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Jewish World Review May 15, 2001 / 22 Iyar 5761

Morton Kondracke

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Disdain for Bush echoes Reagan -- IT'S much too soon to say that President Bush will be another Ronald Reagan, with half of Washington's landmarks renamed after him. But this much is in parallel and in Bush's favor: Europe can't stand him. Bush is being portrayed in the European press, as was Reagan early in his first term, as a cowboy, a buffoon, a cold warrior, a bully, a reactionary and a menace to the peace.

In Reagan's case the cause was his unfamiliarity with details, his defense buildup, his declaration that the Soviet Union was the "evil empire" and, ultimately, his "Star Wars" missile-defense proposal.

For Bush it's his tendency toward malapropisms, his dumping of the Kyoto global-warming treaty (which no major European nation has ratified, either), his less encompassing missile-defense proposal, plus his Texas record on the death penalty, which Europe finds barbaric.

The European press and intelligentsia also take their cues from the liberal media in our country and the Democratic Party, which caricatured Reagan as a blockhead until it had to accept that he was making some magical connection with the American people and achieving policy success to boot.

Democrats and various pundits in the U.S. media are playing back Europe's disdain for Bush as proof that he's inept or irresponsible -- or both.

In the 1980s, Democrats had to respect the fact that Reagan won two landslide elections. Bush, of course, lost the popular vote, and Democrats are attacking him relentlessly.

Europe came to respect Reagan -- to some degree because fellow conservatives held power and vouched for him in Britain and Germany, but mainly because he ultimately forced the Soviet Union into negotiations on his terms.

Those on the left in the United States and Europe wanted to accept a nuclear freeze that would have given the Soviets a lopsided missile advantage in Europe. But Reagan proposed deploying a U.S. missile force, and when Germany took the United States' side in the 1984 elections, the Soviets immediately wanted to talk.

Just because Reagan was successful, of course, doesn't mean that Bush will be. Democrats are on solid ground in questioning whether his budget adds up or whether they will stifle needed domestic initiatives. However, when foreigners start railing at Bush, Democrats are foolish to adopt the foreign point of view as gospel. Both House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., did just that in blaming Bush when the United States was kicked off the U.N. human rights commission.

France, Austria and Sweden agreed to take places on the commission alongside despotic regimes such as the Sudan, Vietnam, China, Libya, Algeria and Cuba.

The vote discredited the U.N. commission, but Gephardt attributed it to the Kyoto decision and Bush's "willingness to shatter the international arms-control framework in pursuit of unproven missile defenses" and his "failure to follow basic diplomatic precepts on critical global matters."

Kerry accused the administration of "unilateralism." Counterattacking effectively, the Bush administration said the Democrats were adopting a pattern of "blame America first."

Obviously, the United States should not disregard the views of other nations, especially other democracies. So it's wise for the administration to be sending high-level emissaries abroad to answer questions about the President's missile-defense ideas.

Of course Democrats have a responsibility to ask critical questions about the system, including its feasibility, cost and foreign policy implications.

Democrats betray more than skepticism, though. They sound hostile -- largely based on excessive loyalty to the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

The treaty may well be obsolete -- particularly when it prevents the development of a system that may be needed to defend against impending threats from North Korea and Iraq, which are developing nuclear weapons and missile arsenals.

Had Iraq possessed a deliverable nuclear bomb in 1991, the administration argues, Saudi Arabia might have been deeply reluctant to allow allied troops to use its territory as a base for launching the Desert Storm liberation of Kuwait.

If North Korea can deliver a nuclear weapon, it might be emboldened to launch a ground attack against South Korea, believing that the United States could not use the threat of nuclear weapons to deter the assault.

Furthermore, indications are that opposition to U.S. missile defense is softening even in Europe and Russia -- though not in China. If he can make his case, Bush may end up being the leader, not the laughing stock, of the post-Cold War world, much like Reagan's image was transformed during the Cold War.

JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments by clicking here.

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