Domino effect?

International | EUROPE: As President Bush's approval ratings plummet, his European allies look on nervously. But his opponents may be in trouble, too

Issue: "Bush: Holding the line," June 5, 2004

In the sidewalk cafés of Paris, American visitors this spring are getting their café au lait with a lump of politics. "What about Iraq?" the Parisians want to know. "Surely it will be the end of Bush?"

The conversation usually has a "told-you-so" subtext, though few would be gauche enough to come right out and say so. Few except for Jacques Chirac, that is. The famously preening French president has styled himself as Europe's leading diplomat and its moral conscience, the man who stared down the world's last remaining superpower.

Yet despite his self-congratulatory air, the air has gone out of Mr. Chirac's poll numbers. After reaching record highs two years ago in the run-up to war, they have now plummeted to somewhere between 35 percent and 45 percent, depending on the survey.

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Mr. Chirac's dilemma illustrates the trouble with the conventional wisdom that Bush allies in Europe are being punished at the polls. It's true that leaders of the pro-war "blue states" of united Europe are in trouble: The political buzz in London is not whether Prime Minister Tony Blair can win a general election next year but whether his own party will dump him this summer in favor of a stronger candidate.

Oddly enough, however, voter discontent is also high in some anti-war "red states." Recession, unemployment, and corruption may doom the ruling parties in France, Germany, and Belgium, three of the most vocal critics of the Iraq War. European parliamentary elections scheduled for the second week of June will be the voters' next chance to show their displeasure with the status quo-and leaders in both red and blue countries will likely end up black and blue.


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