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Europe Cheers

Europeans are thrilled: The Canadians of American politics are finally back.

8:45 AM, Nov 8, 2006 • By ULF GARTZKE
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TODAY, Europeans are sighing in relief. Americans, they believe, have finally come to their senses and are beginning to put the Democrats back in charge. Back in 2000--and even more so in 2004--Europeans were shocked and disappointed that America had elected George W. Bush. Two years ago, in the wake of serious transatlantic tensions over Iraq, 80 percent of all Germans said they would have voted for Senator Kerry. In France, "Jean-Francois" Kerry's appeal was even bigger, with only five percent supporting President Bush.

In other words, Europe was longing for what Germany's prestigious conservative daily FAZ called the "good and Democratic America." The European laundry list of objections to America's use of power--Iraq, Guantanamo, the Kyoto protocol, torture interrogations, CIA "black sites," the International Criminal Court, etc.--goes on and on.

Michael Naumann, the former culture minister under left-wing German chancellor Gerhard Schröder and now the publisher of the centrist weekly Die Zeit, argues that over the last six years President Bush and Vice President Cheney have created a "clash of civilizations" between their administration and the majority of Europeans. Polls show that the number of Europeans in favor of a strong U.S. role in international affairs tumbled from 64 percent to 37 percent between 2002 and 2006. At the same time, the share of those opposed to American leadership in the world nearly doubled, from 37 percent to 57 percent.

Democrats, by contrast, are seen as the good guys--the Canadians of American politics, so to say. Therefore, many Europeans hope that the election will begin to narrow the political and social gulf separating them from the United States by creating a Democratic counterweight to Bush. How happy were the Europeans? The Guardian noted that "The cheering [for the Democrats' victory] can be heard not just in America itself but around the planet."

The irony is that transatlantic relations at the inter-governmental level have already improved significantly since the beginning of Bush's second term, as documented by the joint U.S.-E.U. diplomatic approach to Iran, as well as the arrival of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has become President Bush's most important partner in Europe. Public perceptions, however, are lagging way behind and most Europeans seem to be immune to Condi Rice's ongoing charm offensive.

With the midterm elections over, Europeans are now looking to the 2008 elections. Hillary Clinton is their top choice to replace Bush in the Oval Office, mainly because she is the wife of Bill Clinton, who had, among Europeans, approval ratings in the 85-percent range while in power.

In the end, though, many Europeans may be disappointed that this week's elections will have only a limited impact on President Bush's foreign policy. The impact of congressional elections should not be minimized, but the president is still going to manage American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, where there are more important things going on than politics.

Ulf Gartzke is a Visiting Scholar at Georgetown University's BMW Center for German and European Studies in Washington, D.C.