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Why can't Europe understand Bush

By David Harsanyi
web posted November 25, 2002

If the world had any doubts regarding George Bush's legitimacy as President, they should have been washed away with the Republican's impressive victory on Election Day. If they had any questions concerning Bush's qualities as a world leader, they too should have been expunged when the Security Council voted unanimously to rid the world of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

While Bush's popularity in the United States is unparalleled -- around 68 per cent and growing according to recent polls -- America haters collectively scratched their heads when the Republicans obtained a mandate to topple Saddam Hussein. Europeans, in particular, are perplexed. From heads of state to progressive anti-war marchers in Florence, they just can't comprehend Bush's appeal.

The Boston Globe quotes Robert Worcester, chairman of the MORI polling company, says that politicians, businessmen, and journalists in England "were unanimous in expressing worry because of President Bush's perceived lack of understanding or consideration for European public opinion and sensibilities."

Neither Bush's politics nor his personal style translate well outside the United States, Worcester said: "they don't like Texans, they don't like oil people, they don't like Stetson hats and cowboy boots. His whole approach just alienates them. And this result just increases their fears."

Apparently, Bush's victory not only concerned everyone in England, but several Europeans leaders. (Why Clinton's Arkansas translates better than Bush's Texas is still a mystery. But that might say more about the Europe psyche than the United States.) Throughout the faux continent, heads of state apparently lie awake at night pondering gun-slinging Bush's unilateralist intention, but sleep like babies with the threat of rouge dictators developing, or already possessing, nuclear and chemical weapons.

In reality, the triumphant and emancipated Bush would have a free hand in dealing with Iraqi, without European or UN support. He wouldn't risk losing one vote in the 2004 elections. To its credit, the Security Council appreciated Bush's mandate almost immediately, as even customary antagonists, France and Russia, acquiesced to American pressure, approving a tough resolution against Iraq, which will force Hussein to disarm or face "serious consequences." With that vote, the president persuaded the United Nations to act in the interest of world peace, instead of obstructing it. That may be a first.

Now it becomes absurd – or, rather, more absurd -- for American isolationists, leftists or Iraqi appeasers to accuse Bush of acting independently or hastily. Though it's doubtful that it will stop them.

Bush greets citizens in Vilnius, Lithuania on November 23
Bush greets citizens in Vilnius, Lithuania on November 23

CNN's Senior Correspondent Sheila MacVicar, said: "It has to be said that in large parts of Europe they simply do not get George Bush. They do not understand his appeal. They do not see him, as much of the U.S. seems to see him, as a charismatic politician. They do not understand the historic approval ratings in the U.S. he has. What they remember... is a president, elected perhaps under dubious claims of legitimacy."

European leaders, many of whom require convoluted parliamentary coalitions to hold power without a clear mandate, have suggested that the president lacked legitimacy after the dispute that followed Election 2000 -- or at least they contrived such concerns for strategic reasons. That is now over. If nothing else, the recent election's results signal that Bush's popularity may be even broader than polls suggest and his legitimacy confirmed. And Europe has noticed. Even Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said he planned to congratulate Bush, despite the fact that the German leader vigorously opposed military action against Iraq, and was not congratulated by the president after he won elections in September. It's doubtful, however, that any amount of silver-tongued diplomacy will distract Bush from his successful international agenda.

One of the key areas of contention between Western Europeans and the Bush administration is the preposterous and self-destructive Kyoto protocol on climate change. The treaty, which is moving forward without the US, is an attempt to regulate carbon emissions and set up a system of emissions trading. But there is growing European concern that Bush will not only ignore the accord, rendering it useless, but may seek to undermine the treaty further by pushing a more constructive, laissez-faire agenda.

The US has approached the Rome treaty that would set up the international criminal court in the same way, refusing to sign the treaty. Instead, the administration has hunted for bilateral deals with European and other countries to ensure its authority can never be applied to American citizens or armed forces. On July 1, while the EU launched the International Criminal Court and the administration announced its intention to withdraw U.S. forces from Bosnia unless they were granted immunity from the court's jurisdiction.

Bush seems to have terminated the destructive pattern of continuous submission to European interests, almost passionately employed by his predecessor. Needless to say, Europe is not happy.

And how have the Muslims reacted to the Bush mandate?

"The first reaction is not positive," said Abdel Monem Said Aly, director of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. "To consolidate this administration with a majority in both houses tells us we probably will not get the most wise decisions from Washington in the next few years."

An unmerited perception that Bush is hostile toward Islam has been said the reason behind victories by religious parties across the Islamic and Arab world. Has American foreign policy caused Islamic parities have won recent elections in Pakistan and Turkey? "Like the subjects of all former empires, we look at the United States with awe and disgust," Cengiz Candar, the columnist from Turkey's Yeni Safak, said. "Many people here see George W. Bush as unbearably arrogant."

Yet, Turkey and Pakistan have remained allies, their relationships cultivated by the Bush administration –despite criticism from many on the Right and Left. The United States has also enlisted Jordan, Saudi Arabia and numerous other Islamic countries in its war against terror. Doubtlessly, Bush will be the most popular man in Baghdad in mere months. The idea of the United States as imperialist ogre is spoon-fed to the Muslim populations by their state-controlled media. Perhaps a taste of free speech in Iraq will set off a chain reaction region.

It's unlikely Bush will ever be loved in Europe or the Middle East. But hatred of George Bush doesn't stem from his cowboy image or his perceived arrogance. It comes from a fervent loathing of a strong, independent United States. Nothing more.

David Harsanyi writes from NYC. Visit his website at http://dharsanyi.blogspot.com.

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