Republican Rout Provokes European Anxiety Attack

Article excerpt

Although some foreign opinionmakers remain blase about America's Republican revolution, many world leaders - even European right-wingers - have expressed concern about the change.

When the votes were finally tallied in last month's election and the Republican victory was clear, politicians around the world began checking in with their own assessment.

Dublin clearly was upset, fearful that American encouragement of the Northern Ireland peace process would weaken. Russian leader Boris Yeltsin publicly expressed fears that relations between Washington and Moscow once again could turn frosty. And Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin immediately pondered whether America's $3 billion a year in aid to the Jewish state would be cut. Said a Clinton administration official after the vote: "Every time there is an election, every foreign leader wants to know, `What does it mean for me?'"

While Americans absorbed the election results and considered how their pocketbooks would be affected, foreign missions in Washington were scrambling to supply their governments with analysis of the vote and predictions of how the Democratic rout would affect U.S. foreign policy. Most embassies first had to explain how they had failed to foresee the GOP landslide. Not even the the British Embassy, probably the best-connected diplomatic establishment in Washington, got it right. Just before the votes were cast, British Ambassador Sir Robin Renwick was persisting in his earlier forecasts of a Republican-controlled Senate and a Democrat-dominated House. But the diplomats had a good excuse - most of the East Coast press had scorned Republican predictions of an electoral sweep.

There was a general consensus in the leading foreign press about the reasons for the rout of the Democrats. The British tabloid press, which hates President Clinton with the kind of venom it normally reserves for homegrown left-wingers, was gleeful, as were Conservative members of Parliament, who jeered the pro-Clinton Labour ranks in the House of Commons. The Times of London said the vote signaled America's desire for the center-right leadership it had backed in the 1992 presidential election when Clinton presented himself as a New Democrat. "His elixir for the change he promised was compounded of fiscal conservatism and social innovation.... He held out the prospect of a partnership between a cleaner, leaner Washington establishment and the individual efforts of ordinary voters."

The Economist concurred that Clinton had betrayed the "measured sort of government activism" he had promised and added, "After watching him deal with a slew of domestic issues - health-care reform in particular - many voters decided, rightly or wrongly, that he was an old-school liberal, and his party with him.... The voters were in a sour and sullen mood. They were mad at Washington. Even more, they were mad at Bill Clinton." France's Le Monde and Italy's Corriere della Sera agreed.

Before the election, the foreign press generally was skeptical of the GOP's optimism. As a consequence, most overseas media were blase about the effect on foreign policy of the midterm elections. "It makes little difference to Clinton's foreign policy which party controls Congress," intoned the German daily General-Anzeiger shortly before the election results started to come in. "U.S. foreign policy is traditionally above party politics and is the province of the president, not the Congress." The German publication did not even consider the possibility that with the end of the Cold War, little consensus now exists on foreign policy in Washington, nor did it take account that conservatives such as Newt Gingrich and Jesse Helms are ready to ignore the old division of labor between the White House and Congress. But the next day the Italian daily La Repubblica raised the alarm, opining that the vote will have "serious political consequences for Clinton's foreign and domestic policies. …