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Sunday, August 01, 2004

New York Times > Europeans Mostly Rally to Kerry, but With Few Illusions


BERLIN, July 31 - The front-page cartoon in Le Monde on Saturday represented the general European preference in the wake of the Democratic National Convention: It showed John Kerry brandishing a Stars-and-Stripes broom and sweeping George W. Bush, along with the detritus of missiles around him, out of office.
Europeans seemed to feel that, with a Thursday night speech that included searing criticism of President Bush's administration, Mr. Kerry emerged from the convention a strengthened candidate, modestly bolstering their hopes that he could win the White House. Mr. Bush is not just widely disliked in Europe; he is viewed as the essential cause of divisions in the trans-Atlantic alliance.
The belief across Europe seemed to be that a Kerry administration would be more multilateral than the Bush administration has been, more willing to listen to the views of allies and take them into account.
"The speech was music to European ears because of the attacks on Bush," said Justin Vaïsse, a French historian. "It put the blame where many Europeans see the blame, at the door of the Bush administration."
But there was a strong countercurrent among some commentators, who expressed the view that while Europeans might like Senator Kerry more than President Bush, the speech contained little concrete indication of how his policies would be different from those followed in the past four years.
Noting the line in Mr. Kerry's speech about not needing a green light from abroad before taking actions to defend its interests, Mr. Vaïsse said: "In France, they don't have overblown expectations. Kerry would be like the second Clinton administration, not as arrogant and unilateral as Bush, but it would be no multilateral paradise either."
Berliner Zeitung took a stronger view, saying in an editorial on Saturday that there was little in Mr. Kerry's speech to please Europeans.

"Europeans are surprised to hear that John Kerry is talking about America the same way as George W. Bush does," the paper said. "They are amazed that at the Democratic Convention in Boston, he saluted like a soldier, one hand up at his temple. They would prefer not to hear it when Kerry promises that he would never hesitate to use force in case America is under threat. They are disappointed."

Among some analysts there was a prediction that, paradoxically, a more multilateralist Kerry administration would turn out to be a problem for European policy makers, because they would find it more difficult to say no to a request for greater European involvement in Iraq and a stronger contribution to the campaign against terrorism.

There is an element of wishful thinking in the European view of Mr. Kerry, a commentator on Polish radio, Zbigniew Lewicki, said Friday. "The Democratic candidate spoke about his willingness to convince the European Union leaders to share the burden of war with Americans," Mr. Lewicki said. "It's an illusion. If the European leaders prefer Kerry as president, it's not because he wants to throw a part of the war costs on their shoulders."
The German daily Tagesspiegel wrote in an editorial on Wednesday: "Whoever in Europe believes that with John Kerry as president, the golden 90's of 'Charming Bill' will come back will be disappointed. When it comes to the most important trans-Atlantic debate issues of the last years - Iraq and the Middle East conflict - Kerry has almost the same convictions as Bush."

In Britain, the Kerry speech drew generally good reviews, with commentators remarking that his willingness, finally, to directly criticize the Bush administration will make him a stronger candidate.
The speech, Gerard Baker, a commentator in The Times, wrote, "was nothing less than a daring raid by Kerry on enemy territory, the political equivalent of his Swift-boat assault on a Vietcong post a generation ago."
But other British editorials showed disappointment that Mr. Kerry did not offer details of how he would be more multilateral than President Bush, or how his foreign policies would differ.

"What he would have done differently and what he might aspire to achieve if elected are disturbingly unclear," The Times said in an editorial. "His entire case for being entrusted to take on Al Qaeda seems to rest on his service in Vietnam three decades ago."

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