The European View of Election '08

Europeans are watching the election too.


NIJMEGEN, NETHERLANDS—Foreign policy analysts and citizens in the United States should pay attention to the words of a retired Dutch diplomat. Whether we agree with him or not, his words have context in today's problems.

Nicolaas Wegter says Europe and especially his native Netherlands will never forget what American troops did for the Dutch in World War II. This city, close to the German border, was freed from the Nazis by American forces after a fierce and bloody battle.

The Dutch welcomed our soldiers as liberators with celebrations in the streets of the city in the move to the east to link with the Red Army.

After the war, Wegter said generosity from the United States helped Europe recover through the Marshall Plan, the Berlin airlift, and other financial assistance.

Now move forward more than a half century to 2008. Wegter says he wishes there were more understanding in Washington of different times. The Dutch and other Europeans wonder why America wants to pick and choose how it wants to play on the international stage, specifically on human rights and the environment.

Wegter cites U.S. failure to recognize the international criminal court in The Hague. The United States repeatedly denies the court's jurisdiction, especially over the terrorists held for years after 9/11 in a prison in Cuba.

The environment, he adds, is an even stronger concern. The Bush administration has finally recognized global warming as a problem for all on the planet. But it has not budged from refusing to sign the Kyoto accords on reducing greenhouse gases. The United States stands glaringly alone on the issue.

American tourists aboard a river cruise are also told that Europeans are closely following the election here.

Wegter does not mention the war in Iraq. He seems careful to avoid it. But he does say in answer to a question that there was a need for what he calls "aggressive diplomacy" over bellicosity and warfare.

The word "change" has become a cliché in the Democratic primary.

Yet, as Wegter notes, Europe needs change from time to time and has acted immaturely. He anticipates change in foreign policy here whether it is led by one of the two Democrats or John McCain.