For many Europeans, the unprecedented loss in value of the U.S. dollar in recent months in comparison to the powerful Swiss, German and Japanese currencies is a sign of a weak America, of huge oil deficits and of a lost confidence.
But to Claude Monnier, editor in chief of the respected Journal de Geneve, the situation is precisely the reverse. The dropping dollar, in effect, signifies a resurgent America and an increasingly helpless Europe, he believes.
"We are very, very nervous about the fall of the dollar, not because it means we will be selling fewer Mercedes automobiles in the U.S., but because it is proof that we are weak," Monnier said in an interview here. "We are weak because there is nothing we can do to stop the fall. We feel completely powerless."
The dollar's sharp decline has stirred resentment toward Washington - especially here and in West Germany - and more than a touch of anti-Americanism because it is widely believed that the Carter administration, despite pledges to the contrary, has encouraged a cheaper dollar. This naturally boosts American exports because U.S. goods become less expensive and makes foreign goods harder to sell in the U.S. This presumably will help the U.S. pay off its enormous oil deficits.
Monnier does not express anti-American feeling. But he believes that the dollar crisis in fact has its roots much older than the past year or so and that it has a future that could foster basic realignments in the world.
The Geneva editor believes that America essentially is doing what comes naturally, in other words, reclaiming the natural strength that was drained by Vietnam and then Watergate.
"Many people said when America left Vietnam it would be quiet. That it was finished. I never believed that. When you lose a liability, you get stronger," Monnier said.
"America is the strongest country in the world and it is growing fast economically, faster than we are. The gap is sidening," he continued.
"We are weaker, too, because of the oil situation. It is an area in which the U.S. eventually has the opportunity to be pretty autonomous, whereas we in Europe do not.
"The basic surge in the United States today is involuntary," Monnier believes. "You have no choice but to be on top. It's just natural."
He feels the dollar crisis is symptomatic of what he calls "the long, slow, downward trend of European power. That trend was slowed after World War 11 due to American protection. But in 1973 . . . in the aftermath of the oil crisis that shook the world . . . that protection disappeared. With America's help in the past, we simply thought we were stronger than we are."
President Carter's emergence also fits into the mosaic that Monnier paints.
"When Carter came, people felt that America was going away from bad boy Nixon to the good, Christian human being. But in foreign relations, to have a deep belief in what is good and bad," as the president does, "leads to a sort of moral imperialism and expansion of power. Now you can see that is exactly what's happening," according to Monnier.
"I don't accuse Carter of being imperialistic. But when you want to be a saint and you are the strongest actor in the play, and you say. 'Do that," because you have a strong moral argument, what can others do? The problem of Carter is due to the power of America," he said.
"But when a country gets too powerful it will be viewed as a threat and create new alliances. The fall of the dollar . . . which threatens many European export economies and industries . . . will make people feel this threat and cause a counter-balance, perhaps between West Europeans and Arabs. It would be difficult, but the dollar crisis might make people feel the urge to do something," Monnier said.
He advocates some such new alliance, not, he said, out of anti-Americanism but out of a sense that equilibrium is needed in gloal economic forces.