Europe's Sour View Of the U.S.


August 10, 1991|By RICHARD REEVES

Cork City, Ireland - There are few Americans traveling here or any place else in Europe this summer.

The war (or, more accurately, the campaign) in the Persian Gulf and recession at home may explain that, but it is also symbolic of the way the world sees the United States in this summer of 1991.

We are, it seems, alone at the top, by our own choice in supreme isolation. Europeans, and the Japanese, too, view us as cut off from most everyone else and fumbling in ignorance -- all the while waiting for us to show them the way or tell them what to do next.

Many of the people of power and punditry in Europe don't much like us at the moment.

They are using the anniversary of Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait to declare the Iraq campaign a political failure and recent summit meetings as indications that the United States will make no significant moves to aid the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe until it is too late -- when blood is running deep in the streets.

''Bush Remarks Show Continuing Gap in Understanding, Sensitivity,'' ran a five-column headline in the Irish Times after the recent Bush-Gorbachev meetings in Moscow.

A weekly competition in the same paper for imaginary diaries of politicians produced this winner from James Comyn, pretending to be President Bush: ''Took three putts on the 18th green again today . . . Still deciding who to declare war on next.''

The Sunday Tribune in Dublin used the wording of State Department cables between Baghdad and Washington to come to this editorial conclusion:

''The cable quotes Gillespie herself'' (the paper means U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie) ''as saying to Saddam that the president had instructed her to broaden and deepen our relationships with Iraq . . . There is no mention of any threat by her to defend the sovereignty of U.S. allies in the region or of Saddam being 'flummoxed.' . . .

''The significance of all this is that the Americans clearly gave a green light to Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait and have since lied about this to their own people and to the rest of the world. They instigated the launch of a murderous war on the Iraqi people because of an act -- the invasion of Kuwait -- in which they had complicity.''

More revealing, even damning, were the reports of London newspapers on the tame performance of the White House press corps at the Group of Seven economic summit in that city.

The American correspondents were deposited and stroked in a ballroom of the Park Lane Hotel and shuttled back and forth to the U.S. Embassy for briefings by President Bush and lesser American officials.

The rest of the world's press worked out of a conference center in Westminster, meeting daily with delegates and representatives from Japan, Germany, the Soviet Union and anyone else with something to say that had not been cleared by Marlin Fitzwater.

''This display of American exceptionalism said something about the new condition of the world,'' wrote Peter Jenkins in the Independent.

He concluded that the Russians are finding it easier to adjust to a multi-lateral world than are the Americans, who seem to long for the old bilateralism of the Cold War.

''The fruits of that victory are turning sour,'' Mr. Jenkins said.

''The spectacle of an American president on walkabout in Red Square may no longer play back home as it once did. When is he going to do something about his own country? . . .

''It was the Europeans who showed some vision of the new world in the making, while the Americans peddled the short-term-ism which is the bane of their economy and society.''

Perhaps. But European visions are less important than the U.S. government's lack of one at home or abroad.

The European griping this summer is another indication that ''the American Century,'' proclaimed by Henry Luce in 1940, is not over after 51 years.

The nations of the world can complain, but they still have to do it our way in the deserts or on the summits.

Richard Reeves is a syndicated columnist.

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