U.S. President George Bush recently completed a trip to Europe
that took him to Slovenia, Germany, Italy, the Vatican, France and
Britain [from June 9 to June 16]. What is the state of relations between
the United States and Europe?
This perhaps was President Bush's farewell trip to Europe --
seven months before the end of his eight years in office.
Experts say relations between the United States and the European Union
are better now than they were during the first four years of the Bush
Charles Kupchan with the Council on Foreign Relations here in
Washington says, "They've certainly made a substantial recovery from the low point of
2003-2004 when the fallout over the Iraq War led many to question
whether the Atlantic partnership might be coming apart at the seams.
We're certainly not back to where we were in the pre-Iraq War era, but
certainly have made a significant comeback from the low point of 2003-2004."
Most analysts say relations between Washington and Europe at that time
were strictly defined by the U.S. decision to invade Iraq and its
aftermath. European opposition to the invasion was led by then French
President Jacques Chirac and then German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
Public opinion surveys indicated that America's image in Europe reached
an all-time low as Washington was seen as arrogant and dismissive of the
views of its allies.
But then, as noted by William Drozdiak, President of the New York-based
American Council on Germany, things changed. "There's no doubt that in the second term, the Bush administration
realized it could no longer do things by itself -- that the unilateral
approach was counterproductive, it was damaging America's image in the
world. And so it had really no other choice but to reach out to its
democratic allies in Europe," says Drozdiak.
And as Washington began to reach out to Europe, analysts say the
political landscape changed there with the election of two much more
pro-American leaders. Last year, Nicolas Sarkozy succeeded Jacques
Chirac as French President and Angela Merkel took over as German
Chancellor, replacing Gerhard Schroeder.
Charles Kupchan at the Council on Foreign Relations says the Iraq War is
no longer the main issue between Europe and the United States.
"The two sides have put Iraq not completely behind them, but pushed it
to the side. And the Bush administration realizes that European members
of the coalition are heading for the exits -- if they haven't left
already. And the Europeans have stopped berating Washington for the
war," says Kupchan. "And even though there remain fundamental differences of opinion
about whether the war was the right thing to do, whether the occupation
was handled well, I think that the view now is, 'Let's not let Iraq
scuttle this relationship; let's try to isolate it and focus on the
important common tasks that we have in Afghanistan, in Iran, in trying
to promote democratization in Russia, in fighting climate change,' --
and the list goes on."
Putting Pressure on Iran
At every stop during his European trip, President Bush talked about Iran
and ways to pressure Tehran to suspend its uranium enrichment program
that could lead to the development of a nuclear bomb.
Michael Williams from the Royal United Services Institute in London says
Europe and the U.S. agree on ways to deal with Iran.
"The overall approach is the same in that both Europe and the United
States want to pursue a diplomatic option. You will notice, however,
that all American leaders -- Democrats and Republicans -- will often
reiterate that all options are on the table, including the military
option. This is something that, of course, the Europeans don't say," notes Williams.
"But certainly at the moment, the hope is that through a combination of
incentives and sanctions, that they would be able to pressure the
Iranian regime. And, of course, the Europeans have the ability to talk
directly to the Iranians -- something that the U.S. does not yet do on
an official level."
Many analysts say a striking aspect of the American president's recent
trip to Europe was the relative lack of anti-Bush demonstrations -- a
typical scene during previous presidential visits. A German newspaper
observed that Mr. Bush "isn't even popular as an enemy."
According to William Drozdiak of the American Council on Germany,
"The hostility has been replaced by indifference because there is a
realization in Europe that Bush is on his way out and people want to
just move ahead. They hope to put the Bush presidency behind them."
Analysts say President Bush's trip came at a time of intense interest in
Europe in the U.S. presidential campaign -- especially in the candidacy
of Senator Barrack Obama, the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party.
Dominique Moisi with the French Institute of International Relations in
Paris says Obama has captured the imagination of many Europeans.
"His personality. The color of his skin. The fact that in some ways he
is in himself the incarnation of what the Europeans want most to see
America regain -- the sense of hope and the sense of dream. If someone
incarnates the American dream by his very own personality, that is
Barack Obama. And I suppose a majority of Europeans today want to see
the return of the culture of hope in America,"
Analyst Charles Kupchan says both Obama and the presumptive Republican
Party presidential nominee, John McCain, want a vibrant U.S.-Europe
relationship. "Should McCain be the next president, I think the Europeans would be
somewhat less gleeful, but would nonetheless welcome an administration
that they would see as more centrist, more forthcoming on climate
change, more critical of the past policies on [suspected terror] detainees."
In other words, says Kupchan, a new Republican administration would be
closer to Europe's views than the Bush administration has been.
This story was first
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