World Leaders Prematurely Congratulate Bush

With the recount in Florida’s nearly 6 million presidential ballots resuming today, Americans are still waiting to find out who is their president-elect.

And the rest of the world is at an even greater loss.

In a rush to be among the first to congratulate America’s new chief executive, world politicians who rushed to offer congratulations to George W. Bush, who was the projected winner over Al Gore shortly after 2 a.m. ET on Wednesday, were left with diplomatic egg on their faces when news organizations pulled back the call shortly afterward.

Minutes after U.S. television networks broadcasted reports of a Bush win during an incredible election night, Russia, China, Germany, Britain, France, the Netherlands, the European Union, Turkey and Indonesia were just some of the countries that swiftly issued congratulatory statements.

“We are much looking forward to working with Mr. Bush,” European Commission President Romano Prodi told reporters in Brussels, Belgium.

German President Johannes Rau said: “We know you [Bush] as a good friend of our country and look forward to the continuation of close friendship of our people during your time in office.”

Russia’s RIA news agency quoted a government official as saying: “We believe that Russia is not a new theme for Bush Jr., at least in terms of his family history with Russia.”

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said relations with the United States would remain strong under Bush. “I am confident that we can build the same relationship with the new president,” Cook told BBC television.

Asia Jumps In

China, whose admission into the World Trade Organization is supported by both candidates, congratulated Bush on his apparent victory in the U.S. presidential election, the official Xinhua news agency said.

“China on Wednesday extended its congratulations to Republican George W. Bush, who has taken 271 electoral votes of the total of 538 to win the U.S. presidential election,” it quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying.

The one-paragraph report — issued before the callback — did not give any indication of how China thought a Bush presidency might affect relations between the two countries.

However, Bush’s father, former President George Bush, who was the top U.S. envoy to China in the late 1970s, is regarded in Beijing as a friendly face.

Both candidates support granting permanent trade status to China, although Bush has urged providing Taipei with explicit guarantees of military support should China try to force unification. Gore opposes closer ties with Taiwan.

China’s arch-enemy India also congratulated Bush. “Of course we are delighted and would wish to congratulate Governor George Bush, president elect, but I would much rather wait until the formal announcement is made,” Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh told a news conference during a visit to Hanoi.

A Quick Retraction

The Dutch government moved swiftly to issue a retraction of its congratulatory statement: “Given the fact that at this moment uncertainty exists about the outcome of the American presidential elections, the earlier statement … has been retracted.”

A German spokeswoman for Rau said after asking news agencies not to publish a statement welcoming a Bush win: “What can we do? It is complicated. One wants to be among the first sending congratulations and warm wishes.”

U.S. presidential elections are a subject for much bemusement and eye-rolling around the world, but few manage to — or even want to — ignore it.

As the last military and economic superpower, America’s policies and leadership are begrudgingly seen as setting the world agenda.

“If you get a fathead running it, which we just might, it could actually have a bad effect on us and our interests in this world,” said Ann Leslie of London’s Daily Mail.

Although foreign affairs barely figured in the heated rhetoric of the U.S. presidential campaign, U.S. watchers have been carefully weighing where the candidates stand on key foreign affairs issues.

And the verdict seems to be: Neither Bush nor Gore is impressive.

“Foreign policy is about instinct,” says Peter Hitchens of London’s Express. ”If you contrast Gore with Bush, Gore would be no better.”

But as a Washington outsider with no experience in international affairs and barely any foreign travels aside from a few trips to Mexico, Bush is viewed with marked skepticism.

“When I was with George W. I said to him, ‘We overseas think you are several sandwiches short of a picnic,’” said Leslie, “because you muddle up Slovenia, Slovakia, you call the Greeks ‘Grecians’ and don’t even know the name of the latest nuclear power.’”

Fears of Isolationism

The big fear with Bush is that he will be an isolationist — a leader who doesn’t understand foreign affairs, who will back away from global issues and leave the rest of the world to fend for itself.

“There is a sense that the U.S. no longer sees it as important to include Britain or Europe in future plans and decisions,” said BBC Radio 4’s Talking Politics producer Dinah Lammiman.

The German tabloid Bild Zeitung ran a headline last week: “U.S. elections: Which President is better for Germany?”

Bush got high marks for having excellent advisers — particularly his father, who is seen as a supporter of German unity. But he was criticized for never having been to Germany.

Gore scored high on issues of global protection of the environment and global finance.

Germans also believe he would keep U.S. troops in the former Yugoslavia, which is seen as good for Europe.

In many Arab countries, Bush would get the vote. “There is a tendency in the Arab world to think Gore is too much sided with Israel. Bush is a new face while Gore has so many bluntly pro-Israeli positions,” said one Lebanese journalist.

Not surprisingly, Gore wins with Israelis.

“The majority want Gore because he will continue with the Clinton attitude,” said Gil Tamary of Israeli TV.

In France, Gore gets the vote. A poll in the daily newspaper La Croix found he would win by 59 percent.

The Japanese favor Bush, believing he would focus more U.S. attention on Japan and less on China.

Few Americans may perceive how inextricably linked the people of other nations feel toward the U.S. and its leadership.

“Whether we like it or not what happens in the political atmosphere there, [the United States] will affect the political atmosphere here,” said Hitchens.’s Lucrezia Cuen in London and Reuters contributed to this report.