alternative solutions. The Bush team has been inclined to shoot first. It reminds one of the Wild West a bit."

US armour outside Falluja
Bush has said US will stay in Iraq "until the job is done"

Of course, for Mr Bush's supporters, being ready to shoot first in the wild world we live in post 9/11 has been an attribute not a liability.

And looking for alternative solutions, a code-phrase for peaceful ones, does not necessarily mean finding them. Bill Clinton discovered that in Bosnia and Kosovo. Democratic presidents have often gone to war: Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy spring to mind.

As for immediate crises and trouble spots, the differences as revealed in the campaign have not been great.

Iraq

Mr Bush says that the US will stay "until the job is done". Mr Kerry has not called for a withdrawal. He has, instead, talked of his aim of getting the troops out within four years, which is the length of a presidential term. His hopes of persuading allies to take more of the burden remain just hopes. They are not expectations.

War on terror

A President Kerry would have to wage this as vigorously as President Bush, but he might do it a bit differently with fewer harsh edges to US policy. He might be more amenable to sorting out Guantanamo Bay, for example, which could go some way to calming criticism of the United States.

Nuclear proliferation

This potentially could plunge the new administration and the world into its next major crisis. Both Iran and North Korea are on the agenda, yet the only major policy change proposed by Mr Kerry would be a return to bilateral talks with North Korea. The assumption is that Mr Kerry would be less ready than Mr Bush to take military action (or approve of Israel doing so in the case of Iran) but then nobody knows what Mr Bush would do either.

Middle East

Both candidates have vied to proclaim their support for Israel. Mr Kerry might be more open to seeking a resumption of meaningful talks but Bill Clinton tried that and got nowhere, so Mr Kerry would be cautious.

US role in the world

More generally, Mr Kerry's view is that the US should go back to a multilateral way of conducting its business in the world. However, even on the environment this would not extend to signing up to the Kyoto agreement on climate change, so how far he would go in multilateralism is not clear. He has not given a clear commitment to accepting the International Criminal Court.

There is a view that a second Bush term could be less confrontational than the first. This is based on the proposition that the hawks in the Bush team (Messrs Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz in particular) got their fingers burned in Iraq and would be less ready to go to war elsewhere as a result.

One cannot be certain of that.

As for a President Kerry, a more deliberative approach can be expected. His Senate record has shown a man who likes to debate and discuss before deciding.

John Kerry lacks Jimmy Carter's moral fervour while also lacking Bill Clinton's desire to get personally involved in negotiations, over the Middle East and Northern Ireland for example.

Much would depend on his team. If he chose Richard Holbrooke as secretary of state, the man who negotiated an end to the Balkans war, the United States might become a hands-on negotiator again. The secretary of state might return to Kissinger-style shuttle diplomacy of a type that Colin Powell has avoided.

At the very least, Mr Kerry would take his time to try to find those "alternative solutions" even if he did not succeed.


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