Last weekend, John Kerry, while meeting with a small group of Florida contributors, claimed that: "I've met foreign leaders who can't go out and say this publicly, but boy, they look at you and say, You've got to win this, you've got to beat this guy, we need a new policy, things like that." The candidate refused to identify the names of these leaders. I confess, I don't quite know what to make of this claim.
While it is certainly plausible that many foreigners don't like the president of the United States, my first question is whether Mr. Kerry is telling the truth. When, exactly, did he meet with these foreign leaders? Note that he doesn't merely say he talked with them (by telephone.) He claims he "met" them and "they looked at" him while they were saying these things.
Senator Kerry has been on public view almost every day since he started running for president last year (except for the period of his hospitalization, when he obviously could not have been traveling around the world). I don't recall seeing him in Europe, the Middle East or on other foreign travel during that period. (His campaign office wouldn't respond to my inquiry for a record of his foreign travel in the last year.) Nor do I recall seeing or reading about foreign heads of state meeting with Sen. Kerry when they visited Washington during the last many months.
In the absence of any public evidence that he has met with several foreign leaders recently, the burden of proof should be on Sen. Kerry to prove that he didn't just make up this little story that he told a small group of Florida contributors -- with one telltale reporter present. George W. Bush was pressured to provide his dental records to prove he had attended the Alabama National Guard in 1973. (He provided them, and he did attend.) It only seems fair to pressure Sen. Kerry to provide his passport or other documents for 2003 to prove he really met with these "foreign leaders" either here or abroad.
But beyond whether or not John Kerry lied about this convenient little anecdote, the fact that he thought it was a useful story to publicly recount certainly tells us something about how he views America and the world.
The American public rarely has put a particularly high value on the opinion of foreign leaders. Mostly, we ignore them or assume they are up to little or no good. During a war, we may admire an allied leader such as Winston Churchill (or Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt during the Cold War). But Americans traditionally feel self-sufficient -- even insular.
It is true that certain Americans -- typically living (or wishing they did) north of the Potomac River and within 50 miles of the Atlantic Ocean -- feel inferior to Europeans regarding high culture and fine dining. But even those Europhiles didn't look to France, Italy or Germany for guidance on how to run a democracy. I am assuming that Mr. Kerry was referring to more or less democratic leaders. Surely he is not referring to former Haitian leader Aristide, various Middle East potentates or African dictators. As the leaders of Italy, Spain, Britain, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria have been strong allies of George Bush, one has to assume that he (Mr. Kerry) is referring to France's Chirac, Germany's Schroeder, Russia's Putin, Belgium's whoever, etc. Mr. Putin is far too smart to bad mouth the president. So Sen. Kerry must be referring to Chirac, Schroeder or some of their lesser Euro-running dog lackeys.
But Senator Kerry obviously believes the times are changing. He believes that there may be millions of Americans who will be impressed by the fact that hand kissing, back-stabbing, atheistic, sophisticated Euro-leaders prefer John Kerry to George Bush.
Whether or not he actually met with any of these leaders, I would suspect that he is right that they would much prefer to do business with a notional President Kerry. Doubtlessly, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev enjoyed dealing with President Carter more than with President Reagan.
Weak American presidents who feel the need to apologize for America protecting its interests in the world are invariably favored by both our enemies and our competitive friends. The French couldn't stand our last cowboy president, Ronald Reagan.
I am sure that M. Chirac will be glad to continue to kiss Mr. Kerry's hand -- as long as Mr. Kerry will kiss a lower, dorsal part of M. Chirac's anatomy. But I rather doubt John Kerry will get elected president by American voters while in that posture.