Bush trip - full of gestures, short on substance

25th February 2005, Comments 0 comments

25 February 2005, WASHINGTON - US President George W. Bush's visit to Europe has been hailed as a success by governments on both sides of the Atlantic. But the diplomatic rhetoric conceals a few tricks and all the friendly gestures have failed to hide the lack of political substance. Many differences still remain. Ironically, Iraq proved to be the one subject on which all agreed. The country needs to become more stable and everyone is going to help. Even the French are sending funds and training police off

25 February 2005

WASHINGTON - US President George W. Bush's visit to Europe has been hailed as a success by governments on both sides of the Atlantic.

But the diplomatic rhetoric conceals a few tricks and all the friendly gestures have failed to hide the lack of political substance. Many differences still remain.

Ironically, Iraq proved to be the one subject on which all agreed. The country needs to become more stable and everyone is going to help.

Even the French are sending funds and training police officers. After all the arguments over Iraq, the United States now feels that a common denominator has been reached.

But a critical Europe felt justified in their position on the war and interpreted the visit as Bush's reconciliation tour, according to the leading French daily Le Figaro.

But Bush certainly did not intend to atone or to apologise for the Iraq war. He chose Europe as the first foreign destination of his second term because the continent remains an important ally - even if from America's viewpoint somewhat less influential than some Europeans believe.

The true balance of power is probably best reflected in the unseemly wrangling among European leaders for the honour of a meeting with the US president, according to diplomats.

French President Jacques Chirac, with whom a dinner date was eventually arranged, was apparently annoyed that Bush decided to visit Germany and not France.

Chirac had spent months trying to arrange a visit to the White House or better still to the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas, according to US media.

But Bush paid Europe the honour because he wanted to refute accusations in the US that he risked snubbing the allies with his arrogance.

At least he can now claim to have embarked on an "American charm offensive".

The Republican Bush wanted to bring to Europe his vision of spreading democracy around the world that he spoke of during his inauguration speech in January.

Even if differences still remain on the appropriate strategy towards Iran or arms deliveries to China, environmental treaties or the International Criminal Court, the tone was friendly and peaceful on all sides.

But what was left unsaid, or rather in between the lines, is more revealing. Bush evaded the question when asked in the German city of Mainz which his father visited as president in 1989 and hailed Germany as a "partnership in leadership", whether that still applied today.

He replied: "First of all he (Bush senior) fondly remembers the trip. Thank you for remembering that he came. I will tell him that the first question I got on German soil has his name on it," Bush said, before saying the US relied on partnerships in the world to spread liberty and peace. "And Germany is a partner."

But there was no mention of leadership, not even in a European context. It would appear that the US still considers itself the world's only leading power.

While in Brussels, Bush praised the increasing unity in Europe, to the delight of Europeans, and the first visit by a US president illustrated his esteem for the bloc.

He emphasised in Mainz that a strong Europe hinged on a strong Germany and the compliment to Berlin affirmed what many diplomats believe - that Washington still considers itself the partner of individual European nations.

US media noted carefully the circumstances surrounding the trip and the ghostly-looking Mainz which was transformed into a high- security corridor during Bush's visit.

It remained unclear whether the U.S. mania for security or German perfectionism were responsible for this. Only in Bratislava, the Slovakian capital, did Bush make direct contact with local citizens and enjoyed a walkabout.

Bush aimed to promote his vision and sound out the chances of further global cooperation in Europe.

The president has begun his second term of office on a highly ambitious note.

He wants to change the world and improve it. Europeans, who would prefer to effect change at the negotiating table and through treaties, know that Bush always leaves all options open.

If all other options fail, then military one could be applied. Bush left no doubt about that.

DPA

Subject: German news

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