Many Europeans welcomed President George W. Bush’s resounding defeat in mid-term US elections, hoping the resurgent Democrats would help end ugly rifts that have soured trans-Atlantic relations in recent years.
However, analysts said US foreign policy was unlikely to change overnight, especially in Iraq, and warned that the Democrats might prove more awkward to deal with than the beaten Republicans in areas such as international trade.
European sympathy towards the United States has largely evaporated since an initial burst of solidarity following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and Bush’s administration is viewed with suspicion, if not downright hostility, in many countries.
Midterm elections, which swept Republicans from power in the House of Representatives and imperilled their grip on the Senate, was widely viewed as a highly personal rebuke for Bush, and a chance to bring more balance to world order.
“There is less White House in America now and a little less America in the world,” said Dominique Moisi, special councillor at the French Institute of International Relations.
The Bush administration has progressively alienated Europe over an array of issues, notably Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and its refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol on global warming.
“These years have been marked by the failure of Bush’s unilateral policy,” said Piero Fassino, head of Italy’s largest ruling party, the Democrats of the Left.
“We now need to think that world problems cannot be resolved by only one country, even if it is the most powerful one.”
The same sentiment was repeated by politicians of all colors around the continent—including in Britain, which has proved Bush’s closest ally in his war against terror.
Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to join the US-led invasion of Iraq caused deep divisions within his own Labour party and one of his critics said the US vote showed people on both sides of the Atlantic wanted change.
“These election results have not only damaged Bush, they mean that Blair is now totally isolated in the international community,” said John McDonnell, a Labour lawmaker and candidate for the party leadership when Blair steps down.
Under the US constitution, the president determines foreign policy and although Congress has influence through oversight committees, many analysts did not expect the Democrats would demand instant change—especially regarding Iraq.
“The Democrats will make life unpleasant for Bush, but they are not going to get much in his way because they don’t want to be tarred by defeat in Iraq,” said Francois Heisbourg, a special councillor at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris.
However, some policy makers thought the Democrats might try to get Europe to pick up more of the strain in global hot spots, notably Afghanistan.
“This is sure to come,” Karsten Voigt, the coordinator for German-American relations in the German foreign ministry, told German radio.
“And I’m sure some will say the Europeans should take on a military as well as humanitarian role in Darfur (in Sudan).”
Germany has about 2,900 troops in Afghanistan, mostly in the relatively peaceful areas. It has so far refused to bow to US calls to shift its forces to the increasingly dangerous south.
Analysts also warned that the Democrats were more protectionist when it came to trade and would kill off lingering hopes of a global trade accord by stripping Bush of his “fast-track” negotiating power, which lets him authorize deals. “With that goes any chance of the US helping to revive the Doha round of world trade talks, although they may be dead anyway,” commentator Bronwen Maddox wrote in British daily The Times. “Those carried the hope that the US might wean itself off farm subsidies, and force Europe to do the same,” she added.
Such policy concerns did not dampen broad satisfaction in many European capitals that Bush’s wings had been clipped at a time of growing unhappiness over US leadership.