The Republican Party’s disarray heading into the Florida primary and the recent return to favor of John McCain in the polls is causing fear in some European quarters and relief in others.
Most Europeans are against the Iraq war and they fear that McCain will prefer to score some kind of victory in Iraq rather than withdraw to cut losses, regardless of what happens on the ground. Others think he might bring some sanity into US policy by drawing down the war and turning more energetically to regional diplomacy to fashion a safe exit for American troops.
The contradictory expectations from the same person are testimony to the mixed signals being sent around the world by the ever-changing messages of candidates as they jockey for favor in the primaries.
In particular, they reflect poorly on McCain who was generally seen in Europe as a person with firm and honest convictions who did not hesitate to follow his conscience in going against the administration or the Republican Party. He is now perceived as having too many worrisome fuzzy edges to be the entire West’s leader.
At this time, many in Europe see Rudy Giuliani as a one trick pony still trying to profit from his performance in the aftermath of 9/11, although he does not seem to have core Republican convictions because of his positions on homosexuality, abortions and the sanctity of one marriage for life.
Mitt Romney is perceived as a lightweight because he is known less as a politician and more as a businessman in Europe, where business persons do not get the respect they receive in the US. His economic skills carry some weight but Europeans think he will be stymied by the distrust of American Christians if he ends up being the Presidential candidate.
Many worry he may have to spend too much time proving that he has the right kind of religious convictions for American voters. Focus on religion makes Europeans uncomfortable because most are Christian only in name and do not want religion to become a factor in world politics.
Perhaps the greatest fear of Europeans is a clash of civilizations with Islam encouraged by the domestic imperatives of Christian politics in the US. While Americans decide whether or not someone is a Christian of the right kind, extremists of non-Christian religions start to fear that the US, which leads the West, may be drawing a circle around Christianity to put it on a pedestal above other religions.
The intricacies of America’s Christian cults and sects receive little understanding among non Christians who see only that religion increasingly influences how people vote in the US. Such fear helps to generate suicide bombers and insurgents as the only responses available to weak non-Christians against a power, which is overwhelmingly strong and now seemingly on a path to being a citadel of Christian beliefs with the democratic support of its people.
We can only hope that Super Tuesday hatches something useful for Americans and Europeans. A further nine months of mud-slinging and confusion at a time when all of us need cooperation and clarity may turn many non-Americans against the US-style democratic process. That would be a real loss for the entire world’s democracies.