George W. Bush's aides apparently see him as a "transformational" president, but it remains to be seen what sort of transformation would result if Bush is given a second term.
A hint, which should be disturbing to Americans, is seen in last week's release of a transatlantic survey of Americans and Europeans, which shows a serious, widening gap between Europeans and the Bush administration on foreign policy.
The poll, for the German Marshall Fund of the United States, was conducted in the U.S. and 10 European nations by a Gallup affiliate and has a margin of error of 3 percent.
Europeans gave Bush foreign policy a 76 percent vote of disapproval, and even Poland and Italy, where U.S. policy had previously been favored, turned against us in the 2004 survey. The "disapproval rate" increased 20 percentage points in just two years. The survey validates anecdotal findings that the Bush administration has cut a very nasty trench between America and our traditional allies. Americans traveling in Europe find themselves welcome as individuals and on the defensive when it comes to politics.
We have come a huge distance from 9/11, when all of Europe rallied to our side, and even from the ensuing invasion of Afghanistan, which was well-supported in Europe.
Iraq was the turning point. If the president had kept his eye on Osama bin Laden instead of avenging old hates by going after Saddam Hussein, European views would have been dramatically different.
It is not merely disagreement over the necessity of invading Iraq, it is the figurative thumbing of the American nose at European opinion. If the Bush "transformation" escalates his muscular foreign policy of pre-emptive military action, look for European opinion to harden even more.
There is a natural affinity between Americans and Europeans. In fact, 67 percent of Americans want to be as close or closer to Europeans. But only 46 percent of Europeans feel that way about America, and 50 percent want to be more independent from the U.S.
More Europeans are thinking like Europeans rather than British or French or Poles, and as they do so, they want a close but more equal relationship with the United States. Europeans were amused and bemused by Ronald Reagan, but they are frightened by George W. Bush and believe his foreign policy has created Islamic terrorists and muted the voices of reason within the Islamic community.
Europeans overwhelmingly (73 percent) believe the Iraq war has increased the risk of terrorism; 47 percent of Americans agree. Additionally, some 54 percent of Americans believe the best way to ensure peace is through military strength, but only 28 percent of Europeans agree.
The difference in reliance on military might is stark, but understandable. Europeans have felt war in ways we have not since the Civil War. Cities were leveled, farmlands plowed with artillery shells, millions of young men killed or severely wounded in two world wars and a host of smaller conflicts fought on European soil.
It is sobering to spend time in a European church or cathedral and scan the names on the war memorials. In some cases, nearly all of a village's young men were lost in battle.
This should not be read as any lack of sympathy for American dead in those wars, or in Iraq. It is simply to say that war on your own soil, with its staggering civilian costs, does cause one to look at war in another way. The horrors of 9/11 were the worst on American soil since 1865 and they pale beside European casualties in the 20th century.
If we still believe that military strength is the answer to 9/11, many Europeans believe that they have had enough of war and want to find another way to combat evil.
There is truth in both positions. The minions of bin Laden are not open to negotiation, and force of arms must be an option. Most Europeans likely would agree. But the reckless use of arms, with Iraq as an example, makes it harder to use power intelligently. Our forces are tied down, perhaps for years to come, and our national wealth is being poured into a black hole.
America saved European democracy in World War II and helped build a postwar society that enjoys a standard of living equal to ours, and in some cases higher. Americans and Europeans want close ties, but folks in Europe want to be treated as grownups, not as extras in a cowboy shootout.
Floyd J. McKay, a journalism professor emeritus at Western Washington University, is a regular contributor to The Times editorial pages. More survey results: www.transatlantictrends.org.
Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company