U.S. Losing Status in the World

July 12, 2004

Howard Dean

By Gov. Howard Dean, M.D.

I was in London recently giving a speech to a major economic conference of global lenders and borrowers. The news from the audience, comprised of about 40 percent Americans, was not encouraging for President Bush. In a poll on the first day of the conference, a majority of the 1,000 or so attendees said they thought John Kerry would win the November elections. More stunningly, however, 60 percent of the Americans said they would vote for Kerry, the President was below 30 percent, and the rest were undecided

The American expatriate community traditionally leans Republican. Many Americans who live in Europe work for big multinational corporations and tend to be conservative on fiscal matters, support American military abroad and free trade -- because it is good for their employees.

But the Americans in this audience won't vote to re-elect George Bush. Many of them are deeply concerned about the perpetual half-trillion dollar deficits spawned by the enormous tax cuts for the top two percent of Americans. They are feeling the impact of the falling dollar personally because they get paid in dollars, and it is harder for them to make ends meet. But the reason they are so upset with this Republican president is because, as one participant put it, America's status in the world has shrunk to its lowest point in a century.

The British conference participants lauded Prime Minister Tony Blairís political skills, despite acknowledging the political trouble heís in for support of the Iraq war. There were no such kind words for President Bush. Every day, these American business people face hostility in the workplace and in their lives, simply because they are American and live abroad. One American businessman told me he felt obliged to begin every conversation with the statement that he was an American, but that he very much disliked the president. That was, he said, a great icebreaker, and after that he could discuss business in a friendly environment. It is not that Europeans are ungrateful for all we have done to help them over the past seventy years - rather, our traditional allies feel that they have been treated with public contempt by this president and his cabinet members.

The damage done in Mexico is even greater. The president began his term with the long overdue American pledge to turn attention to Latin America. He then abandoned Mexicoís first truly democratically elected president in many years over thorny immigration issues after 9/11 and then finally put Mexico in the deep freeze over disagreements on the Iraq war.

The real problem is that the president has made America a less important country to the rest of the world. For example, the Russians announced they would sign the Kyoto Accords, thus pushing the number of nations who have signed it, to the required number for enactment of a treaty the U.S. opposed. It was previously thought that U.S. opposition would kill the treaty.

Europe is becoming much more independent of the United States and was recently able to block a major merger of two American companies - Honeywell and General Electric. Two decades ago, that would have been unthinkable.

The irony here is that instead of making America a stronger nation by exercising American military power unilaterally, the president has made us a less powerful nation in the court of world public opinion, and that matters a lot in the long run.

Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, is the founder of Democracy for America, a grassroots organization that supports socially progressive and fiscally responsible political candidates.
Email Howard Dean at howarddean@democracyforamerica.com
Copyright 2004 Howard Dean, All Rights Reserved.
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