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Europe to Bush: Go Away; Even British Prefer Kerry for President
Published on Monday, September 27, 2004 by the San Francisco Chronicle
Europe to Bush: Go Away
Even British Prefer Kerry for President
by Vivienne Walt
 

PARIS -- "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 people."

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," Parmentier added.

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 escalating violence.

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

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