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Bush Takes On Europe
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The European Press
on George W. Bush
In hindsight, this war of words between a newly elected, amateurish president who stumbles over foreign policy issues, and his more experienced European counterparts, seems rather trivial, for we know how the world was about to change three months later. But the issues raised here are to be taken seriously: Because now, "the cowboy in boots," as Bush was then all too easily dismissed by European commentators, is on a war path, determined to fight terror, no matter how. And the Europeans are told to shut up.
they won't: European Journalists are merely sharpening their pens.
is perceived in Europe as the personification of the ugly American,"
Dietmar Ostermann wrote in Frankfurt's liberal Frankfurter Rundschau in
May 2001. This nicely sums up the German press' attitude toward the newly elected
president. No other state visit has succeeded in rousing the German-language press
from its summertime slumber as did George W. Bush's first trip to Europe. He was
derided as an anti-environmentalist and a consummate corporate politician, bent
on unilateral American hegemony, reviving the Cold War, and executing criminals
by the hundreds. As Bush's trip to Europe in June 2001 progressed, German journalists
seemed to be trying to outdo each other in the acidity of their remarks. The way
Bush walks, the way he talks, his position, or lack thereof, on controversial
issuesall were mercilessly lampooned in the pages of the German press.
amidst all the venom and antagonism, one thing wasn't clear: Was the outpouring
of resentment a manifestation of a growing anti-Americanism in Europe now that
the Cold War is over? Was it directed at Bush's policies? Or had Germany's editors
already prejudged Bush as a "cowboy in boots, …not the leader of the
free world, but a well-mannered lout" (as Wolfgang Koydl called him on June
9 in Munich's centrist Süddeutsche Zeitung)?
is different," Koydl continued, "Europe is complicated and Europeans
are easily hurt. Washington seemed to have acknowledged that. And now here comes
Bush, jumping into this delicate relationship and subsequently falling through
it like through rotten undergrowth. …The new president still doesn't know
what he wants."
June 13, Kornelius Stefan amplified Koydl's theme, also in the Süddeutsche
Zeitung: "The preconceived image of Bush has been proved correct. …The
biggest mistake of the Bush administration in dealing with Europe and the world
was that it initially wanted to do everything different, because it thought it
knew better. …Bush wanted a small revolution, which was based on a precept
no more sophisticated than 'no more Clinton.' …However, the hawk Bush will
not 'turn chicken.' …But the lasting impression from Bush's visit is a
mutual feeling of getting on each other's nerves. …If this feeling intensifies,
we need to admit that the alliance between the United States and Europe exists
only on paper."
his travel itinerary seemed peculiar to many German commentators: "Why doesn't
Bush come to Berlin?" Malte Lehming asked on June 13, also in Tagesspiegel.
"He has not visited Berlin, London, Paris, or Rome. He started his journey
in Spain because Hispanics are the fastest growing minority in the United States,
and Bush wants to be re-elected. And Spain is one of the few European countries
that have a conservative government. …Anti-American feelings in Europe
are virulent. And in the United States, the most Americans feel no more than indifference
towards Europeans. No American would ever think of demonstrating against European
policy. …As a result, the cultural rift between Europe and the United States
is getting bigger, but politically and economically there is no alternative to
the transatlantic alliance."
seized the notion of a broad cultural gap between Americans and Europeans. "The
Europeans are complicated," wrote Günter Lehofer in the June 15
edition of Steiermark, Austria edition of the liberal, Catholic-orientated
Kleine Zeitung. "They worry about global warming. Regarding environmental
issues, Europe has united all its political divisionsthe left, center, right,
progressive, and conservativeto adopt a careful treatment of the environment.
Even if this undertaking has seemed at times hypocritical, Europe has a different
culture than America. And this will count in the future." The next day, Ernst
Heinrich, elaborating in the same paper, also took this anthropological view:
"Bush is like millions of his compatriots: conservative, friendly, stubborn,
informaland not very educated. Now he has to prove to his fellow Americans
that he is a good, a strong president. That is the reason he is so forceful in
centrist Berliner Morgenpost acknowledged the difference between the United
States and Europe but did not speak of a crisis. "Bush didn't exactly jump
at the opportunity to meet [German] Chancellor [Gerhard] Schröder again,"
wrote Von Corne Faltin on June 15. "Since Bush's election, the relationship
between Berlin and Washington has cooled. The 'rich kid' Bush and the social democrat
Schröder don't seem to get along. And Schröder can't get over the fact
that his 'friend Bill' is not in charge anymore. …Schröder, a stern
advocate of environmental protection, regards Bush's alternative proposition to
the Kyoto protocol as an environmental fig leaf. …But to judge the differences
between the two men as a threat to good relations is to be unrealistic. The substance
of German-American relations has not been affected. …George W. Bush is
'not a Berliner'but he understands Germany's importance nevertheless."
Frankfurt's conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (June 12), Klaus-Dieter
Frankenberger examined Europe's apparent deep antagonism toward Bush. "Many
Europeans view Bush as a self-satisfied, execution-supporting president of a world
power so intoxicated with itself that is pays little or nor heed to the concerns
and interests of others, but rather sees in itself the measure of all things.
[Europeans see the United States as] a power that does not care about international
rules, principles and organizations, but behaves as if its sole desire is to achieve
the greatest possible advantages for itself and maximize its freedom of action….
[The cement that kept European and Americans together during the Cold War] has
been replaced by a friendly and obliging pragmatism administered by elites who
are oblivious to the pathos of the past, and who coolly weigh their interests….
The United States should follow the motto that those whose leadership is characterized
by cooperation and calculability will not fall under the stereotypical suspicion
of arrogance, hegemony and a desire to rule the world."
a June 15 article for Frankfurt's conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
, titled "The Bogeyman," William Pratttongue slightly
in cheek characterized "bad-guy Bush" as someone "who has
trampled over international efforts to rescue the environment, who endangers world
peace with plans for a national missile defense system, and who stands behind
the death penalty…." But, in Bush's defense, Pratt also acknowledges
that "Bush is simply doing the same thing that the good guy Mr. Clinton did:
representing his country's interest in a democratic fashion."
liberal newsmagazine Der Spiegel reacted to Bush's visit with an unmitigated
sneer. In a June 13 editorial titled "Estranged Friends," the paper
proclaimed that "The United States and Europe have nothing much in common."
Five days later, Der Spiegel's editors ran a patently nasty story from
Carlos Widman. "Until last week, Europe," Widman wrote, "was for
George W. Bush a white spot on the map, which he called 'Yurp.' Even Bush knew
that his first trip to this terra incognita wouldn't be a political success…."
Despite this, Widman continued, "Bush's black governess, Condoleezza Rice,
remains optimistic: 'We know from experience that Europe and America are ideal
partners, if we combine our strengths and weaknesses.'"
were less vitriolic. Berlin's centrist Berliner Zeitung (June 13) saw Bush's
first trip to Europe as a "friendly family trip, where there will neither
be major breakthroughs nor disputes." Daniela Weingärtner, writing for
the June 14 issue of Berlin's taz, was also more restrained, but could
not keep a slightly sardonic tone from her remarks: "The travel agents in
the White House mean well with their new president. On his getting-to-know-you
trip to the old continent they gave him time to adjust to the new political surroundings.
His first stop was Madrid, and it was a home run. A flattered [Prime Minister
José María] Aznar enjoyed the unexpected promotion to close confidante
of Big Brother."
Swiss press devoted large space to Bush's visit as well. "The Europeans
Really Believe All This Cowboy Stuff," proclaimed the top story in the
June 17 edition of Zurich's weekly Sonntags Zeitung. "Bush's advisors"
the paper's editors speculated, "do everything they can to diffuse the picture
the Europeans have of George W. Bush as a slightly dumb, gun-loving opponent of
abortion and stern advocate of the death penalty…. But they have not been
very successful: As Bush traveled across Europe, behind him floated the ghost
of the last dummy of the White HouseRonald Reagan."
editors of Zurich's conservative Neue Zürcher Zeitung apparently found
all these smirking diatribes a bit hard to take. On June 19, they seemed determined
to put the attitudes of Europe's journalists into perspective: "If one reads
European newspapers nowadays, one can get the impression that the relationship
between Europe and the United States is profoundly damaged and irreparably strained.
One would think that Europe stands united against Bush. …The pressure to
stand by America has vanished, and a number of European governments use their
newfound independence with enthusiastic gusto. …But a creative alliance
between Europe and America, as effected by Bush the elder, is a model, which should
be adopted by the son as well. …Nevertheless, it has become clear that
Europe needs America more than the Americans need Europe. Nevertheless, [Bush]
still needs prove to the Europeans that he is made up of more than just baseball,
Bible, and barbecue."
rising to Bush's defense was Artur K. Vogel, of Zurich's independent weekly Weltwoche.
Vogel sees Bush as a perfect scapegoat: "George W. Bush makes for a perfect
picture of the enemy, regardless of all the hugs and pompous speeches. …He
came just in time, because the EU has bigger problems than it admits. …An
enemy from the outside is always useful to overshadow one's own internal frictions.
Unfortunately for us Europeans, Bush will have to go back home."
Amidst all the mockery and rancor, Vienna's liberal Der Standard stayed optimistic. "What binds us together is more than what divides us," the paper's editors insisted in a June 15 editorial. And they are likely right. Bush apparently provides too easy a target for witty, sophisticated, German newspaper editors to resist. For a while, the European press will continue to enjoy their little joke. More serious criticisms and recriminations are also likely to continue to fly. But in the end, this storm in a water glass will not permanently damage the alliance between Europe and the United States. Europe needs Americanothing new in thatbut soon enough, the Bush administration will also realize that the United States needs Europe enough to take European opinion into account.