- The Washington Times - Friday, May 24, 2002

Thousands of Germans had protested President Bush's visit for days. Members of Germany's Socialist Party interrupted the president's speech to the German Bundestag by holding high a poster reading "Mr. Bush + Mr. Schroeder, Stop Your Wars." And yet, for all the angst Berliners had about Mr. Bush's visit, they were forced to heave a sigh of relief yesterday.
On NATO, Mr. Bush aptly outlined a vision for an alliance with a global reach. "Danger originating far from Europe can now strike at Europe's heart so NATO must be able and willing to act whenever threats emerge," he said. For an alliance that has felt sidelined in America's war on terrorism, and which desperately requires the ability to fight threats beyond Europe and North America, this was a needed statement. Now Mr. Bush must put legs to this proposal by setting up working groups in NATO to address the alliance's new mission and global capabilities. The measuring stick for his efforts will be witnessed in Prague, when invitations will be made to potential members to join NATO. If nations like Estonia and Slovenia know then whether they will be joining an alliance that has a mandate, for instance, in the Middle East or Central Asia, his speech will indeed have been the beginning of something historic.
America and Europe's new relationship with Russia was also redefined. Mr. Bush said Russia would be an "equal partner" with other NATO allies at the creation of the NATO-Russian Council. But at the same time, he warned Russia that the outcome of the new relationship" is not yet determined." He challenged Russia to be at peace with its neighbors and to respect the legitimate rights of minorities, a statement clearly needed in light of Russia's violent treatment of Chechens. Mr. Bush also told reporters that he was concerned about Russia contributing to arms proliferation by helping Iran build a nuclear plant. "If you arm Iran, you're liable to have the weapons pointed at you," he said. This is a message Mr. Bush will need to press during his visit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
At a press conference, Mr. Bush spoke in no uncertain terms about the threat Iraq poses by its ability to deliver weapons of mass destruction. But he also gave a double message, saying that "history has called us to action" while admitting that there was no war plan on his desk for Iraq. America and Europe need clarity on how Mr. Bush proposes to fight Iraq's "threat to civilization itself." But he promised to include Germany in the decision-making process, a message that was underscored in Mr. Bush's repetitive references to the German-American partnership in his speech.
Mr. Bush actually sounded smart, and it is always hard to refuse a hand extended in friendship. The German media, which played no small role in shaping public opinion the last two years by painting Mr. Bush as a gun-toting, death-penalty loving, bloodthirsty and intellectually challenged politician, had to concede he didn't sound so bad. "Everyone was somehow satisfied" with the speech, said the liberal weekly Der Spiegel. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder called the speech "really meaningful" and "historic." How historic will depend on the action that follows.


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