Archive for Wednesday, May 7, 2003

For Bush, it’s payback time for war foes

May 7, 2003

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— It's payback time at the White House, and countries around the world are reaping the benefits or paying the price for their stand on the war with Iraq.

The door to the Oval Office is wide open for foreign leaders who backed President Bush, but war critics would be lucky to find a spot with Barney, the presidential dog. Foreign leaders who crossed Bush can forget about presidential visits or quick action on free trade agreements.

The retribution fits Bush's longstanding pattern of rewarding friends and punishing enemies, but critics say it is adding to the already substantial anti-American sentiment abroad.

"It's petty, and it puts personal animus ahead of the national interest. You lose the high ground when you make it personal," said Lee Feinstein, a State Department official under President Clinton who is now at the Council on Foreign Relations.

In the latest example of tit-for-tat foreign policy, Bush signed a free trade deal with war ally Singapore on Tuesday, while a similar agreement with war opponent Chile has stalled.

This week's White House guest list is a roll call of war allies. Today, Bush will welcome Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar to the Oval Office. On Thursday, he meets with the foreign ministers from Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia -- allies all. He also will make time for Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani of Qatar, which hosted the U.S. military command during the war, and Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who also endorsed the war.

War opponents shouldn't expect invitations anytime soon.

Bush scrubbed a planned state visit with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien on Monday, citing a busy schedule; Chretien opposed the war. Instead, Bush spent the weekend at his Texas ranch with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a war backer, and devoted Monday to touting his tax cuts in Little Rock, Ark.

South of the border, Mexican President Vicente Fox is also on the outs. Bush's annual Cinco de Mayo message on Monday -- the holiday celebrates a Mexican victory over French invaders in 1862 -- failed to mention U.S. ties to Mexico, but praised "the many Mexican Americans serving in our Armed Forces who are working to bring freedom and justice to oppressed people."

In contrast, last year's statement hailed the "strong, vibrant relationship" between the two countries. Two years ago, Bush marked the Mexican holiday by praising Fox as "a fine man, a man of powerful ideas and a great vision for his country."

No one ranks lower on the outsider list than French President Jacques Chirac, whose government led opposition to the war at the United Nations and at NATO.

"I doubt he'll be coming to the ranch any time soon," Bush told NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw in a recent interview.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is another persona non grata at the White House. He ran afoul of U.S. officials by tapping into anti-American sentiment in Germany during his re-election campaign. He compounded that offense by siding with Chirac against the war.

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