Hardly a done deal

PRAGUE, Czech Republic, May 8 (UPI) — Most Europeans see the U.S. presidential election as a done deal. They are quite surprised. They were convinced that Sen. Hillary Clinton was the sure thing. Now, and they are confused, they are expecting the inevitable: Sen. John McCain as president.

And they do not blame Sen. Barack Obama; they blame Clinton. They are shocked that a Republican candidate should win at all. They are truly gobsmacked.

Yes, President Bush does have his supporters; they are few but strongly behind him. They have wanted McCain, or a Republican, from the beginning. But the rest, and it is the vast majority, firmly believe that Clinton is bringing the Democratic Party close to defeat.

“You are grabbing defeat from the mouth of victory,” a ranking European minister said to me just days ago. He is not alone in this view. From Prague to Berlin, from Paris to Copenhagen, from Brussels to The Hague — Europeans sense, feel and believe that McCain is better poised to become the next president of the United States.

What has gone wrong?

Yes, yes, yes. Just six months ago most everyone was writing McCain’s presidential obituary. He was desperate, down in the dumps, fundless and nearly “up a creek without a paddle.” This was also the view across the Atlantic divide.

Only the few and the brave, and the politically insane — and I was indeed one of them — dared to say that it might be just a tad early to write off the feisty war hero. “It is far from over,” I told some students at Magdalen College, Oxford, one of my academic homes, around the middle of last year. “John McCain is not a presidential corpse. Mark my words.” The students were far from convinced. I must admit I was just a little doubtful myself. But my instincts are usually fairly good.

The North Carolina and Indiana primaries have only added to the confusion. While Obama swept to victory in North Carolina (56-42 percent), Clinton squeaked by in Indiana (51-49 percent), losing every age group along the way except those over 65 — which she won by a whopping 32 points. This, and a not-so-small push by Republicans who voted in the Democratic primary, helped her eke out what would surely have been a death knell.

Many Europeans think it is time for the senator from New York to go.

They believe Clinton has waged the good fight; they even agree with her on many issues. They remember her as first lady. They still have great respect for her husband, former President Bill Clinton — though his shenanigans on the campaign trail have been met with bemusement and even some derision.

But the Europeans see enough as enough. They would not say this publicly. All things being equal, there is still great respect for the United States. They see the Clinton administration as a fading memory — a painful fading memory — to be held and nourished. “How very much we miss those times,” an ambassador friend said to me.

There is still great concern in Europe about the Iraq conflict, about the state of U.S.-European and U.S.-Russian relations. Europeans wonder how long the dollar will be in a free fall and how they can help stabilize the U.S. economy, as it is affecting them as well. They wonder what the United States will do in Kosovo, how the United States will handle Iran, North Korea and Zimbabwe. There is also the question of the Middle East peace process.

Unfortunately in U.S. primaries and presidential elections in general, international affairs take a back seat. This is not good. The world does still look to the United States for guidance. We cannot give it if we do not focus on all-important international issues.

Europeans long for the day when the Atlantic Alliance worked politically, not just economically. It is true the newer members of the European Union generally have a better relationship with the United States than the older members. But there is tension between the political classes and their view of the United States, and the population as whole. The opinions are often not in sync.

As a major donor converted to Democratic causes — a militarily and economically conservative one at that — I do wonder how long the battle between Obama and Clinton can help the process of winning the election. A fight — at all costs — among the two candidates does not seem the best way to secure victory.

I am concerned that the drawn-out battle, which is enormously costly and funds attack ads that weaken the candidates, can only help McCain win.

Mostly though, public policy prescriptions cannot be formulated as long as the battle lines against McCain are not drawn.

Maybe, Clinton, for the sake of unity, it is time for you to bow out graciously.

(UPI International Columnist Marc S. Ellenbogen is chairman of the Berlin-based Global Panel Foundation and president of the Prague Society for International Cooperation. He is a founding trustee of the Democratic Expat Leadership Council.)