Thursday, June 17, 2004

The Common Thread Among All Recent American Presidents…

John Vinocur again hits the nail on the head in his weekly International Herald Tribune column.
Ronald Reagan, who Europe now thinks may not have been such a terrible leader after all, and George W. Bush, who it persists in regarding as fairly awful, shared a problem. They asked the Europeans to do what they could not easily offer.

So did Jimmy Carter, like other presidents. And in some respects, Reagan's Democratic predecessor hit on Europe earlier and for more than the Great Communicator ever attempted. The fact is that Reagan personified what Carter had started — walloping defense budgets, cruise and Pershing missiles to be deployed in Europe, and continuous dunning of the NATO allies for more military spending and sanctions against the Soviets, who had invaded Afghanistan. …

Very much unreassuringly for Europe, Reagan took credit for concepts like the Evil Empire to characterize the Soviet Union, and the space-based missile defense called Star Wars. Sounding well over the top, he even shouted seemingly loony stuff at Mikhail Gorbachev from a rostrum at the edge of the Iron Curtain in Berlin, like: Mr. G, tear down this wall.

Reagan was frontally, irredeemably American entering the White House in 1981, a time when Western Europe's economy and social fabric looked the sounder of the two continents' and when many Germans were convinced they had invented a magical massage of cash and euphemism that would soothe the Soviets into letting democracy tiptoe to their door.

Projected against this European mind-set (which, modified to fit current circumstances, applies again to Bush), Reagan was a dummy, a cowboy, and a voodoo economist creating McDo jobs. The clod actually used words that fit what he meant. The man said that if NATO's European members didn't militarily face down the Soviets' SS-20 missiles targeted on them by agreeing to deploy the cruises and Pershings, the Russians would win.

That was confrontation. And since much of the American press had amplified a vision of Reagan as a Master of Simplism, the Europeans jacked up those decibels in his first years and made Reagan out to be a dangerous fool. Demonstrations against the American missiles — Reagan-as-cowboy posters were their mark of ultimate disdain — rolled across Europe in numbers that made the anti-Iraq marching of 2003 seem weedy.

The common thread among all recent American presidents, whatever the party, and Reagan and George W. Bush, continues here.

Just as Carter initiated many specifics in a tough American line on Europe that Reagan would accentuate, Bill Clinton, in a sense, set in place a part of Bush-America's continuing tone.

It was Clinton's United States that was first accused by France of being a hyperpower and the world's great unilateralist menace. And that didn't like the Kyoto environmental treaty, the International Criminal Court, or having to run U.S. bombing targets past NATO committees in a Kosovo war whose multilateral confusion left the U.S. administration saying never again.

Read also about the differences between the two Republican presidents' experiences

Update: Clinton Offers Little
Sympathy to Europe's Bush-Bashers