Bonn — "Carter is a catastrophe," one senior Dutch journalist slated flatly. But he added, "Carter only accelerated the trend." He was seeking to explain Holland's shift from the Staunchest anti-communist supporter of NATO and the United States up to a dozen years ago, to a NATO foot-dragger and sometime American critic in recent years. He and other Dutch foreign-policy analysts in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague found their explanation in Vietnam, detente, and Holland's "democratization" of the past decade.
A few of these developments are peculiar to the Netherlands and are only of sociological interest to outsiders. But many of the developments are representative of European-wide misgivings about American leadership and are simply more visible in a small country.
The erosion of automatic Dutch support for American foreign policy started with the American involvement in the Vietnam war. Initially the Dutch Labor government backed the American action as necessary to block communist expansion.
By the end of the 1960s, however, Dutch students and a broader segment of the population came to be repelled by massive destruction in Vietnam by American fire-power and the massacre of civilian villagers at My Lai.
This new interests in foreign affairs on the part of nonspecialists coincided with the largely student-led movement for more "democratization" in higher education and community affairs. International affairs became an important issue not only for the foreign-policy elite of traders and businessmen on Holland's west coast, but also for conservative eastern villagers, who make strong ethical judgments.
Many in the younger generations now shaped their views not on their parents' memories of the American liberation and postwar fear of the Russians, but on their own perceptions of American immorality in Vietnam.
Holland's vocal politicians to the left of the Labor Party came to criticize America's Vietnam policy as wel as America's highly developed capitalism. And as rank-and-file members within the center Christian democratic Appeal and the Labor Party demanded that the elite share its foreign-policy formulation, criticism of American and NATO nuclear armament spread within the major parties as well.
The blossoming of East-West detente in the 1970s -- and the comforting presence of the large West German buffer between Holland and the Soviet bloc -- also contributed to a feeling that there was little to fear from the Soviet Union. For many Dutchmen the urgency went out of NATO. And by the time the Soviet Union deployed the new SS-20 mobile missiles and established a continental nuclear superiority in the late 1970s, the Dutch Parliament declined to back NATO deployment of countering weapons at last December's NATO meeting.
The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan within weeks of the NATO decision revived some concern about a Soviet threat. But AFghanistan was still far away, and Hollanders have been hoping -- some specialists deem this wishful thinking -- that European detente can be insulated from the tensions of Southwest Asia.
The Dutch center-right government strongly backed President Carter earlier this year on the boycott of the Moscow Olympics and on measures to win release of the American hostages held in Iran. But Mr. Carter himself is now so mistrusted in Holland (as elsewhere in Europe) that it is hard for the government and the old foreign-policy elite to muster the parliamentary majorities to effect concrete support.
Even the old elite is worried about the direction -- "or nondirection" -- of the American policy, notes J. L. Heldring, director of the Netherlands Association for International Affairs. He observes, "It's difficult to read that man in the White House."
And he and others talk repeatedly of Mr. Carter's "zigzags" in policy. The atmosphere is now altogether different from the initial Dutch admiration for Mr. Carter's moral standards and stance on human rights.
The latest incident to trouble the Dutch was Carter's hostage-rescue attempt, which was made despite the obvious risks of strengthening the Iranian radicals, setting off fighting in the tinderbox Mideast, and pushing Iran into Soviet arms.
The end result is a Dutch reluctance or inability to follow even the most rugent Carter appeals for Western exaction of a Soviet price for the Afghanistan invasion.