Shortly before Germany's chancellor, Gerhard Schroder, flew to Washington for talks with US President George W. Bush last month, a journalist asked if he was going to say goodbye to the president ahead of the US elections in November. Schroder's adviser grinned broadly before composing his face into a frown. "I won't speculate on that," he said.
Although Schroder deliberately avoided the Democratic candidate, John Kerry, during his two-day trip to the US, there is little doubt that a Kerry victory would provoke rejoicing inside Germany's government, as it would in many other parts of Europe, as well as Asia, Africa and Latin America.
This week Kerry claimed that foreign leaders had told him they could not publicly offer him their support but added: "You've got to beat this guy, we need a new policy."
Hostility towards a second Bush term is generally assumed to be widespread throughout the world because of the Iraq war, the concept of pre-emptive strikes and bullying of small countries. On issues from the Kyoto agreement and the international criminal court to antipathy towards the UN, President Bush has alienated countries Washington would normally classify as allies.
Distress over Bush's foreign policy is not confined to the world beyond the US. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll yesterday, 57 percent of Americans want their next president to steer the country away from the course set by the current leader.
Asked how much support Bush had worldwide, Dana Allin, senior fellow for transatlantic affairs at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, said: "Not a lot. There is a conventional wisdom about US elections for foreign policy: that the incumbent is always preferred because of [established] relations and predictability. This is an election where that pattern is broken.
"There is a perception, for better or worse, that there has been a departure from the tradition of American foreign policy."
It is difficult to assess the level of opposition to Bush. When he put together a "coalition" for the war against Iraq last year he gathered just 43 countries -- and it was an odd collection that included countries such as Azerbaijan, Eritrea and Uzbekistan.
Tom Ridge, the US homeland security secretary, told diplomats and academics gathered in Singapore yesterday that 70 countries had joined an informal alliance against terrorism. But this is no evidence of support for Bush; there are leaders who will think it prudent to back the world's sole superpower though privately they would welcome a Kerry presidency.
Schroder's spokesman on Tuesday denied he was one of the "foreign leaders" who had sent a secret message of support to Kerry.
Unsurprisingly, this does not seem to be the view in France. "It's clear that Bush is widely disliked in France, even by the right," said Guillaume Parmentier of the France-America Centre. "The whole country and the government would rejoice if he lost. But although the tone of a Kerry administration would certainly be different, many difficulties would remain."
A French foreign ministry official, who asked not to be identified, concurred: "Things might feel better, but they might not be better."