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Tuesday, February 06, 2007 | You’d have to go back many years, perhaps many centuries, to find a time when America’s relations with its historic friends and allies around the world have been so bad. The Bush administration has been unique in its ability to turn friends hostile. This even includes Britain, where Prime Minister Tony Blair lately has been urging Bush to cooperate with the rest of the world in his second term.
Bush travels to Europe this month to try to patch things up, which won’t be easy. Recent polls put Americans standing among Europeans, including the British, as low as they’ve been since polling began. “European support for strong American leadership in the world has declined significantly over the past two years, as has approval for President George Bush’s international policies,” reported the German Marshall Fund in its report “Transatlantic Trends 2004,” based on interviews with 10,000 people. Name a project or position of the European Union – from the Kyoto Treaty on clean air, to the World Criminal Court, to negotiating with Iran, to getting out of Iraq, to creating a multi-polar world – and the Bush administration opposes it.
The general European view of U.S. policy under Bush is that it is not just anti-European but anti-planet, and Bush’s inaugural moralizing last month about “spreading freedom” around the world – if Iraq is an example of how freedom is spread – fills people with dread. If things went badly for Bush on his first two trips to Europe, when he was met with hostile crowds everywhere he went, the revelations of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are unlikely to improve the reception this time.
How did this come about? In past years, for past presidents, trips to Europe were times of acclaim and celebration. I was reporting from Paris during Richard Nixon’s first trip to Europe as president, one month after his inauguration in 1969, and the streets were lined with cheering people, larger crowds than Nixon ever brought out at home. It wasn’t the man they were cheering – as they had cheered and acclaimed John Kennedy in 1961 – it was America, and what Americans had done for Europe throughout the 20th Century. They cheered Kennedy and Nixon as symbols of America.
There’ll be no cheering for Bush, for he is a symbol of division, not unity. NATO, that great alliance of Europeans and North Americans, hangs by a thread thanks to Bush. Ronald Asmus, a leading analyst and former deputy assistant secretary of state for Europe, wrote recently in “Foreign Affairs” of “the collapse of the Atlantic Alliance.”
Bush did not achieve the collapse inadvertently. Starting with the rejection of Kyoto, a treaty whose negotiations began under George H.W. Bush and was signed seven years later by Bill Clinton, George W. Bush signaled that his administration has little respect for treaties, alliances or good relations with friendly states. Recognizing that climate change affects all nations, 55 nations signed the Kyoto treaty, only to have Bush reject it to protect U.S. energy interests, starting with the coal industry. Without the electoral votes of Wyoming and West Virginia, the number one and two coal-producing states, Bush would have lost to Al Gore in 2000.
The Kyoto rejection sent a message that has been reaffirmed repeatedly in Bush decisions: his political base comes first. While this may be justifiable on domestic issues – placating fundamentalists by opposing abortion rights and stem cell research, for example – it is indefensible foreign policy. Treaties and alliances become meaningless if nations subordinate them to local politics. Under those terms, America would not have joined World War I or armed Britain to resist Hitler, and no U.S. president would dare work – as George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton did but George W. Bush has not done – for a fair settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
James O. Goldsborough has written on foreign affairs for four decades, both from the United States and abroad, where he worked as a foreign correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune, International Herald Tribune, and Newsweek magazine for 14 years, reporting from more than 40 countries. Most recently, he was a columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune.
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