Friday, November 10, 2006

Relief is Palpable in Europe

A great sigh of relief has swept across Europe as the Senate and House fell under Democratic control. That relief is seasoned by a concern, mirrored by American worries, about what comes next in Iraq.


Ukpapers

A great sigh of relief has swept across Europe as the Senate and House fell under Democratic control. That relief is seasoned by a concern, mirrored by American worries, about what comes next in Iraq.

My own absentee ballot went off in the mail a month ago to Montana and who would have guessed that my sparsely populated and wind-blown Big Sky country would turn out to be such a national player? Last-gasp results from Montana and Virginia decided the Senate and fortunately, both races were conceded rather than contested.

But The Guardian-UK newspaper typifies Europe's reaction;

When the remaining recounts and legal challenges are over, the Democrats may even have narrowly won control of the Senate too. Either way, the results change the political landscape in Washington for the final two years of this now thankfully diminished presidency. They also reassert a different and better United States that can again offer hope instead of despair to the world. Donald Rumsfeld's resignation last night was a fitting climax to the voters' verdict. Thank you, America.

In US domestic terms, the 2006 midterms bring to an end the 12 intensely divisive years of Republican House rule that began under Newt Gingrich in 1994. These have been years of zealously and confrontational conservative politics that have shocked the world and, under Mr Bush, have sent America's global standing plummeting. That long political hurricane has now at last blown itself out for a while, but not before leaving America with a terrible legacy that includes climate-change denial, the end of biological stem-cell research, an aid programme tied to abortion bans, a shockingly permissive gun culture, an embrace of capital punishment equalled only by some of the world's worst tyrannies, the impeachment of Bill Clinton and his replacement by a president who does not believe in Darwin's theory of evolution. The approval by voters in at least five more states of same-sex marriage bans - on top of 13 similar votes in 2004 - shows that culture-war politics are far from over.

It’s not been particularly comfortable living as an American in Europe the past six years. The ‘internationalism’ that Europeans got used to from America during the Clinton years, coming close on the heels of the demise of the Soviets, got thoroughly crushed by the Bush administration reaction to 9-11.

It seemed such a slap in the face after Europeans wept with us and support poured in from the entire world, including countries that were borderline supporters at best. I recall flowers banked against the American Embassy in Prague, along with notes of support in fractured English that would just break your heart.

All of that dissolved in the heavy-handed and mistaken attack on Iraq. A circumstance developed with which I was not familiar—Europe angry with America, but continuing to love Americans. That perspective is apparent in the Guardian editorial, the focus on “12 intensely divisive years of Republican House rule that began under Newt Gingrich in 1994,” rather than any longer-termed disassociation with American politics.

Europeans have always been (understandably) wary of American power, particularly as our nation became the ‘last guy standing’ in the East-West confrontation between the Soviet and American superpowers. But they were convinced that we represented the best answer to a more peaceful planet--until we began to manhandle the good will America had taken two centuries to build and display.

Incredibly, that has all come unwired in six short years. But unlike this administration, Europe does not shoot from the hip. Their political realities come soaked in centuries of conflict and they take a rather longer view of the actions of governments. Power comes and goes in Europe and America has never had to deal with that.

Democrats now have the ball in their court, but the Afghanistan-Iraq puzzle is up-ended and all over the floor. It will take patience and statesmanship, rather than hubris and weaponry, to put it together as a recognizable picture of Middle Eastern democracy. Bi-partisanship is absolutely necessary and that’s going to be a tough call with so much political anger and recrimination, so much pressure to indict for what are considered by some to be grave crimes.

Regardless of the messiness of that confused route, Europe is anxious to welcome America back into the community of nations. November 7th was a step in that direction. As The Guardian put it;

Thank you, America.
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In the newspapers;