- The Washington Times - Friday, February 2, 2001

Despite European hand-wringing over the change of power in Washington, the Bush administration is making international relations its first order of business. On trains and in cafes, on television and in newspapers, the Europeans argued prematurely against a president whom they feared would both cater to isolationism by pulling out of Europe and foster U.S. "exclusivism" by imposing American morality on European values.

The Financial Times called it a fear of unilateralism, a concern that the United States would not listen to Europe's concerns. An official of the German Interior Ministry complained of Republican "piousness," and pointed to the plans to halt U.S. funding of international family planning groups that provide abortion counseling as just another example of mixing too much morality with politics. Le Figaro in Paris, inspired rather than worried about what isolationism could bring, celebrated what it hoped would mean the end of Washington telling Europe what it thinks is good for it.

The Bush administration's first few days fly in the face of these ill-informed expectations. Mr. Bush began Monday by meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell to discuss foreign policy. Mr. Powell has said he wants to get rid of most U.S. sanctions. He has asked Congress to "Stop, look and listen" and "Count to 10, then call me" before imposing new sanctions. Right now 75 of the world's 193 countries are subject to U.S. sanctions, which cost the United States $19 billion a year in lost exports, reports the International Herald Tribune. Mr. Powell called the use of trade embargoes a show of American arrogance, and intends to reverse the practice (excluding, of course, the Gulf War general's archenemy Iraq).

In terms of Europe's fears about U.S. reassessment of some peacekeeping efforts, the Bush administration has pledged to consider the future of these operations in collaboration with its allies, not in isolation. Peacekeeping can only be more effective when equipped with the proper strategy and resources, and this, too, will benefit Europe.

As far as moralizing goes, the character that Mr. Bush brings to office should not be denigrated. Yes, his first order of business was to stop U.S. taxpayers from having to fund abortions oversees. Yes, he has encouraged faith-based organizations to play a role in helping end homelessness and other social ills. Yes, he spent the first day of his presidency in church, not in front of cameras. But is this not a refreshing departure from the legacy left by a president who lied in court and on camera to the American people?

The Europeans may do their own moralizing about how irrelevant they believe character to be for a U.S. president. In the end, they will be glad the United States has a president who has not only made a point of extending a hand to his European allies, but whose word can be trusted.

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