WHILE Presidential candidates from both political camps try to woo an often disinterested electorate, they are often oblivious to a group of avid onlookers--foreign governments who recognize the outcome of the U.S. Presidential race could significantly affect their own futures.
It is still too early for most foreigners to distinguish between the Democratic candidates, but President Reagan's tenure has given most nations a clear indication of what four more years of the Administration might mean. After the primaries have determined which Democrat will challenge Reagan, most analysts feel more world attention will be focused on the American political race.
For the moment, Reagan, who still carries substantial backing at home, does not enjoy parallel support overseas. Though by no means uniformly opposed to Reagan, many foreign leaders have voiced their dislike of elements of his foreign policy.
Across the Atlantic, the most prominent American policy issues are the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). American-Soviet nuclear arms negotiations, and the Middle East conflict. These issues appear to have tipped the continental balance against Reagan. Dillion Professor of International Affairs Raymond Vernon Claims he has "never seen such a separation from the United States culture and economy, such discontentment over foreign policy decisions of the U.S. government in all the 35 years I've been following European political thought," although he qualifies that this view is based on limited conversations.
Europeans refer to Reagan as the "Emperor President," Vernon says, to express a perception that he moves without any thought of consulting European allies. The President's decision to withdraw American troops from Lebanon without consulting the French and British military about possible ramifications for their troops' security, has helped to reinforce this view. It has been interpreted as the latest in a series of alienating foreign policy moves on the part of the Reagan Administration.
The French have been unhappy with American foreign policy for the last 15 years, and the present estrangement from U.S. government is just a slight intensification of that trend, Vernon says. In terms of the election, the French prefer any change to Reagan, but at the same time, no attempt has been made to distinguish between the Democratic alternatives. The Italians, like the French, have become more embittered toward the United States under Reagan, particularly in the wake of the recent Euromissile deployment.
Although Reagan shares a greater ideological solarity with the conservative governments of Britain's Margaret Thatcher and West Germany's helmut Kohi-in marked constrast to the socialist regimes of France and Italy-his appeal in these countries is limited as well West Germany has expressed unease over the U.S. role in the NATO alliance and British critics have also attacked Reagan's foreign policy beyond the realm of European politics; Neil Kinnock, a leader of Britain's opposition labour Party, recently criticized Reagan's involvement in Central America and charged him with heightening Cold War confrontation with the Soviet Union.
But despite certain dissatisfactions with Reagan's foreign policy, the Western nations seem to discount the potential significance of the upcoming election-as if Reagan's reelection were assured. This view comes in part from an admiration of Reagan's apparent strength, although they may disagree with his ends.
There is a sense, Vernon says," of them [the Europeans] feeling tied to our chariots, without any say in which direction the horse is going. Of course they see Reagan as a certainty, in this situation, but they've been very wrong in the past about American elections. I think there's some naivete on their parts about how the electoral system works here."
In the Middle East, controversy over the West Bank settlement and the role of the United States in that region has most of the leaders in that region paying similarly close attention to the election. So far, Jackson has distinguished himself from the other Democratic candidates. "because he's broken out of the normal pattern of Presidential candidates of being unthinkingly pro-Israel," Lecturer Daniel Pipes, a Middle East History specialist, says Glenn has also been more consistent in not taking a pro-Israel stance, Pipes adds, and therefore runs a close second to Jackson in pro-Arab states.
Most Israelis would be happy with Reagan for another four years, or Mondale, who has been consistently pro-Israel in the past.
To the south, Reagan's policies have increased the stake of many Latin and Central American countries in the upcoming U.S. election.
Within each country," conservative or the more reactionary elements would be very happy if Reagan were re-elected, but everyone else would be unhappy, because it would mean four more years of trouble," Woods Professor of latin American History John Womack says," I mean, in terms of economic, political, and military foreign policy, Reagan would mean very substantial problems for peace and little chance. for better life in their country."
A major concern for these countries is the size of the Reagan defense budget and its effect on the Latin American economy. According to Womack, a Democratic President would make it easier for Latin American countries to borrow money. "With a lower defense budget, there would be a decline in the real rate of interest, and a higher possibility for exporting into the U.S. The ability of Latin American countries to export products has decreased a lot in the last four years."
Like other regions of the globe, Latin American leaders are keenly interested in the election--"some probably follow the race more closely than we do," Womack says, adding that most think Reagan will be reelected.