- The Washington Times - Friday, February 25, 2005

President Bush’s trip to Europe, like that of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice before him, was largely regarded both in the United States and abroad as a postelection victory lap and a chance for “Old Europe” to make amends for its failure to support Mr. Bush’s Iraq strategy.

The president’s five-day tour of Belgium, Germany and Slovakia was markedly different from his last trip to the continent in 2003, when he was dogged at every stop by protesters — some numbering in the tens of thousands — voicing opposition to the war in Iraq.

This time around, those voices were conspicuously silent, and even many European press outlets that have made sport out of mocking the Texan as simple-minded and stubborn found reason to give humble respect.

“Europe can’t be mad at the U.S. for long. It’s just impossible,” said Leon Aron, director of Russian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. “I think Bush came in when there was a certain amount of fatigue from the conflict. The left in those countries have said everything they could possibly have said about Iraq.

“The war happened, and the issues that are there are no longer as exciting to the protesters,” he said.

The successful elections in Iraq — as well as Mr. Bush’s defeat of Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, the choice of “Old Europe” in November — seemed to be the reasons for the silencing of the loudest voices of dissent.

Germany’s left-leaning Der Spiegel newspaper, which in 2003 published a lengthy cover story contending the United States invaded Iraq for the sole purpose of controlling world oil supplies, asked the question this week: “Could Bush Be Right?”

The paper likened Mr. Bush’s stop in Mainz, Germany, to Ronald Reagan’s trip to the Berlin Wall in 1987, when he famously demanded that Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev “tear down this wall.”

“[Reagan] was lampooned the next day on the editorial pages as a dreamer,” wrote Der Spiegel. “But history has shown that it wasn’t Reagan who was the dreamer who voiced his demand. Rather, it was German politicians who were lacking in imagination — a group who in 1987 couldn’t imagine that there might be an alternative to a divided Germany.”

The paper suggested that “maybe history can repeat itself,” after Mr. Bush’s bold call for the Western world to support a democratization of the largely tyrannical Middle East.

“Just a thought for Old Europe to chew on,” Der Spiegel wrote, using the much-derided term for France and Germany used by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. “Bush might be right, just like Reagan was then.”

Rather than a chance for Mr. Bush to mend fences, the trip could have been seen as a chance for France and Germany — stalwart opponents of Mr. Bush’s Iraq policy — to re-establish good relations with the president.

Nile Gardiner, a European scholar at the Heritage Foundation, said Mr. Bush did his part by making “Old Europe” feel as vital as it insists it is in world affairs.

“The trip was overall a success in that President Bush sent a clear message to Europe that the trans-Atlantic alliance is of critical importance to the United States,” Mr. Gardiner said. “He was warmly received in Europe.”

Mr. Bush clearly relished reprising his inaugural and State of the Union speeches on the spread of liberty around the world, especially in the Middle East. Such talk was received warmly in Slovakia, the president’s last stop, which emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union to become a democratic ally of the United States.

“Bush created a much better atmosphere in Europe,” Mr. Aron said. “That alone is a good achievement.”

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