Europeans are baffled by the fuss being made over the Iran-contra hearings in the United States. ``What other democracy in the world would permit itself to display all of its military secrets and its most intimate problems in front of the rest of the planet?'' asked the French news magazine Le Nouvel Observateur this week.
To Europeans, the hearings are a typically American public bloodletting, and there is much skepticism over the importance of the scandal.
European press coverage has included little of the hoopla and hype surrounding Lt. Col. Oliver North's testimony in the US. While his testimony was widely reported in the press, but ``without the hour-to-hour TV coverage,'' as one West German diplomat puts it, ``there was no parallel wave of sympathy for North.''
The average person in France followed few of the actual details of the hearings, yet seemed more sympathetic to the image of Col. North as a modern-day hero.
``Ollie is Clint Eastwood to me,'' said Herv'es Dubois, a young Paris business executive. ``The whole show just reminds me of another Hollywood production.''
Many Europeans remain convinced that little wrong has actually been done. ``We don't understand why Americans are losing so much time over this when it has more important responsibilities in the world,'' says Philippe Moreau-Defarges, a political analyst at the French Institute of Foreign Relations.
Europeans, he says, are far more concerned by what they see as President Reagan's lack of a coherent foreign policy than by whether the diversion of funds to the Nicaraguan contra rebels was right or wrong.
``The weakness in our eyes is that Reagan doesn't know what is going on, '' says Mr. Moreau-Defarges. ``We don't think questions of morality and policy ought to be mixed.''
Some senior French officials have expressed puzzlement over American insistence on the rule of law in the hearings. In their view, raison d''etat can be more important - and the state's interests are sometimes preeminent.
Nevertheless, there is a sense of relief in diplomatic circles that the testimony of Colonel North and Rear Adm. John Poindexter appears to have reduced pressure on the President.
``Germany isn't interested in seeing a crucial ally like the President put into question,'' says the West German diplomat. ``We're fed up with the scandal.''
What worries Europeans in the long-run is the propect of a lame duck US presidency for the remainder of Reagan's term.
They are concerned that the Iran-contra affair will distract America so that it cannot keep up with its leadership responsibilities. For example, they fear being driven toward an arms control agreement by a weakened American president who is eager to refurbish his image.