|As George W. Bush prepares to jet off to Europe, he's got to be asking himself three questions:
1. Will those damned protesters show up?
2. Will the European press cut him a break? and
3. How much does a president have to butter up the Europeans before he can get a little love?
Bush kicked off the buttering on Saturday, praising Europe as the pillars of the free world in his weekly radio address.
“Leaders on both sides of the Atlantic understand that the hopes for peace in the world depend on the continued unity of free nations,” he said. “We do not accept a false caricature that divides the Western world between an idealistic United States and a cynical Europe,” Bush said.
Bush also threw bouquets at Europe's well-known priorities:
...and he tried in as convincing a way as possible to assure his soon-to-be hosts that the U.S. has no designs on attacking Iran. ... (appently Tehran isn't buying it, either, Mr. Hersch)
Outlining his goals for the trip, the president also said he would discuss how to best advance peace between Israel and the Palestinians; trade issues; and reducing European barriers to American agricultural goods.
“Even the best of friends do not agree on everything,” he said, adding that America and Europe need to cooperate to fight terrorism and poverty and promote trade and peace.“That makes our trans-Atlantic ties as vital as they have ever been,” he said. (MSNBC)
The Weekly standard was characteristically skeptical of the new nicey-nicey approach:
There is a danger, in my view, that the Bush administration, in its newfound eagerness to show its kinder, less Martian, more Venusian side, will actually create bigger problems for itself. In its efforts to be diplomatically accommodating, the nited States may end up supporting and bolstering a vision of Europe that is directly at odds with long-term U.S. goals and interests. Nothing is to be gained by unnecessarily antagonizing Europeans, to be sure, and the United States is right to pursue ways of cooperating. But if the early signs of the new détente are any guide, the Bush administration may find itself walking into a trap.
But the truth is, Bush's new friendly posture and Rice and Rummy's recent charm offensive aside, the president is heading to a Europe that is increasingly cool, not just to him, but to America and the trans-Atlantic alliance in general.
Europe is drifting away for a million reasons, beginning with the obvious one: the countries on that continent are drifting toward each other. And as the E.U. creates the possibility of a common future (and, more unsettling for us, a common defense), there is less and less of a need to rely on the good graces (and great defense) of the United States. Europeans are forging a common identity that is so far from our own, it's hard to recognize us as common pillars of anything anymore. Where we are flirting with Islamophobia and kicking ass at home and abroad, Europe is handling their Islamic population bomb with heightened securlarism and overt capitulation. We are polls apart on Likud-led Israel, which the neoconservative U.S. administration fiercely defends but with whom Europe has testy relations (to put it kindly), over the Sharon government's treatment of the Palestinians.
We have sharp diffences on how to handle Iran, Syria and North Korea.
And though it rarely makes the press, trade issues are increasingly heightening the tensions between "us" and "them" -- and I don't mean petty boycotts and freedom fries. Moreover, Europe is increasingly going its own way on trade, looking increasingly toward Asia and away from us for trade partnerships.
How ironic that the joint triumphs of the U.S., Western Europe and the Soviet Union during World War II has put us on a collision course with the nations we helped to save, and the rump of the empire we later had to defeat.
Russia is moving ahead with its plans to hook Syria and Iran up on the missile and nuclear tip. That's just one more thing Bush will have to gently nudge his buddy Vlad on when he gets overseas.
All this leads you to wonder, is the rest of the world realigning without us? And will it be enough to have roguish Pakistan, hobbled Iraq and gung-ho Australia in our corner?