Small World

Jewish World Review Dec. 22, 2000 / 25 Kislev, 5761

Non-Americans dubious
about nonworldly Dubya

By Richard Z. Chesnoff -- UZES, France | For more than a month, Jean Louis Bouvard, the owner of my favorite local cafe, asked me the same question each morning. "So, cher Americain," he'd inquire with a smile, "do you have a new President yet?"

Well, now that we finally have one, Jean Louis has stopped smiling. For starters, he would have preferred seeing the more worldly Al Gore in the White House. Most importantly, Jean Louis is convinced there was something decidedly wrong with the way we finally "elected" George W. Bush. "In a democracy, people are chosen by voters," he notes with almost a frown, "not by judges."

Many other regulars at his Cafe Suisse d'Alger concur, as, seemingly, do many people all across Europe, and, I presume, Asia, Africa and Australia. Of no less concern is what these non-Americans perceive as another dubious legacy of the election: an atmosphere so sharply partisan that it threatens to paralyze political progress. "That's something we're used to in our part of the world," said an Italian friend, "but not in America."

The international worry level also has been raised by what non-Americans perceive as George W.'s overwhelming lack of any real knowledge of global affairs or interest in global cooperation. A cabinet and administration filled with Daddy Bush retreads like Dick Cheney has not done a great deal to assuage those concerns. Nor were Europeans enthralled when national security adviser- select Condoleezza Rice suggested that the U.S. pull out of NATO security involvement in the former Yugoslavia.

To make matters worse, Bush's on-the-record support for developing a U.S. missile shield has set alarm bells ringing from Oslo to Bucharest. The loudest ones have gone off in the Kremlin; a Bush-sponsored National Missile Defense Plan would automatically abort the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

Even peaceful endeavors seem at risk to Europeans. Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair, after talking to Bush, said the new President "will be a friend of Britain and a friend of Europe, a friend of free trade." Privately, however, those around Blair, one of President Clinton's closest foreign pals, say Britain fears a far more insular America with revisionist, almost protectionist trade patterns.

The Middle East is also watching. Israeli experience with Republican administrations has not always been happy. Israel also remembers well that while Colin Powell was at the helm when America led the battle to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein, the secretary of state-designate wasn't in favor of the idea at first — and was among those most virulently opposed to chasing Saddam on into Baghdad.

For its part, the Palestinian leadership hasn't hidden its initial joy at Bush's victory. Gore (not to mention Joseph Lieberman) was perceived by Arafat's world as too pro- Israel. Beyond that, most Arab rulers have always gotten along famously with Texas oilmen. They remember former Secretary of State Jim Baker with particular fondness — not the least for his supposed remark, now infamous, "F--- the Jews — they don't vote for us anyway."

On the other hand, Palestinian cassandras have quickly noted that Israel is one of the few foreign lands George W. has ever visited.

As they say in Florida, sometimes nobody wins.

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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