Tuesday, July 27, 2004
How America Plays in Europe: Bush Vs. Kerry
GENEVA, Switzerland, July 26, 2004 -- It has been a long-held view in Europe that the US elections are far too important for just Americans to vote. Americans seem so often to vote in the wrong people, the Europeans say, and to leave the election of the leader of the world"s only superpower to just Americans, well, that's just asking for trouble.
All the connotations that Europe has about America are there -- the supposed intellectual superiority of the Europeans weighed up against alleged basically intellectually inferior Americans (but don't ask the Europeans how the US became the number one economic powerhouse, too!) . Not that the Europeans don't like and encourage the Americans to come visit (and leave their dollars here) , and they love to visit America, they throng to American movies, listen to American Top 40, and, even in France, fast food has caught on. But when it comes to Presidential voting they believe there are just too many American loose screws running around.
So it is with perhaps more interest than usual that the events unfolding in Boston this week take on great attention. To the Europeans, George W. Bush is a disaster. Anyone, anyone has to be better. Is it conceivable Kerry could be worse?
Gavel to gavel coverage of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) will be available in Europe on the all-news networks, but since things don't really get underway until bedtime for most European workers, it will be the snippets as seen on the newscasts, and the newspaper coverage that will sway the day.
Why do Europeans consider Bush such a disaster. They believe Bush has recognized that the US is indeed the world's only superpower and he therefore believes that he can do pretty much what he wants without retribution. Steel tariffs he imposed early in his presidency did not go down well here. Everyone knew he was fulfilling an election promise and also that the US government knew what it was doing was wrong but, hey, let it get caught up in international negotiations for a couple of years and then when things look really dicey give it up. And that's what happened, but for two years the Europeans (and the Asians etc.) were really steaming. That doesn't help relationships.
And then take the Kyoto accord on industrial emissions which the President said he wouldn't accept. Can't tell you how well that went down here. A big vote getter in the US? Probably not, but perhaps another election promise to those who contributed heavily to the 2000 Bush campaign? Not a winner here!
And yet the terror of 9/11 had brought everyone together. An attack on the US was an attack on Europe. Public support for America had never been higher. There was genuine sorrow, genuine oneness with Americans as they suffered.
But by the time the Iraq crisis came along only a handful of European countries stood with the US. It was one thing to oppose American policy, but when you saw the French foreign minister visiting various Security Council countries, usually a day before or after Secretary of State Powell's visit, with the French urging a vote against the American/British second UN resolution, you knew it was not business as usual. Something very dramatic had changed.
When a Frenchman recently told a rather crowded venue what he really thought about Americans (suffice it to say it wasn't polite) he was reminded by an American that if it wasn't for America the Frenchman would probably be speaking German today as his mother tounge. "Go and look at the allied cemeteries strewn across Normandy and then say again what you think about America," he was told.That brought the rather silly response of, "Yes, but that was 60 years ago".
But to the new generations that 60 years is indeed history and America cannot keep depending on that good-will. To his credit, at the D-Day 60th anniversary celebrations in June, French President Chirac went out of his way in a very moving speech to celebrate the American and allied lives that were lost those 60 years ago. But it was 60 years ago. That American sacrifice doesn't mean that Europe will not today speak its mind. And that it expects to be treated if not as an equal then at least as an ally.
The feeling in Europe today is that President Bush overstepped that mark in pushing his agenda. Yes, he had the power and the might to do what he wanted, but at what cost of friendship? Even worse, for all the words he utters about friendship, deep down doesn't he really believe instead that "might makes right"? Looked at from other side of the Atlantic and the answer probably is that the President puts American priorities first, but whether he did that in the right way may be what November is all about. One permanent major foreign policy shift the Bush presidency has brought is that the European "wife" is no longer so submissive to her American "husband".
Today most European governments are marking time in their US relationships until November. Diplomatically they will say the elections are an internal US event to which they take no side. Undiplomatically they will tell you they want to see the back of President Bush which is why getting to know John Kerry in Boston this week and throughout the campaign is so important.
US polls show the Presidential election is about as tight as it can get. But if the Europeans were given the chance to elect the free world's leader, then there would be no question Mr. Bush would be spending a lot of time back on his Crawford, Texas ranch come 2005.
If Kerry loses then it is back to dealing with the "Devil you know" And the battles will continue as Mr. Bush attempts to implement policies he believes are right for America while Europe fights that those policies should be right for them, too.
Copyright: Philip M. Stone
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