- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 30, 2004

PARIS — Europeans have become obsessed with the American presidential elections to a degree unequaled in previous campaigns, speculating on the future of the United States as if it were their own.

“There’s a huge interest in it this year. You’d think it was a British election,” said Martin Fletcher, foreign editor of the Times of London, a newspaper that has been reporting extensively on the U.S. election.

“I cannot remember an issue that has ever aroused such intense interest. Everyone in Britain has an opinion about it. It’s a talking point wherever you go.”

In the press, on the streets and at dinner tables on both sides of the English Channel, one issue dominates: Who will be the next leader of the United States? And what will it mean for Europe?

The chatter is in different languages, but in Britain, France, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands, one hears the same thing over and over: President Bush must go.



“He has the ability to provoke an incredible animosity, and this gives us even more incentive to be interested in the U.S. election, because Bush is probably the least liked of all U.S. presidents since World War II,” said Alain Frachon, a senior editor at Le Monde, one of several French newspapers running extensive coverage of the American presidential campaign.

“People here, right or wrong, have the impression that the Bush administration triggered a wave of Francophobia in the U.S.,” he said.

In Poland, one of a handful of Eastern European countries that sent troops to Iraq, people likewise are following the race with unprecedented attention, albeit with a different twist.

A Bush defeat would have negative consequences for Poland, as it takes its place as the most prominent of 10 new members of the 25-nation European Union.

“If Kerry wins, the anti-war countries in the European Union will say Bush lost because of Iraq, which means everyone who supported Bush in Iraq is also a loser,” said Bartosz Weglarczyk, foreign editor at Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland’s largest newspaper.

“If Poland is seen as a loser on the debate on the war in Iraq, obviously our position in the EU will be weakened,” he said.

Given the dispute between the United States and France and Germany over the war in Iraq, the antipathy is hardly surprising. A recent poll found nine out of 10 Frenchmen would vote for Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry over Mr. Bush if they had the opportunity.

The feeling is shared by several other countries in Europe that are frustrated with Mr. Bush over a range of issues, including American unilateralism, the war in Iraq, the risk of terrorism and perceived neglect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Britain’s liberal Guardian newspaper began a campaign several weeks ago in which it urged Britons to write to voters in Ohio’s Clark County — one of several highly contentious counties in the swing state — to help undecided voters make up their minds.

As much as they dislike the American president, Europeans also are captivated by him.

As the leader of a political, economic and military superpower that long has fascinated Europe, Mr. Bush’s rather un-European approach to leadership feeds the caricature of a tough-guy cowboy with Bible Belt rhetoric.

Europeans want to know what kind of people would place such a man in power.

The press here has responded by reporting not just on the election, but on the United States as a whole, with special attention on the American psyche.

“We want to understand why so many people are still on Bush’s side; it’s a kind of mystery to us,” said Peter Frey, Berlin bureau chief for ZDF television in Germany.

A poll released last month by the German Marshall Fund, a think tank headquartered in Washington that studies trans-Atlantic relations, found that 75 percent of Europeans disapprove of how Mr. Bush handles foreign affairs and 73 percent think the war in Iraq has increased the global risk of terrorism.

The results made headlines in newspapers already thick with election coverage.

Earlier this month, Le Monde, along with nine other newspapers, including the Guardian and Spain’s El Pais, conducted their own poll, with predictable results: passable endorsement of Mr. Kerry and overwhelming contempt for the Bush administration.

“If Bush remains, American troops may stay longer in Iraq, and this will immediately impact our internal politics,” said Jean-Gabriel Fredet, editor of Le Nouvel Observateur, a French weekly that recently featured a cover story headlined, “Why we must beat Bush.”

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