Dutch Reactions To America’s Historic Decision
Being half-Dutch and having lived in the Netherlands for several years, I naturally have an interest in what the Dutch people have to say about America, about our way of life—and about our politics.
I may be somewhat partial (and dated), but in my opinion Dutch values include pragmatism, stoicism, secularism, a strong tradition of open-mindedness, tolerance and egalitarianism (the latter two perhaps somewhat in decline in recent times), and a strong tradition of neutrality with an aversion to the use military power as part of national policy.
Some or all of these traits have been evident in the reactions of the Dutch to the results of our historic presidential election, as reflected by articles in the Dutch media.
Watching America has been publishing a wealth of such reactions from the world-wide press. The following are some excerpts from the Dutch press, which seem to be consistent with the philosophy and values I have mentioned above, and include expressions of joy, hope, concern and anxiety by the Dutch people about the future direction of our country—and, indirectly, of theirs.
Joy, hope and tolerance in NRC Handelsblad’s “The Tears of America” (Original title, “The Tears of Colin Powell”):
On Tuesday, America cried for herself tears of joy, pride and relief, but also for memories of sorrow, bitterness and conflict-emotions that Obama’s victory unleashed. It was a collective release of a tension that many Americans had carried all their lives.
The civil rights movement fought, according to Martin Luther King, not only for the liberation of black Americans, but also for the “liberation of the American soul.” The American soul had always been trapped in the contradiction between the ideal that “all men are created equal” (from the first sentence of the 1776 Declaration of Independence) and the practice of slavery, discrimination and social neglect.
Nobody thinks that this painful wound in American life has now been healed forever. But it appears that the healing process has advanced much farther than most people had thought. American voters are finished with the fatalism over relations between races – something that had taken root with many whites and blacks.
It is always risky to be sentimental over politics. But Tuesday was an exception. There will surely be disillusionment, but no one can take America’s victory over itself away from the country.
Pragmatism and aversion to militarism in the Noordhollands Dagblad’s “U.S. Foreign Policy Will Not Change “:
The new Democratic president will look for rapprochement with his allies, albeit at a price: Obama and his vice president Biden will insist that the NATO-member states will deliver ‘more troops for collective security operations’. It is inevitable that there will be pressure on the Netherlands to maintain their forces in Afghanistan.
Maybe these soldiers will also be necessary when Obama hangs on to his promise to adjudge Georgia becoming a membership candidate of NATO. In the next round of fights with Russia the entire alliance will be sucked drawn into the fight.
Furthermore it must be feared that wars of intervention will also be possible under Obama. The rabid neo conservative ideologist Kagan already wrote in 2007 that he considered Obama a co-interventionist. Anyway, let us hope that Obama will not be a follower of interventionism as opposed to diplomacy.
The big change that the presidency will bring will mainly concern domestic issues, like healthcare and income distribution. You cannot blame the Americans for considering these issues as more important than foreign policy. Usually European voters do the same. At the same time it shows the weakness of the American two party system. Fortunately we have more choices.
A mixed bag of pragmatism, hope and concern in De Volkskrant’s “From a Divided Past to a Shared Future”:
Q. What does Obama’s election mean for the Netherlands, or Europe?
Oldenziel: “The adult conversation that Obama will strike up with the Americans, will also be a conversation with us in Europe. He shall assume reciprocity. On the subject of climate change that means America will do more. I expect a role for Al Gore. But he will ask Europe to commit in Afghanistan. That becomes a whole dance.”
Scheffer: “I hope that his understanding of ethnic differences can be an inspiration for the Netherlands. We here must talk less about a divided past and more about a shared future.”
Stoicism and pessimism in De Volkskrant’s “Obama Inherits Mountain of Problems”:
A comfortable place for an uneasy reality. The new president inherits a mountain of problems that is much larger than what most of his predecessors had to face: an economic recession, two wars and a record budget deficit. Only Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-1945), who took the office during the Great Depression, experienced something similar.
Oh yes, and the promises. On his campaign through the country, the president-elect has told a simple story about good and evil, a caricature of reality. Not wanting to lose a vote, he did not discuss the tough choices that are now inevitable. He has promised tax reduction and help to many. He did not tell that Medicare and social security will soon be unaffordable.
Foreign politics does not provide any comfort either. The Iraq war now does not belong to George W. Bush anymore, but to his successor Obama. How to pull back without leaving behind chaos and only fortify Iran? Even harder is Afghanistan. Does America need to negotiate with the Taliban? Send more troops to a war that might not be won?
In Iran, the new president might quickly be faced with a tough choice: allow the country to develop into a nuclear power, or approve of an Israeli attack. During the campaign, Russia invaded Georgia. With the Olympic Games, China emphasized that it is a superpower-in-process. The world waits for American leadership in the energy and climate crisis.
Hope and optimism in De Telegraaf’s “Obama’s Monster Triumph “:
The American people show, with the election of Obama after eight years of Republican control, that they want a new direction. The hope is that Obama will work to repair international relations which have suffered heavily under the frequently one-sided operation of the Bush Administration.
The election of Obama holds great symbolic value. More than 40 years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, one of his dreams has come true. What many Americans until recently had thought impossible, Obama has accomplished. For that reason alone, he will shape the changing face of the United States in the coming years.
I hasten to say that most of the hopes and concerns, but especially the joy and the excitement are mutual.