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Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Working Vacation in Europe

George W. Bush is about to have a busy June, focused on foreign policy. First, Bush is off this weekend to Italy (where Silvio Berlusconi still supports the war in Iraq) and France (Jacques Chirac dooesn't, but the French, wanting to play nice, have banned protests in Paris while Bush is visiting) to meet with foreign leaders and the Pope. Bush will give a speech on D-Day, commemorating the 60th anniversary.

In short, it will be one photo op after another.

Bush is going back to Europe again at the end of the month (Ireland and Turkey) for a NATO meeting. Sandwiched in between, the President hosts a number of G-8 leaders in Georgia.

Frankly, I doubt these meetings will mean much for US-European relations. I expect the President to make some broad conciliatory statements, emphasizing how important European relations are to the US — and how valuable allied cooperation could be in Iraq and in the wider war on terror. But the Europeans won't be influenced a great deal by these words and are quite unlikely to offer greater material support for Iraq. Everyone will embrace the ideal of democracy, but the states disagree a great deal about how to achieve that.

Indeed, Chirac has invited German chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Russian leader Vladimir Putin to the D-Day festivities -- and none supported the war. If Bush tries to compare post-war Europe to post-war Iraq, these guys can frown in unison.

Philip Gordon of Brookings has it about right:
"The Europeans have already dropped Bush and they are now waiting out the election. They do not want to see a strategic failure for America in Iraq, because that would be very bad for them. But at the same time they don't want to do anything that confirms the Bush approach to the world."
Who does?

I do think Bush is going to get a domestic political boost from this month's activities by "acting presidential." When a President is abroad making state visits, he represents the entire country. Most Americans don't want to hear that protesters in other countries (especially France) are unhappy. The focus is going to be on foreign policy and that's usually good news for any president — especially one trying to downplay unpleasant domestic news.
"There's no question this will give him a bump in the polls," said Charles Kupchan, director of European studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. "There will be lots of photo opportunities and lots of statements of solidarity."
Of course, Bush could be pushed below the fold by further bad news in Iraq.

Basically, these trips and meetings represent a great opportunity for the White House to control the political agenda, focusing attention on points they want to disseminate. Any progress on European relations would be gravy.

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