Small World

Jewish World Review Nov. 14, 2000 / 16 Mar-Cheshvan 5761

Europe worries
as U.S. re-counts

By Richard Z. Chesnoff -- THE BRITISH PRESS gleefully calls it "bedlam in the blue-rinse state" and France's favorite TV satire show is regaling Gaul with two new puppets: a madly hee-hawing donkey and a desperately dense elephant. Even Russia's President Vladimir Putin couldn't resist tweaking our nose; the leader of one of Europe's most politically confused nations smilingly noted that with Russia's top election official visiting the U.S., maybe Moscow could give America some badly needed pointers.

Of course, ridiculing America — of which most of Europe is profoundly envious — has been a favorite pastime ever since we had the nerve to liberate the continent in 1944-45. But if Europeans professed a belief before that we were crazy, they're now convinced. "How can the country that invented the Internet and the computer become embroiled in a banana republic-style election?" asked one regular at the cafe where I take my morning coffee.

Europeans may choose to guffaw at our electoral dysfunction and ignore the strength of our democracy that the crisis ultimately represents. But the bottom line is that the rest of the world is really far more concerned about the psychological vacuum created than it is about anything else. "It's as though your parents were doing something unparentlike," admitted one French friend. "You may laugh nervously, but it makes you insecure."

In fact, this has been a presidential election whose possible outcome has troubled non-Americans from the start. While Al Gore hardly conjures the enthusiasm Bill Clinton does, Europeans, and to a large degree, Asians, have been downright suspicious of George W. Bush. Many see the Texas governor as a potentially less friendly ally, a neoisolationist who would offer a far more unilateralist approach than his predecessor. As one Quai d'Orsay official puts it, "Monsieur Bush's White House would be far less willing to take other countries' feelings and opinions into consideration."

Two issues that have set off alarm bells across Europe: the Bush circle's suggestion that the U.S. pull out of NATO security involvement in the former Yugoslavia, and Bush's support for developing a U.S. missile shield, something most Europeans oppose.

Of course, eight years ago, the world worried about an internationally unknown man from Arkansas. Now, Clinton is admired worldwide. The best thing many Europeans and Asians perceive in Gore is the promise of continuity in U.S. foreign and financial policies.

Gore, for example, is seen as more than willing to continue the Clinton tradition of helping to strengthen the European Union politically, economically and militarily. He is also considered friendly on ecological issues, a powerful force in Europe. Nor, for all the international criticism of American market forces, is the Clinton-Gore administration seen as insensitive to Europe and Asia's worries about globalization.

Not so the Bush camp. "The Clinton people were amenable to global deal-making," an anonymous Italian official is quoted as saying. "These other people are Texas big business. One can already draw the conclusions."

Yet the U.S. electoral turmoil may have done more to bring Europeans and Americans together than it has to set them apart. "For years, America was the well-oiled democracy, the one where elections worked like fine clocks," says popular French writer Marek Halter.

"We were the ones with voter fraud and unending party battles, the ones where Green ecological parties caused political havoc. Now in one fell swoop, we've seen your machine is not so different from ours. Maybe America is a little more understandable."

JWR contributor and veteran journalist Richard Z. Chesnoff is a senior correspondent at US News And World Report and a columnist at the NY Daily News. His latest book is Pack of Thieves: How Hitler & Europe Plundered the Jews and Committed the Greatest Theft in History.


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