- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 20, 2001

What President Bush accomplished during his visit to Europe last week could be a legacy of lasting value. At a time when trans-Atlantic relations seemed in danger of foundering, Mr. Bush did much to dispel concerns over American unilateralism and affirmed his commitment to keep the United States firmly engaged on the European continent. In doing so, Mr. Bush looked beyond the post-Cold War era to one still in the process of definition. The contours, though, are becoming clearer.
Expectations of political food-fights and flying rhetorical dinner rolls at the summit had been running high, and European newspapers had given Mr. Bush such dubious nick-names as "the toxic Texan." As Danish Minister for the Environment Sven Auken told reporters in Washington last week himself previously a harsh critic of the Bush administration who now speaks more moderately of finding common ground on the environment Mr. Bushs views on Kyoto "are far outside the European mainstream." It seems Europeans have a hard time grasping that there is an American mainstream with a set of views in many ways different from their own, be that on the death penalty or the politics of energy consumption and global warming. There has not been much effort to understand Mr. Bush in his own context. The crowds of thugs and demonstrators who have taken upon themselves to interrupt international meetings could hardly be expected to understand this, but European politicians ought to display a more sophisticated understanding of the world.
And, yet, Mr. Bush came with a clear agenda and an outstretched hand. "What has not emerged as clearly as it should from reports on Mr. Bushs visit was the warmth of the atmosphere," wrote Chris Patten, EU commissioner for external affairs, in the International Herald Tribune. "It was clear to all of us in Gothenburg that we were dealing with a president and an administration who are internationalist in outlook, open to dialogue, and ready to develop, not discard, Americas relationship with Europe." German Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder noted that "Our Euro-Atlantic community of states is the most essential factor for democratic stability and economic prosperity across the world today." This new tone is good news.
The vision articulated by Mr. Bush in Brussels and in Goteborg (a city which may have as many spellings as there are American newspapers) and which he committed himself to in Warsaw on Friday is of an inclusive Europe that could extend as far as Ukraine. "We will not trade away the fate of free European peoples," he said. "No more Munichs. No more Yaltas." Now, this is truly thinking ahead. The commitment to NATO enlargement that Mr. Bush made in Warsaw reinforces the welcome decision by the European Union to conclude negotiations with new members from the former East bloc by the end of next year. From the perspective of the applicant nations, who seek to join both NATO and the European Union, this means military and economic security and stability.
From the perspective of the United States, it provides a group of allies whose affinity with American values and interests is rock solid. Feeling jaded about American ideals and values? Take a trip to any country formerly trapped in a communist nightmare behind the Iron Curtain, and you will get an unforgettable reminder. In some quarters of Western Europe though by no means all memories of World War II and the Marshall Plan have faded. In Central and Eastern Europe, memories of U.S. support in the fight against communism are fresh and inspire tremendous trust and gratitude.
And from the perspective of West Europeans who have been known sometimes to suspect East Europeans for being shills for the United States NATO enlargement gives the United States an overriding concrete reason to maintain future engagement in Europe. The trouble brewing in the Balkans remains an important reason, but, as the Bush administration came under fire for suggesting, it is sometimes hard to see why Europeans themselves are unable to contain it, particularly given the aspirations contained in the European Security and Defense Initiative.
And finally, despite some justifiable criticism directed at Mr. Bush for his comments about seeking a sense of Russian President Vladimir Putins "soul" (which in truth does sound more than a little Clintonian in its silliness) and his lack of forcefulness on the issue of Chechnya, his framework for U.S.-Russian dialogue is one from which the United States stands to benefit. While open and friendly, Mr. Bush stayed the course on the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and missile defense. Importantly, he also stressed the importance of Ukraine and its aspirations to be part of the West. As that strategically crucial country teeters on the verge of falling back into Russias sphere of dominance, the pull in the other direction needs to be as strong.
All of which makes for a good weeks work for Mr. Bush. It is greatly encouraging if Europeans see it the same way.
E-mail: hbering@washingtontimes.com

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