Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Back from the Eurosphere

Just returning from a recent trip to France and Switzerland, I thought I’d take this opportunity to address some issues of interest to both Europeans and N. Americans. So, over the next few days, I’m going to touch on the European media’s treatment of John Kerry, the summit of the big European three in Berlin and the sponsorship scandal that has hit the governing Liberals back here in Canada. And eventually I plan to return to my review of recent books by French authors on the decline of France.

So, starting off with John Kerry’s reception in Europe, it wasn’t too surprising to find the media, and most Europeans, pinning their hopes on the rising Kerry star. Also not surprising was the tendency to draw comparisons between John Kerry and JKF, though most of the comparisons were rather superficial at best. The most they could usually come up with was that both were US senators and both called Massachusetts home. There was also the assertion, often repeated, that Kennedy and Kerry both wore the mantle of “progressive liberal.” Oddly enough, there wasn’t much mention of the fact that Kennedy, like the current president, was fairly bullish when it came to American foreign policy. That’s not to say that Kennedy would necessarily approve of everything George W. Bush has done in the foreign affairs arena, but it is to say that Kennedy was as unapologetic about the need for American dominance in the world as is Bush, perhaps even more so.

But there are those who would argue that Kennedy, in contrast to Bush, was more multilateral, placing greater emphasis on development assistance and diplomacy than Bush has done. This view is valid up to a point, but it’s an objection that tends to see Kennedy in the reflective light of current European obsessions with internationalism rather than in terms of Kennedy’s own approach to foreign affairs. Indeed, Kennedy seemed closer to the model of a Truman or even a Reagan than to that of the post-Vietnam Democrats that spawned the defeatist NGO-pandering Jimmy Carter. (I should point out here that during the four years I lived in Boston, I met more than a few Reagan Democrats who had once supported and worked for JFK. Each of these individuals told me that Reagan, far more than the Democrats, exuded the optimism and confidence of a JFK.) As John has argued in previous posts, the Democrats have strayed substantially from the self-confident approach to foreign affairs once found in such icons as Scoop Jackson. The European media, it seemed to me, wanted to see in Kerry the aura of a Kennedy suitably watered-down and turned into a poster boy for all that the European internationalist-multilateralist now holds so dear.

In this regard, I found most of the European comparisons between Kerry and JFK to be strained, generally based on rather unserious references to geographic provenance, family inheritance or presumed cultural sophistication (i.e. familiarity with Europe). Little mention, and little in depth attention, was paid to the policy differences between the two men, especially in terms of foreign affairs (that is assuming that the Democrats really have a foreign policy worthy of the name). And all this led me to wonder, what would happen if Kennedy would return, would the Europeans embrace him or would even the young, suave Kennedy be too “unilateralist” for the European governing classes? What lies behind this question is really the issue of whether or not any moderately reasonable and proud American president would be acceptable to the European elite. Essentially, this is another way of asking whether the problem really lies just with George W. Bush, or does it run much deeper than that. I’ll look into this more in my next post.

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