As Americans, we are by now quite used to doing whatever we can to help Europe. You know the story: Most of the last century can be described as a series of expensive interventions, from World War I through Kosovo, by the United States to fix problems that Europeans made for themselves.
But when it comes to doing favors for Europeans, the Marshall Plan has nothing on the 2006 elections. As a result of the Democratic sweep in the midterms, followed by the bonus toppling of Donald Rumsfeld — a man despised in Europe even more than Bush (but not as much as Cheney) — we’re finally getting the thanks and congratulations we so richly deserve. Europeans are enchanted with the belief, shared by their American colleagues, that the elections mean a quick end to American ambitions to do what Bush 41 would have called “the democracy thing” in the Mideast.
True, Spiegel Online’s English-language coverage of the elections is just too angry to make room for glee, but those cranky Germans — how can you please them without giving them Poland? Besides, there’s more than enough happiness elsewhere: According to El Pais, Spain’s socialists, led by their pacifist prime minister José Luis Zapatero, hailed the skill American voters showed in “recognizing the error” of Bush’s “radical ideology” — and opting instead the Madrid strategy of making love, not war, with terrorists, In France, Le Figaro is “delighted” to see the electoral slap-down of Bush while Le Monde notes with satisfaction that the main strategy of the Bush administration was now reduced to finding a way out of the “humiliating conditions” that all Europeans think now define the Iraqi war.
But when it comes to giving simple thanks, the Guardian’s leader-writer spoke for an entire continent:
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.
Exit polls suggest that four issues counted most in these elections – corruption scandals, the economy, terrorism and Iraq. In the end, though, it was the continuing failure of the war in Iraq that has galvanised many Americans to do what much of the rest of the world had longed for them to do much earlier…
Maybe the more pragmatic Republican old guard can come to the rescue of this disastrous presidency in its most catastrophic adventure. But it has been the American voters who have at last made this possible. For that alone the entire world owes them its deep gratitude today.
The paper describes Rumsfeld as “the architect of America’s humiliations in Iraq.” As Daniel Henninger accurately observes in today’s Opinion Journal, the panicky decision to send in the “old guard” in the person of Robert Gates — rightly described by Henninger as an “odd choice” — to replace Rumsfeld may result in putting American foreign policy on a walker, when what it most needs is a way to stand tall.
The European press’s reiteration of the themes of “catastrophe” and “humiliation” in its reporting of the war in Iraq may interest American voters, who may have been impatient but might not have realized they were voting to legitimize the humiliation of the US military. No doubt it will fascinate American soldiers even more, many of whom may not even be aware that they have been humiliated. Some wars do take longer than others, and Iraq is no Grenada. But the progress made there has been too slowly won to hold the attention of an MTV electorate. The media-mantras of “catastrophe,” “humiliation” and “rising violence” can easily take hold among those who quite rightly feel that 3000 American lives is a huge sacrifice — but forget that 3000 lives were lost in just the first 3½ hours of the first day of the Battle of the Somme during the first World War. In covering Israel’s recent campaign in Lebanon, European journalists demanded “proportionality” in the Israelis’ response to terrorists’ rocket attacks. They might make do with a little of the stuff themselves when it comes to measuring the “catastrophe,” the “humiliation” and the “rising violence” in Iraq.
But all that’s for later, after the choppers have landed on the roof of the Coalition’s headquarters to whisk away the last lucky few to make it out of Baghdad before the butchery starts. For now, as Melanie Phillips points out, America has finally faltered, so the Euro-press will spend the next week or so celebrating V-B day — November 7, the day Bush was defeated — joyful that Missouri, at last, has joined the axis of weasels.
– Denis Boyles is author of Vile France: Fear, Duplicity, Cowardice and Cheese.