EDITORIAL: Europe | Democracy gets a needed win

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Apr. 27—The glass is half full and half empty. Yes, centrist Emmanuel Marcon — carrying the banner of liberal democracy — was reelected Sunday as president of France. And yes, far-right leader Marine Le Pen — who has repeatedly linked her cause, ideology and programs to those of Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump — continues to increase her share of the French electorate.

The obvious takeaway is that liberal democracy — the rule of law, free and fair elections, civil liberties — is weaker than it was, but still the norm in one of the linchpin nations of Europe.

France was not the only NATO and European Union making such choice Sunday. Slovenia, which became independent with the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, turned out its incumbent Putin-aligned government for a more western-oriented one. Slovenia is not so crucial to the military alliance or the eurozone as is France, but its result was also a win for liberal democracy.

On the other hand, a couple of weeks ago Hungary — also of NATO and the EU — resoundingly reelected Viktor Orban, a Putin admirer who has resisted NATO and EU support to Ukraine as it battles the Russian invasion. And Serbia — not of NATO or the EU — also reelected its Putin-aligned government.

Thirty nations are now members of NATO, with Sweden and Finland, motivated by the Ukrainian crisis, rapidly queueing up for admittance. Twenty belong to the EU.

These overlapping partnerships serve distinct purposes. Their component nations do not necessarily share the same priorities, and the tenets of liberal democracy are less important to NATO’s military mission than they are to the EU’s economic purpose.

But the purpose of NATO is, in essence, the military defense of liberal democracy. Le Pen campaigned in part on a pledge to back France out of the current confrontation with Russia. In this nation, Mike Pompeo, Donald Trump’s secretary of state, has said that a re-elected Trump would have pulled the United States out of NATO. Le Pen and Trump both serve Putin’s purposes.

As we near the midterm election here — and as the 2024 presidential contest begins to take shape — American voters ought to consider the implications of this nation’s role internationally.

More than a century ago Woodrow Wilson vowed to “make the world safe for democracy.” That stirring sentiment has, however imperfectly pursued or realized, long been a motivating impulse of our foreign policy; it should not be casually discarded.

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