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Archive for Sunday, June 8, 2008

Europeans already looking past Bush

June 8, 2008

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— President Bush's motorcade will speed through European capitals next week, but for many Europeans, the Bush presidency already is in their rearview mirrors.

Trans-Atlantic relations are on the upswing as European leaders have moved beyond their anger over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Still, anti-Bush sentiment runs high on the streets, though that is being mollified by Europeans' excitement about the race for Bush's successor.

Like many Americans, Europeans have Bush fatigue. Many believe Barack Obama and John McCain will have different positions - perhaps more favorable - than Bush on issues important to Europe. The president continues promoting his agenda on climate change, Mideast peace and world trade issues, yet his influence has ebbed.

"I'm sure there will be some protests, but I think people are just looking past this guy at this point and they're interested in what comes next," said James M. Goldgeier, an expert on Europe at the Council on Foreign Relations.

"There's no reason for any leader to give him anything because he's on the way out. You have a presidency that's losing energy, is consumed by Iraq and a president who is unpopular, in general, in Europe and people are looking beyond him," Goldgeier said.

Bush's weeklong farewell trip to Slovenia, Germany, Italy, France and the United Kingdom is not Bush's final goodbye to his European counterparts. He sees them again at a summit next month in Japan.

Yet as he completes the final leg of his presidency, the trip to Central and Western Europe is one of Bush's last chances to lay the groundwork for U.S.-European relations for his successor.

Bush will ask for Europe's help in Afghanistan and push for stronger penalties against Iran to discourage Tehran from developing nuclear weapons. Europe will nudge Bush forward on a blueprint for global warming. Talks also will touch on humanitarian aid, the world food crisis, Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, Lebanon and economic integration of both sides of the Atlantic.

Europeans know more about McCain, a longtime senator who frequently has traveled abroad, than they do about Obama.

Obama has stirred curiosity. After he clinched enough delegates for the Democratic presidential nomination, The Times of London said in an editorial that his campaign "has rekindled America's faith in its prodigious powers of reinvention - and the world's admiration for America."

America's image around the world has taken a bruising under Bush's watch. But while there will be a new president in January, some of the country's chief concerns probably continue along.

"Once President Bush is out of the White House, there will be huge expectations in Europe that a new rosy dawn of peace and love is appearing over the Atlantic and they're liable to be somewhat disappointed because America is still going to look after its own interests and the fundamental interests may not have changed that much," said Reginald Dale, Europe program director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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