Reading through the printed media this morning, we were left wondering whether there was anything more to say about the Bush speech last night.
On reflection, perhaps the main thing we could add – although it is a point we have made before - is that the Bush visit is almost certainly for domestic consumption.
We are informed that the main aim is for Bush to make emollient noises to the "Europeans", with warm-sounding calls for co-operation, not in any expectation of a genuine response or sea-change in European attitudes, but as a marker for the future.
When, as is certainly the case, unresolved differences bubble to the fore and impact heavily on the domestic front, Bush will be able to turn to his own people and remind them that he sought co-operation. Then, the expected lack of a positive European response will not be of his doing.
That, in its own way, will pave the way for Bush's own brand of multi-lateralism and justify his by-passing the EU as a power-bloc. He will, with a clear conscience, be able to approach individual member states to form or maintain his own coalitions of the willing.
But what is singular about the response to the speech is the attempts by fringe Europhiles to read into the speech an endorsement of the EU which simply is not there. Much is made of a single passage in Bush’s speech, where he says:
The spread of freedom has helped to resolve old disputes, and the enlargement of Nato and the European Union have made partners out of former rivals. America supports Europe's democratic unity for the same reason we support the spread of democracy in the Middle East - because freedom leads to peace. And America supports a strong Europe because we need a strong partner in the hard work of advancing freedom in the world.In particular, the phrase "America supports Europe's democratic unity" has been picked out as implying support for European integration, heedless of the fact that in the preceding sentence, Bush speaks of Nato and the European Union in the same breath.
From that and the speech in general, The Guardian manages to suggest that
Many Europeans will take comfort in the fact that the president went out of his way to treat the EU so seriously. Gone was the sense, such a damaging element of the Iraq crisis, that the US would cherry-pick "willing allies" among compliant "new" Europeans. Now he favours "a strong Europe", not for its own sake, which may be fair enough, but "because we need a strong partner in the hard work of advancing freedom in the world".Yes, Bush did say that "America supports a strong Europe", but in no way can that be construed as singling out the European Union. If he had meant the EU, he would surely have said so. And he could hardly have said that America supports a weak Europe. All he was doing was uttering that "motherhood and apple pie" type of phrasing that was bound to bring applause but is essentially meaningless without elaboration.
Whether he is going to get that "strong Europe" is also very much open to debate. Even at its most ambitious, the EU militant aims only to filed a rapid reaction force of 60,000 troops – but without the advance equipment, logistics or heavy lift capability that will make it credible and, from an article in Euractive today we read that:
The time has come for Europe to exert itself and claim its place as a global player that is becoming a civil superpower. Europe is beginning to rival the US in terms of global influence and soft power. President Bush must come to terms with the emerging new Europe - strong and united, with its own foreign policy and a common security and defence policy.A "civil superpower" eh? That's a new one, but not one that will have the mad mullahs or Al Quaida shaking in its shoes - about as effective as a rubber tank.
Perhaps Mark Steyn has it in his Telegraph piece when he suggests that "this week we're toasting the end of an idea: the death of 'the West'", which can't be far wrong if the best the EU can ever aspire to is a military force something less than half the size of the US Marine Corps and the prospect of a "civil superpower".
However, with Bush this morning meeting first Tony Blair and then moving on to Nato, the latest report from Reuters gives a better indication of what is going on.
Contrary to Schröder's speech last week, where the German chancellor sought to portray Nato as "outdated", Bush came out from his meeting with Blair with a resounding vote of confidence in the Atlantic treaty, declaring:
NATO is a vital relationship for the United States and for Europe. A strong Europe is very important to the United States, and I really meant that.Once again we see the reference to "a strong Europe" but this time no mention of the European Union. In those terms, a strong Europe is a Europe within Nato. And it is through Nato, rather than the EU that Bush is looking for more support in Iraq and Afghanistan, with an offer from "Nato members" to train Iraqi police on the table.
Hence a senior Bush administration official is stating that: "…I would say that Nato is more unified today on Iraq, Afghanistan and the other major issues in the alliance than at any time in the last three years. There is a much better tone." Again, no mention of the European Union.
This afternoon, Bush is at the heart of the evil empire, at the EU commission, meeting the EU commission president Barroso. There, he may adjust his language to include some references to the European Union but, as the grunts used to say in VietNam, "it don't mean nuffin".