A few weeks ago, Bush and Kerry campaigns had some strong words concerning a declaration by Kerry that some European leaders have expressed their support to his presidential bid. Bush required Kerry to give names. Kerry refused saying that it could be damaging for those leaders current relations with the US government. Then Bush’s campaign said that therefore it was not true because Kerry could not give a single name.
Well, here, I can help uncover this big secret: all European leaders but Berlusconi, Kwasniewski and Blair, have been those giving their secret support to Kerry! And if it were to be a case directly involving European voters, Kerry would beat Bush by a minimum 80% vs 20%. These elements are not interesting for polemic’s sake; they are underscoring the major impact on Transatlantic relations which next US elections will have.
Let’s see it for a while from the Europeans point of view. An overwhelming majority of Europeans are against G.W. Bush policies and the number is increasing everyday (as the decreasing number of European countries within the coalition in Iraq is showing). This rejection goes far beyond Iraq which has catalysed such opinions rather created them. From Kyoto to International Penal Court, from Guantanamo to God&Politics style, Europeans are massively reacting against what this administration embodies. One does not yet what Rumsfeld and Bush means when saying that some acts are ‘un-American’; but it is certain that Europeans have decided that this US administration is deeply ‘un-European’.
But till now, though the damages to the image of the USA in Europe are very significant and long lasting they still can be controlled for two reasons:
1. most of Europe elites are from a generation (babyboomers) which has been nurtured by the ‘American dream’ (even in France, even the leftist intellectuals). Therefore those elites are today acting as a buffer to public opinion feelings which are more complex and made of a mixture of generations who do not share the same ‘educational patterns’.
2. Far more important is the fact that European public opinions are still thinking that this US administration is a ‘mistake’ in the sense that US citizens could not foresee September 11th when Bush was elected. Therefore Europeans tend to think that things will go back to ‘normality’ in November 2004 with a change of administration. The fact that they are right or wrong to think this way is not important. What matters is that if the same administration is reelected, what has been a very strong ‘anti-Washington’ feeling within European public opinions will turn into a strong ‘anti-Americanism‘. Indeed Europeans think that this time US citizens will vote with a crystal-clear vision of what Bush’s administration is about . Therefore if Bush is elected again, then it means that the American people shares his vision; which automatically will drastically increase the feelings within Europe that there is not much left in common between Europeans and Americans.
Most leaders within current US administration will say ‘What’s the heck! Anyhow nobody needs those Europeans. And we have strong committed European leaders on our side such as Berlusconi and Blair’. Most US citizens will not even be aware of such a possible evolution as no US media will even bother to mention this issue. And even so, many US citizens will wonder why they should matter about such a European attitude.
And they all would be wrong because it does matter a lot for the US and its future.
First of all of course on short term, with the Iraq crisis. The US needs the Europeans to get out of the mess it created in Iraq. It was the Europeans who triggered the refusal by the UN to bless the invasion of Iraq (Russia and China would have never moved so much against Washington if Paris and Berlin had not say ‘no way’); it is the Europeans who can make the whole UN body positively move to help out in finding a solution in Iraq.
And the question is urgent because contrarily to what the US administration is saying, chaos will keep on developing in Iraq after June 30th, and no UN resolution will be passed to allow an enlarged coalition to take things over (on the contrary, most probably some more European countries will pull-out of the coalition at that date).
After June 30th, the US is going to be stuck even deeper into Iraq’quagmire. To get out of it, it needs the international community; to get the international community it needs the European governments; to get the European governments it absolutely needs not to be opposed by an overwhelming majority of European public opinion, because, in democracy, leaders tend to be elected by the majority of voters.
If we look at its three big supporters still left, things do not look very promising for the European side of the ‘coalition of willing’: current Polish government has melted down, Berlusconi faces an uphill battle early next year for reelection with opponents (and his own allies) willing to withdraw Italian troops from Iraq and nobody seems to know for how long Tony Blair will still be UK Prime Minister. And in all three countries public opinion is by large in favour of pulling out their troops from Iraq.
So let’s be precise: the Europeans will not make any move to help the Bush administration out of Iraq’ chaos; they will on the contrary be very pro-active with a new US administration. Not because they love Kerry; but because they do not trust Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, … and because their voters do not like these people. This is as simple as that.
Then on a longer term perspective, alienating the Europeans will not be a very smart move for US interests in the world. The Iraq crisis has shown the very limits of US power. The US army is recognizing that it is overstretched with only 130.000 troops in Iraq. The war on terrorism is delivering nothing but more terrorists attacks. Iraq is facing an increasing chaos than a smooth way to democracy. Moral leadership of the US is forever gone with the invasion of Iraq and the scandal of prisoners abuse. Bush’s administration international policies have left the US more isolated than ever on the international scene. And the huge budget and trade deficits make the country increasingly dependent on the rest of the world.
Knowing that the Europeans are the only ‘historic’ allies of the Americans for centuries, and a major international player in all fields, for US citizens, it could be worth thinking twice the issue of alienating them, before saying that ‘they do not matter’.
Franck Biancheri (1961/2012)
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