Wednesday, June 18, 2008

President Bush‘s farewell trip to Europe offered an opportunity to mark the recent rapprochement in trans-Atlantic relations - Americans and Europeans are once again working in greater harmony toward common objectives. During his European visit, the president conferred with leaders such as Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He also met Pope Benedict XVI and Queen Elizabeth II. Mr. Bush sought primarily to garner greater support for his policies in Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. He succeeded in cajoling European leaders closer to accepting his viewpoint.

Mr. Bush’s trip was notable for it was evident that the virulent anti-American sentiment which was palatable during his first term, has waned. Three of Europe’s major powers - Italy, France and Germany - currently have center-right governments. Previous leaders such as France’s Jacques Chirac and Germany’s Gerhard Schroeder have been replaced by those who are more pro-American. In most capitals Mr. Bush visited, there was either an absence or paltry presence of protesters (there were 2,500 protesters in London). This was in sharp contrast to the large anti-American rallies which marked Mr. Bush’s previous visits.

Indeed, the president remains unpopular among the European public. Many Europeans still resent him for the invasion of Iraq and disagree with his invocation to expand Europe’s security role in Afghanistan and in the Middle East. Nonetheless, the relationship between America and Europe is gradually improving. This is in part because Mr. Bush has softened his stance on key issues. The Bush administration no longer objects to the creation of a common European Union foreign policy. Also, Mr. Bush has pledged to work hard to forge an agreement on climate change. European leaders, too, are changing their positions. They are increasingly recognizing that they have more common enemies with America than they have policy differences. European leaders share American concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear program. They also fear the rise of Russia and China. Moreover, they have come to more fully appreciate that America’s war on terror is essential to European security.

During Mr. Bush’s visit to Europe, he secured greater support for NATO troops in Afghanistan, more aid money for Afghanistan and a package of “incentives” to dissuade Iran from its nuclear ambitions. Europeans are also committed to imposing harsher sanctions if these incentives fail. Mr. Bush is thus engaging European leaders as partners while steadfastly advancing American interests. In essence, since American objectives in Iraq are gradually being achieved, Mr. Bush is making greater efforts to mend fences with Europe.

Mr. Bush now leaves the trans-Atlantic alliance in good standing. This is not too bad a legacy for an American president who is too often - and too easily - falsely dismissed as a dimwitted and incapable leader.

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