Thursday, November 4, 2004

BRUSSELS — A mixture of dismay, despair — and in one case an unflattering assessment of the IQ of Americans who voted for President Bush — dominated European newspapers yesterday.

“How can 59,054,087 people be so dumb?” asked British Daily Mirror in a front-page banner headline that described the election result as a “disaster” and lamented “war more years.”

“March of the Moral Majority,” bellowed the headline on the Daily Mail.

The Independent let its pictures do the talking, with the top of Page One featuring images of Iraqis being tortured at the Abu Ghraib prison, hooded suspects on their knees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and a Republican supporter with a sign saying, “Finally a Christian fighting evil, thank you George Bush.”

The Guardian, a left-leaning British daily that encouraged readers to send letters to U.S. voters urging them to back Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry, commented:

“We may not like it. In fact, to tell the truth, we don’t like it one bit. But if it isn’t a mandate, then the word has no meaning. Mr. Bush has won fair (so far as we can see) and square. He and his country — and the rest of the world — now have to deal with it.”

Not all British papers were depressed at the prospect of four more years of conservative rule.

“The world is a safer place today with George W. Bush back in the Oval Office,” said the Sun, Britain’s best-selling daily.

“His re-election is bad news for terrorists everywhere. They know President Bush means it when he vows to root out terrorism wherever it exists. John Kerry was weak on terrorism and weak on Iraq. His one moment of strength came when he conceded defeat with dignity instead of demanding recounts.”

The conservative Daily Telegraph similarly said U.S. voters “have demonstrated once and for all that no power on earth can intimidate a free nation.”

But the Telegraph — like papers from Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Switzerland and in Eastern Europe — also struck a note of concern about the trans-Atlantic chasm.

It urged Europe to come to terms with an America that “is diverging from Europe: It is younger, more self-confident, more prosperous, more devout, more diligent, more democratic and, in short, more conservative.”

French newspapers, which had covered the election campaign in all its gory detail, could not hide their disappointment at Mr. Bush’s victory.

Describing the result as a “revolution,” an editorial in leftist daily Liberation declared: “A new reactionary majority has consolidated its hold on American democracy. The rest of the world may deplore it, but it will have to adapt to this reality.”

Grudging respect for the free choice of American voters was a recurrent theme in many European newspapers .

Spain’s leading daily, El Pais, commented: “George W. Bush is probably not the president the rest of the world would have wanted, but it is he who American voters have democratically elected.”

Winning more votes than his opponent — unlike four years ago — and not having to rely on a Supreme Court ruling for victory mattered a lot to European newspapers, many of which never regarded Mr. Bush as the legitimate leader of the United States for the past four years.

“The American people have made their choice,” said a front-page editorial in Belgian daily Le Soir. “It is now up to us to manage our relations with this key nation.”

Many papers said Europe’s response should be to get its act together, rather than grumble endlessly about American unilateralism.

“With or without us, America will continue its foreign policy of the past four years,” said Hungary’s Nepszabadsag. “Europe must close ranks and build a military force in keeping with its economic weight.”

Germany’s Der Tagesspiegel argued, “Europe should reconsider its ambitions, which seem naive, to act as a political counterweight to the USA.”

Most German papers viewed Mr. Bush’s re-election with dread.

In an editorial titled “The Fundamentalist Majority,” the center-left Berliner Zeitung commented: “The re-elected Bush claims he wants to reunite an extremely divided country.

“That’s exactly what he promised four years ago, but he has done the opposite.”

An editorial in Austria’s Der Standard said of the Republican win: “The 11th of September prepared the U.S. for a man like Bush. He is the man of the dark hour.”

For most European newspapers, this was not a contest between Mr. Kerry and the sitting president — it was a referendum on Mr. Bush’s muscular foreign policy and conservative social values.

“Bush!” is the one-word headline on the front-page of Belgium’s Le Soir, while the paper’s rival La Libre Belgique was even pithier in its banner, opting for “W.”

The only man more delighted with the result than Mr. Bush is “a skinny, bearded man hiding somewhere on the Afghan-Pakistani border,” wrote Czech business daily Hospodarske Noviny.

The paper argued that Osama bin Laden “needs not only his faith in God Almighty but also a clearly defined enemy.”

In Mr. Bush, the Saudi terrorist has one for the next four years. So do tens of millions of Europeans, the newspaper said.

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