The Ugly American

2 June 2004, Charles A. Kupchan


President Bush heads to Europe this week, the beginning of a monthlong diplomatic whirlwind. He starts with a visit to Rome to see the pope and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, heads to France for the 60th anniversary of D-Day, returns to Sea Island, Ga., for the G-8 summit of major industrialized nations and then goes back to Europe for summits with the European Union in Ireland and with NATO in Turkey.

Ordinarily, a first-term incumbent in the homestretch of his bid for reelection would relish a month of high-profile summitry. Americans like their president to be presidential, and globe-trotting on Air Force One usually fits the bill.

But these events will be anything but an opportunity for Bush to revel in diplomatic achievements. The gathering in Normandy is meant to celebrate America's strategic bond with Europe, but holding a eulogy for the Atlantic alliance would be more fitting. The leaders of the G-8 nations will no doubt maintain a facade of unity and declare their shared commitment to bringing about political reform in the Middle East, but only by skirting around the immediate crises in Iraq and in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. At both the E.U. and NATO summits, Bush will be greeted by leaders and publics alike that are deeply skeptical and resentful of Washington's bravado and bluster.

Europe today is home to a rising tide of angry anti-American sentiment. Recent polling by the Pew Research Center indicates that almost two-thirds of the public in France and Germany hold an "unfavorable" opinion of the United States. America's standing in the world has plummeted under Bush's watch, and the Atlantic alliance has been stretched to the breaking point.

Although America and Europe were on a collision course before al-Qaida's attacks on New York and Washington, the angry vulnerability bred by 9/11 made matters much worse. Bush might have capitalized on the outpouring of sympathy in Europe. For the first time in its history, NATO invoked its collective defense clause, with America's European allies ready to participate in the war in Afghanistan. "Thanks, but no thanks" was the response from Washington.

The resulting pique in Europe only mounted as the Bush administration, satisfied-- erroneously-- that it had dealt a debilitating blow to the Taliban and al-Qaida, set its sights on Saddam Hussein. Led by France and Germany, the antiwar coalition in Europe contended that an invasion of Iraq would set back, not advance, the fight against terrorism and that it would flame rather than tame Islamic fervor across the Middle East. Although a few European governments-- the British, Spanish, Italian and Polish most prominent among them-- backed Bush's decision to invade Iraq, public opinion, even in the countries that supported the U.S., was decidedly opposed to the war.

Since the fall of Hussein, Europe's pro-war coalition has markedly weakened for a number of reasons. First, Washington's main justifications for the war quickly evaporated, and, instead, the region is in turmoil and al-Qaida recruitment has jumped. Second, the current violence and chaos in Iraq look much more like occupation than liberation. Finally, the prisoner abuse scandal has provoked outrage across Europe, drying up what little sympathy remained.

Thus far, Spain, deeply shaken by the Madrid bombings, is the only major member of the military coalition in Iraq to head for the exits. But British Prime Minister Tony Blair is fighting for his political life as a result of his relationship with Bush and his support for the war. And Italy's center-left opposition is now calling for the withdrawal of Italian troops from Iraq, making Berlusconi's government increasingly unstable.

Poland's prime minister, a supporter of the war, has already stepped down, and President Alexander Kwasniewski is at pains to demonstrate the war's benefits to his electorate. Polish troops are dying in Iraq, Polish firms have yet to receive major reconstruction contracts and Bush has repeatedly rebuffed Kwasniewski's requests that Washington grant Polish tourists visa-free access to the United States.

Bush will arrive in Rome on Friday hoping to resuscitate the Atlantic alliance and get more European help in Iraq-- worthy objectives whose accomplishment would certainly shore up his bid for reelection in November. But he will have no such luck. Instead, he will find a Europe that has no intention whatsoever of bailing him out of the quagmire in Iraq.

At least as troubling, the president will find a Europe that has grown not just anti-Bush, but decidedly anti-American. During a recent visit to Europe, I met an anxious American father who has been living in Germany for over a decade. His children attend local public schools. They are now being taunted and isolated at school because they are Americans. Two weeks ago, a friend entered a dance club in Berlin wearing a pin showing the German and U.S. flags side by side. She was turned away by the bouncer, who announced that he was no fan of German-American friendship.

These are sad commentaries on the damage the Bush administration has done and could potentially still do to America's image abroad. If younger Europeans come of age with anti-American attitudes, the task of rescuing the Atlantic alliance-- to whomever it falls-- may well be out of reach.

Is this a "mission accomplished?"

Complete article: The Ugly American

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