The pro-Gore bias of the American media during the five weeks of post-election legal and political wrangling was as unsurprising as it was obvious. Most foreign media were even less restrained. On December 14, BBC commentator Brian Barron told British television viewers that George W. Bush’s “mandate is all but invisible.” Radio 4 network commentator James Naughtie asked one of his guests, “Do you think he is up to being president?”—the kind of question that would never have been asked about the winner in a British general election. The Times of London, usually restrained in its opinions, concluded that “The best thing going for the new President-elect is low public expectations.”
In France, Le Monde’s editorialist tartly remarked on December 15 that Bush triumphed “thanks only to a mix of statistical good luck and a legal battle barely won,” while Die Tageszeitung of Berlin wrote that “Europe is holding its breath” because of Bush’s supposed ignorance of foreign affairs.
Such views were echoed in Canada: The establishmentarian Ottawa Citizen (December 14) bewailed the decision “by the politicized Supreme Court” to hand the presidency to the “least qualified president in half a century,” which it called “unwelcome news to not only the government of Jean Chretien, but to Canadians generally.” Even the conservative Halifax Herald jumped on the bandwagon on December 14:
He began this campaign as the affable George “Dubya” Bush. He ends it, somewhat ingloriously, as George “Dubious” Bush. The label first started to stick during the primaries when the governor of Texas demonstrated his questionable command of English and of the issues.
Britain’s Channel 4 News repeatedly called Bush “the most inexperienced President in decades,” and David Smith, its Washington correspondent, insisted that Bush is “Reaganesque in terms of personal limitations and lack of curiosity.” A recurring theme was Bush’s lack of frequent-flyer mileage, which supposedly demonstrates not only his ignorance of world affairs but a more profound intellectual stupor. The BBC’s “diplomatic editor,” Mark Urban, was undiplomatic in his outpouring of elitist scorn: “Dubya’s world. The excitement of air travel. Meeting people, going to exotic places. . . Until now, ‘abroad’ has meant outside Texas for Bush the younger.”
The BBC’s Jon Snow dwelt on this theme night after night. Interviewing Laura Ingraham, he repeatedly asked the same question: “Bush has been to Mexico once and to China, otherwise he’s never been anywhere. Is that a good recipe. . .” Ingraham finally snapped back: “You obviously just don’t like George Bush. I mean, you don’t like George Bush. Say it: you don’t like Bush, you wish he wasn’t President, and now you want to delegitimize him.”
This was an isolated display of diversity: Pro-Gore American guests often outnumbered Bush sympathizers by three or four to one. European editors also resorted to presenting card-carrying Democrats as independent analysts. James Rubin, a regular guest on dozens of British radio and television programs, was always described as “a former State Department official.” Uninitiated Brits might thus assume that he was a career civil servant rather than Madeleine Albright’s political appointee. But Martin Woollacott, writing in the London Guardian on December 20, revealed an important reason bien pensants on both sides of the Atlantic dislike Bush: They fear tiiat he’ll abandon their cherished “humanitarian interventions” and bombings for human rights. Bush is dangerous, prone to “a romanticisation of the past and a misunderstanding of the present,” Woollacott argued, and his leadership is “less a real policy than a shaky intellectual construct” that enables the new President to hope that others will grasp the necessity of his flawed policies:
The Europeans, the United Nations and others will also quickly grasp that it is quite right that the US contribute neither money nor soldiers to humanitarian operations, since America makes its contribution to world security in so many other, more important, ways. The Europeans will understand, in time, that it is not the business of the 82nd Airborne Division to escort children to school in Kosovo, in Condoleezza Rice’s well-known example, while it is perfectly reasonable to expect British or Italian troops to do so.
Switching from irony to reproach (“Would Clinton have dithered so much on the Balkans had he not been fearful of Republican attacks?”), Woollacott finds the “essence” of the “problem” with Bush in his alleged “worship of military strength allied to a deep disinclination to use it”—all of which “could make the next four years a dangerous time in the life of the world.”
The Kosovo Albanians felt understandably dejected. As Agence France Presse reported from Pristina immediately after Gore’s concession speech (December 14), they fear that Bush’s victory “may cost them a vital ally in their struggle for independence.” Zeri, an Albanian-language daily, warned on the same day that Powell and Rice are
extremist conservatives who do not believe in /America’s interventionist foreign policy and are opposed to i t s participation in peacekeeping . . . With calls for the removal of OS forces from Europe, the Albanian question could be left in the hands of European states traditionally closer to the Slavs.
In Israel, there was real consternation at the outcome. The Jerusalem Post (December 15) expressed Israeli concern about losing Bill Clinton, “a great friend of Israel,” and gaining the son of George Bush, whose relationship with Israel was “rocky at best”:
The major wild card is whether the new U.S. Administration will attempt to proceed with the peace process in the mold of Oslo, or realize that the Oslo mold has been broken and a whole new concept is in order. The cornerstone of this new concept should be that it is not Israel’s opposition to Palestinian statehood that is the obstacle to peace, but Palestinian (and Syrian) demands that even the most dovish government in Israel would consider reckless if not suicidal. If Bush tries to coast, and does not adapt to the new post-Camp David realities, both Israel and the region could be in for a rough ride.
In the Arab world, the mood was very different. As the Lebanese daily Ad-Diyar reported (December 15):
Observers realize the extent of satisfaction Arab governments and media feel over the success of George W. Bush, because they originally feared the presence of a Jewish vice-president like Lieberman. . . . Arabs know that, traditionally, the Republican Party is not under the control of the Jewish lobby and believe that Bush Junior will follow his father’s footsteps in the region. They also think that, as the new Secretary of State, Colin Powell would follow a realistic policy in the region, whether on the level of the Arab-Israeli struggle or what is related to security in the Gulf.
While Arabs rejoiced, media pundits all over the Western world were closer to the mood in Pristina and Tel Aviv—anguished at the defeat of Gore (“statesmanlike”) and the victory of Bush (“insecure” and “inexperienced”). The BBC’s Peter Marshall, reporting from Washington, described Gore’s concession speech as “both gracious and finely tuned” while Bush’s was merely “magnanimous” because “He had to be.”
On one subject—unlimited Third World immigration—most Europeans refuse to follow the liberal lead from America. Jorg Haider’s visit to Italy last December, ignored in America, revealed the depth of native Europeans’ feeling about their threatened heritage and identity. As the Corriere della Sera reported,
[Haider] said Italy was soft on immigration and he attacked the prime minister, Giuliano Amato, and President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi as weak men with weak, leftwing views. He said: “I want to advise them to calm down, because I speak the truth: everyone knows that in Italy there is a growing problem of immigration and, at this moment, a very nervous climate over the next election. I repeat what I believe: everyone has a right to a dignified existence, but in their own country. Ever more people are thinking like I do.”
While Haider is invariably maligned in the United States for his “extremism,” genuine extremists are let off the hook—if they perform on cue. A key ethnic Albanian leader in Kosovo, Ibrahim Rugova, is invariably described as a “moderate” in the American press. In an exclusive interview with the high-circulation German magazine Spiegel (December 9), however, Rugova came across an unreconstructed hard-liner whose disdain for the Serbs is matched only by his arrogance towards the “international community.”
Responding to a question about President Vojislav Kostunica’s offer of negotiations on the future of Kosovo, Rugova replied that such negotiations were “senseless and unnecessary” and that the only conceivable negotiations would be those at a fairly low level on the “normalization of relations” between independent states.
Rugova regards Kosovo’s “independence” as non-negotiable, and he seems to believe that the rest of the world is unreservedly with him: “Nobody will ask the Serbs, nobody needs their agreement. They must accept the decision of the international community.” Those Serbs who remain in Kosovo will continue to live in ghettos under JCFOR protection, as their full freedom of movement cannot be guaranteed:
In Rugova’s opinion “NATO needs to stay for ever” in Kosovo, and for the sake of the entire region NATO bases should be established a l l over the Balkans. He concluded the interview with the statement that “NATO i s our own private army.”
Tens of thousands of Kosovo Albanians and other Muslims who live in New York may be forgiven for thinking that American public schools are their own private schools. As the New York Post reported on December 1 (http://www.nypost.com/news/17424.htm):
who says students can’t pray in public school? The Board of Education allows Muslim students to worship in school buildings during the holy month of Ramadan . . . One Brooklyn high school gives Islamic students special privileges to be 15 minutes late for class and to turn the auditorium into a makeshift mosque for their daily prayer vigil-a practice one noted civil libertarian said might be illegal.
The Post noted that these accommodations for Muslim students came only weeks after Brooklyn Shallow Intermediate School in Bensonhurst painted over a playground mural dedicated to neighborhood youths who had died because it featured Jesus Christ. But at Lafayette High School, also in Bensonhurst, students can get a special pass to be late to seventh period so they can pray in the school auditorium.
“The above named student will be participating in Ramadan every day through December 22, 2000. He will be approximately ten minutes late to his/her 7th period class,” Lafayette Principal Kenneth Sinclair writes on the passes. “Thank you for your understanding and cooperation in this matter.” . . . “The school lets us do our own prayer. It’s beautiful,” said Umit Kulug, a 17-year-old senior from Turkey. “They let 100 of us boys and girls pray together in a big auditorium. Some of the non-Islamic students get a pass to watch us pray.” Kulug said teachers even help students catch up on what they missed in class.