- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 14, 2001

President George W. Bush will step like Daniel into the lions den when today he meets Europes leaders in Gothenburg, Sweden. If you believe the European media, he will face an array of snarling and suspicious faces where he might have expected to find old and supportive friends, the people that as his fathers son Mr. Bush instinctively thinks of as "the allies."
For Germanys centrist Suddeutsche Zeitung he is "Bully Bush." For Britains center-left The Guardian, he heralds "the return of The Ugly American." For Italys La Repubblica, he is "the executioner-in-chief." For Frances Le Figaro, he is "the toxic Texan." The Irish Times detects "a pattern of arrogant unilateralism in the conduct of Mr. Bushs foreign policy," which the Financial Times sniffs "has managed to strike a combination of alarm and antipathy into just about everybody who matters."
Unnerved by his plans for missile defenses, angered by his brisk burial of the Kyoto global warming treaty, appalled by his enthusiastic Texas record of capital punishment, the Europeans are generally supposed to feel they are being bullied by a boorish intellectual lightweight and reformed alcoholic. They are also unhappy to be told that this is the last time they can expect two summits a year with Mr. Bush; from now on, they will have to make do with one.
This is a caricature of a very complex phenomenon. Consider first the historical context. Europe gets the vapors over every new president. They were appalled by the "brinkmanship" of President Eisenhowers Secretary of State John Foster Dulles in 1953. They were terrified by President John F. Kennedys bellicose "bear any burden" inaugural address of 1961, disgusted by President Nixons empty promises about "a secret plan" to end the Vietnam war in 1969, and horrified by the coming of the actor, Ronald Reagan, in 1981. European brickbats are a kind of rite of passage, a getting to know you ritual for a new president.
Consider also the fact that most modern Europeans live more and more like Americans, buying houses in the suburbs, eating fast food, buying stocks and shares, and using Visa and Mastercard while their kids watch MTV. Consider the unprecedented integration of the transatlantic economies, with a trillion dollars a year crisscrossing the ocean in two-way trade and investment. Consider also the fact that in terms of democratic principles and the rule of law, free markets and human rights, Europeans and Americans for more than any other peoples inhabit a single moral and cultural universe.
The real trouble that underpins the troubled relationship that now confronts Mr. Bush in Europe is that each side is asking the other to behave in unfamiliar ways. The Europeans are asking the Americans to show more respect, and to treat them as real partners rather than as the strategic subordinates of the Cold War. The Americans, in return, want the Europeans to take more responsibility and pay more money to bear more of the common security burden, while continuing to follow Washingtons strategic lead.
That is fundamentally why the Europeans are so nervous of the Bush proposals for a missile defense system, and why the Americans are so edgy about Europes airy plans for a modest little military force of some 60,000 peacekeepers. Still a virtual rather than a real army, this proposed force might not be strong or well-armed enough to fight its way into a Kosovo still guarded by the Serbian army, but it is politically formidable enough to have worried the Pentagon that this might one day replace NATO.
There are three reasons to think that the transatlantic relationship is far more sturdy than it looks, and that it will take real incompetence to turn the Gothenberg summit into a row.
The first is the defection of Sen. James Jeffords from the Republican Party, which puts Democrats into the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, and makes the deployment of missile defenses look much less imminent, costly or confrontational. The second is the new Italian prime minister, the conservative Silvio Berlusconi, who supports Mr. Bush on missile defenses, Kyoto and much else. European leaders now know that they cannot mobilize a united front against the Bush presidency.
The third reason for optimism is it is in nobodys interests to have a row (except possibly for the French President Jacques Chirac and his premier Lionel Jospin, who are trying to score points against each other ahead of next years elections). In Kosovo and Macedonia and the Middle East, in working out how to complete the process of bringing Eastern Europe into the Western fold while also dealing with Russia, Europeans and Americans share too much of a common agenda. If anything is to be saved from the wreckage of the Kyoto agreement on global warning, the European Union and United States will have to fix it, just as the prospects for another round of world trade talks depends on them.
European leaders and American presidents usually get along in the end because they have to. So for all the dire predictions about Mr. Bush going into the lions den, remember Daniels fate in the original Bible story. He lived to tell the tale.

Martin Walker is a columnist for United Press International.

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