PARIS—"Dismay." That is the word most often used to describe the European response to George W. Bush's re-election. Because of the time difference, Europeans went to bed thinking Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry had won, but they woke up to discover that Bush had clinched a second term. A French television correspondent reported the news of Bush's re-election and promptly burst into tears—not very professional, perhaps, but revealing.
Many observers think French President Jacques Chirac was pleased to see Bush re-elected because Bush furthers his program. Chirac calls it "multipolarity," which means making Europe a counterweight to the United States. It's an alternative to the current "unipolar" world in which the United States enjoys pre-eminent power and, in the view of many Europeans, exercises it recklessly.
Because Bush is so deeply distrusted in Europe, it may be easier now to get Europeans to move toward an independent foreign and defense policy. Bush could be the greatest-ever impetus toward a united Europe. But that would be an anti-American Europe, not the pro-American Europe the United States has always envisioned.
Still, there are problems with Chirac's "European project." The European Union has expanded to 25 countries. Many Eastern European countries are pro-American and have no interest in participating in an anti-American program, especially now that Russian President Vladimir Putin looks more menacing. Europeans are keenly aware of what Putin tried to do in the Ukrainian election, and Eastern Europeans fear Putin more than they fear Bush.
Europeans believe, or hope, that a second Bush term will be marked by "realism." They think that the first Bush term's foreign policy was driven by ideology. In Europe, it has become commonplace to blame everything wrong with the Bush administration on "neocons," neoconservatives who are seen as having wrenched U.S. foreign policy from its multilateral moorings and driven the war in Iraq. The core neoconservative idea? That the United States must protect its security by spreading democracy in the world. Europeans find that idea arrogant and unrealistic.
The reality facing the Bush administration is that the United States is stretched thin, both militarily and financially. Therefore, the administration will need to rely more on allies to share the burden of the war on terror. Those allies will insist on also sharing the decision-making.
The administration has already announced a troop buildup in Iraq, at least through the January 30 election. Meanwhile, the insurgency in Iraq is becoming more dangerous. The number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq increased sharply in November, matching April for the highest monthly total since the war began.
The rise in troops and deaths looks like "escalation," a scary word from the Vietnam era. Could it have political consequences? Bush said in Canada on November 30, "We just had a poll in our country when people decided that the foreign policy of the Bush administration ought to stay in place for four more years."
But whether the presidential vote amounted to an endorsement of Bush's Iraq policy is a matter of debate. Researchers David Karol and Edward Miguel of the University of California (Berkeley) assert that casualties in Iraq held down Bush's support in last month's election. "Our research shows that in states where people were really paying the human cost of the war in Iraq ... he lost support," Miguel noted.
Kerry tried to make U.S. losses a national issue. He said at the end of September, "This month ... we passed a very cruel milestone in the war in Iraq. Over 1,000 of our sons and daughters have died in Iraq. And we've lost 70 in September alone. More than 1,100 were wounded in August. This is more in each month than in the preceding month."
According to the California researchers, "Were it not for nearly 9,000 U.S. dead and wounded in Iraq, President Bush would have won approximately 2 percentage points more of the popular vote, carrying several additional states."
While Iraq may have been politically costly for Bush, it was not costly enough to defeat him. "Our statistical model suggests that Bush won the election despite Iraq, not because of it," Miguel said.
Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio put it this way: "Even people who supported the president's position in Iraq have reservations about what will happen now."
Escalation was disastrous in Vietnam. It looms as a serious political danger to Bush and his party, especially because European experts think the next big crisis the West will face is with Iran. Iran is intent upon getting a nuclear bomb. What can the West do? Sanctions against Iran would cause the price of oil to skyrocket. Military action against Iran would be difficult, to say the least. Iran has a population of 69 million and a gross domestic product of $478 billion, according to CIA estimates for 2004. Compare that with Iraq, with a population of 25 million and total wealth of $38 billion.
Moreover, Iran has a lot of influence in Iraq among the majority Shiites, who are likely to be empowered by next month's election. A military strike against Iran could cause Iraq to explode. In the view of European critics, realities like that can be expected to overcome neoconservative ideology in the Bush II regime.