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Robin Oakley, CNN.com European Political Editor

LONDON, England (CNN)

The extraordinary events that have led up to George W. Bush taking the White House have not added to the authority of the 43rd president of the United States.

The European Union is currently obsessed with internal reforms. President Vladimir Putin is struggling to restore order and to achieve economic reforms in Russia. Japan is suffering a crisis of political leadership.

Against that background, and with the Middle East in turmoil again, the world could do with a strong U.S. president.

But the closeness of the Bush-Gore contest, the legal wrangles and the length of time taken to determine a result have further damaged a presidency already weakened by the impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton.

The new president will struggle to assert his authority domestically, let alone on the international scene. Outsiders will fear a president with his eye from the start on mid-term elections and in thrall to the focus groups.

Despite the shower of congratulations now flowing, and the angling for early invitations to the United States to meet the new man in the White House, the arrival in the Oval Office of George W. Bush will send tremors through Europe’s capitals.

Essentially it is a fear of the unknown.

Few European leaders have even met the governor of Texas. None of them was going to tempt providence by saying so, but most had been hoping for a Gore victory simply because many of them knew the vice president personally, they respected his knowledge of international affairs and they liked the idea of continuity.

Now they will have to get to know Bush, a man who has hardly ever travelled outside his own country.

The second reason for alarm in European capitals is that Condoleeza Rice, Bush’s foreign affairs guru who is expected to become his national security adviser, suggested during the campaign that a Bush administration would pull back U.S. troops from worldwide peace-keeping duties.

Specifically, she suggested U.S. troops might be pulled back from Bosnia and Kosovo, leaving Europe to take over more of their duties in the Balkans.

The Bush team has sought to moderate worries, saying that no troops would be taken out of the Balkans without the allies being consulted.

'Star Wars' revisited

But any such pull-back could lead to a dilution of America’s dominant role in NATO and an uneasy relationship with a European Union already developing its own defence dimension with a rapid reaction force of 60,000 troops.

There were early spats between the Clinton administration and Europe over Bosnia, and a repeat of those tensions is feared.

Thirdly, European leaders will be worried by Bush’s allegedly robust views on such issues such as global warming and climate change following the rows between the United States and the Europeans at the recent Hague conference, which broke up in acrimony.

Al Gore had a reputation to defend as an environmental enthusiast, and although American politicians tangle with the gas-guzzling U.S. lifestyle at their peril, Europeans would have expected him to be more co-operative than Bush in seeking a compromise on greenhouse gases.

A fourth cause of worry will be Bush’s expressed enthusiasm for the development of a new anti-missile shield for America, the so-called National Missile Defence (NMD) or "Son of Star Wars" plan.

There has been sharp criticism of such a plan by Russia’s Putin. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany and President Jacques Chirac of France have backed his objections.

They argue that NMD would lead to America abandoning the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and to the danger of an escalating, and expensive, nuclear arms race as others felt impelled to follow.

Third Way politics

Initially neither Russia nor the other Europeans will seek to pick a fight. Indeed, Chirac was one of those who sent his congratulations to Bush on election night when he had been called the winner by the TV networks.

Robin Cook, the British foreign secretary who was also caught out that night, said then that relations with America would remain strong. “I am sure we can build the same relationship with the new president. None of the fundamentalshave changed. We do have very strong common interests."

A Russian government spokesman quoted by the Russian Information Agency that night said Bush had the experience to ensure continued good relations with Moscow.

In a more general sense, many European leaders will be worried by the American election result because their administrations are mostly formed by parties of the centre left.

With America frequently proving to be an ideological trend-setter, they will fear a similar mood spreading to Europe’s electors, being especially conscious that Gore lost despite the Democrats presiding over eight years of economic growth.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair will be worried because he has had a particularly close relationship with Clinton. They have jointly made the case for “Third Way” politics, combining pro-business policies, tough lines on law-and-order issues and social justice measures.

Blair’s Conservative opponent, William Hague, is one of the few Europeans who has travelled to America to meet Bush. Hague openly backed Bush in the U.S. election and has openly adopted some of his programme of "Compassionate Conservatism." He will be hoping for a payoff.



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