"Why Bush must be beaten," screamed the headline of Le Nouvel
Observateur, a left-leaning French newsweekly. Smaller type above the U.S.
president's half profile provided the answer: "His re-election will be a
catastrophe for the world and for America."
That sentiment may have been expressed more bluntly than the opinions of
many Europeans, yet it captured the passions on this continent over who will
occupy the White House come January.
Poised halfway between the political wrangling in Washington over the war
in Iraq and the suicide bombs and kidnappings in Baghdad, Europeans have
rarely felt so involved in a U.S. presidential race.
Many Europeans, analysts and regular citizens alike, argue that their own
security is increasingly at risk, while violence spirals in Iraq and anti-
Western hostility hardens in Europe's backyard -- the Arab world.
Some on the continent have suggested, only half-jokingly, that with one
superpower remaining in a globalized world, Europeans ought to have a say in
who should be America's next president.
"Americans will choose their president, and the rest of the world will
have to live with that decision," said Bernhard May, a senior analyst at the
German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. "All we can do is talk to
Perhaps mirroring sentiments on the other side the Atlantic, Europeans
who dislike Bush are not necessarily strong supporters of John Kerry.
"Europe is get-rid-of-Bush country, which is not quite the same as Kerry
country," said Guillaume Parmentier, head of the Center on the United States
at the French Institute for International Relations in Paris.
He said the continent's hostility toward Bush began long before the U.S.
invasion of Iraq, dating back to Bush's decision in 2001 to reverse President
Bill Clinton's support for the Kyoto Protocol on global warming -- a
cherished cause for many European politicians. "Iraq just made it worse,"
Yet European's good-guy, bad-guy approach to the presidential race is
simplistic, say some analysts. "In substance, there is no such black-and-white
picture," said May, a specialist on German-American relations.
May points out that Kerry has already made clear his belief that Europe
should participate more in Iraq's reconstruction. The Democratic candidate has
called for sending European troops to help with January's elections in Iraq.
The county's first democratic elections will probably require thousands of
peacekeeping troops to secure election monitors and polling sites amid
Europeans might find it hard to provide such help, because tens of
thousands of their soldiers are already deployed in Afghanistan and the
Balkans. Yet it would be harder for the continent's leaders to refuse the man
they greatly prefer for president over Bush, says May.
"If Kerry is elected, he'll present us with this challenge perhaps in his
very first week in office," May said. "Bush won't put the same kind of
pressures on Europeans to help out. He's been rebuffed before."
A survey published this month by the Program on International Policy
Attitudes in Washington, which conducts polls on global issues, found that
Europeans overwhelmingly opposed Bush's re-election. Kerry was the favored
candidate even in Britain, the Bush administration's closest ally. There, 47
percent of those interviewed said they would choose Kerry, compared with 16
percent for Bush.
Not surprisingly, anti-Bush feelings were strongest in countries whose
governments have based their foreign policies on refusing to join the U.S.-
dominated coalition in Iraq. In Germany, 74 percent said they would back Kerry,
compared with 10 percent for Bush, while in France only 5 percent said they
would vote for Bush, and 63 percent said they supported Kerry.
Both French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard
Schroeder rejected Bush's requests to support military action in Iraq last
year and have staked their leadership in Europe on that stance.
In Spain, Kerry's lead over Bush was only slightly narrower: 47 to 7
percent. Spain's Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, won election
last March almost entirely on the promise to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq.
Zapatero's predecessor, Jose Maria Aznar, was a frequent White House visitor
and had a growing personal relationship with Bush at the time he was ousted.
Europe's complex feelings about U.S. politics are hardly new. The two
continents have for centuries looked to each other for cultural inspiration as
near-mirrors of each other through the years. But this year's campaign has
brought a new tension over Americans' political choices.
"There's this usual tradition of a love-hate relationship," said Jean-
Gabriel Fredet, one of two journalists who wrote the mid-September Nouvel
Observateur cover story pleading for Bush's defeat. "But now there's a growing
anxiety about the world's sole superpower," he said in an interview. "Excuse
the cliche, but it's true."
Fredet's article listed numerous reasons why Bush should go:
"unprecedented" American isolationism since 2000; "unequaled arrogance" in
Bush's leadership style; intolerant religious fervor; and the growing millions
of Americans without proper health insurance. On a continent with largely free
health services, many Europeans cite that last reason as their major dislike
for the U.S. system and are often dumbfounded about why Americans do not push
politicians for universal health care.
Despite the overwhelming support among Europeans, Fredet says that few
people expect dramatic changes if Kerry defeats Bush.
"Of course we believe Kerry will change things only in a slight way," he
said. "But at least he will do it in a more polite way."
© 2004 San Francisco Chronicle