Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Americans Should Not Expect a Turnaround From Their European Allies, Should That "Nice People" Vote for Kerry

Demonstrating how condescending Europeans speak with forked tongues, John Vinocur warns that Kerry should not expect a honeymoon from Europe.
A participant on the sidelines of talks in Berlin between Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Richard Holbrooke, a would-be secretary of state in a John Kerry presidency, told a story about the meeting and the theme of how a Kerry-friendly Europe would leap to America's aid in bringing stability to Iraq. (Or maybe hide under the bed.)

"Schröder," the American said, "asked Holbrooke what Kerry would do if he were elected. Holbrooke replied one of the first things would be to get on the phone and invite him and President Jacques Chirac to the White House. The chancellor laughed out loud. Then he said, 'That's what I was afraid of.'"

The participant recalled the moment as very jolly. Everybody in the chancellor's office, including Holbrooke, a former ambassador to Germany, joined in the chuckles.

…It would be wrong to say that Kerry is losing his popular backing in France or Germany, but he has not done much deep convincing that his American foreign policy, Iraq included, would represent a Golden Multilateral Dawn.

In London last week, a Blair government cabinet minister said he could not see much significant difference between Kerry and Bush on Iraq, Iran or a quasi-obsessional European issue like America's refusal to accept the Kyoto environmental agreement. A French official, talking earlier in September, was not far off this line. Elsewhere, an American supporter of Kerry, who visited with Schröder, complained that, over the last month, the Germans "appear to have become resigned to a Bush victory and are rationalizing it by saying it's the same thing pretty much whoever wins."

In any case, German experts have told the chancellor to reckon with four more years of Bush. This is also the palpable although deniable premise in Paris and London.

So, suggesting that with Kerry's big Iraq statement under their belts it was now a good time for the Allies to ask themselves who would be a better American president for them, Süddeutsche [Zeitung] pointed the question rhetorically at Gerhard Schröder, and then responded in his stead.

"The answer: Bush," the newspaper, a constant critic of the president, wrote.

…Similar considerations also work for France. It would take exceptional sophistry for President Jacques Chirac to explain putting French lives on the line in Iraq. Besides, sidling up to any American president would not appear to have much appeal to Chirac at a time when Le Figaro says he's busy promoting himself as successor to Nehru and Nasser in leading the "nonaligned world."

But a seat at six different conferences on Iraq's future is a different matter. The French love conferences. This seems to be a Kerry project, but the trouble is the Bush administration has already camped out on that multilateral terrain, proposing over the weekend that Iraq, its neighbors, and G-8 members like France, Germany and Russia get together sometime in October at the foreign minister level to discuss where the country is going.

…Asked about his view of the American presidential election, Chirac's former foreign minister, Hubert Védrine, who first described U.S. unilateralism as a central global problem during the eight "hyperpower" years of the Clinton administration, said it was a shame the rest of the planet could not vote.

It was "sad" to see, Védrine said, how these Americans, this "nice people" ("peuple attachant" in French), were drowned in propaganda and "cut off from the rest of the world." The term is used in French travel literature, with seeming condescension, to describe interesting savages or exotic but childlike ethnic groups.

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