Monday, February 21, 2005

President Bush continues to disappoint (not!)

[Health warning: this posting, too, will be analyzing President Bush’s visit and what he said. Some of our readers, with weak nervous systems, will find it hard going.]

There was, unsurprisingly, very little that was unexpected in President Bush’s speech this evening. He talked much about the need to fight for freedom and democracy, in the Middle East and in Eastern Europe.

He criticized Russia as strongly as he could:

“I also believe that Russia's future lies within the family of Europe and the transatlantic community. America supports WTO membership for Russia, because meeting WTO standards will strengthen the gains of freedom and prosperity in that country. Yet, for Russia to make progress as a European nation, the Russian government must renew a commitment to democracy and the rule of law.

We recognize that reform will not happen overnight. We must always remind Russia, however, that our alliance stands for a free press, a vital opposition, the sharing of power, and the rule of law -- and the United States and all European countries should place democratic reform at the heart of their dialogue with Russia.”

This contrasted strongly with the warm words he spoke about developments in Ukraine, Afghanistan and Iraq.

He spoke, as expected, about the alliance between North America and Europe and the need for a strong, united Europe. One cannot help thinking that what he had in mind was a Europe strongly united in its support for the United States and the western alliance.

Nor did Bush show himself entirely unaware of problems in Western Europe:
“As we seek freedom in other nations, we must also work to renew the values that make freedom possible. As I said in my Inaugural Address, we cannot carry the message of freedom and the baggage of bigotry at the same time. We must reject anti-Semitism from any source, and we must condemn violence such as we have witnessed in the Netherlands. All our nations must work to integrate minorities into the mainstream of society, and to teach the value of tolerance to each new generation.”
For the first time in many years there was an open call for Syrian forces to leave Lebanon. Yes, I know there was a Security Council Resolution 1559, but who has mentioned it in a very long time? President Bush has lived up to what he said would be the theme of his second administration: freedom and democracy.
“This strategy is not American strategy, or European strategy, or Western strategy. Spreading liberty for the sake of peace is the cause of all mankind. This approach not only reduces a danger to free peoples; it honors the dignity of all peoples, by placing human rights and human freedom at the center of our agenda. And our alliance has the ability, and the duty, to tip the balance of history in favor of freedom.”
He spoke a good deal about the possibilities in the Middle East, especially in Palestine and talked a great deal of what both the Israelis and the Palestinians will have to do to achieve that much needed goal of two democratic states next to each other. (One, of course, is already in place.)

Interestingly, he said:
“And I appreciate the prominent role that Prime Minister Blair and other European leaders are playing in the cause of peace.”
The one thing he did not say was that he supported or even wanted the European Union. Instead, he mentioned individual leaders and talked about various European countries. In fact, he managed to refer to the fact that some European countries supported the war in Iraq while others did not. The great fault-line in Europe was not simply airbrushed out of the picture he was painting.

Clearly, President Bush, his administration and its advisers see Europe as united possibly but as separate states. Primarily, he sees Europe as a necessary ally or, rather, a group of necessary allies in the world-wide fight against terrorism but, more than that, the fight for freedom and democracy.

As to what view the Europeans themselves will take, he left it to them. Some have already shown that they are more interested in their mingy in-fighting and the construction of small-minded, inward-looking European Union.

Both Javier Solana and Chancellor Schröder have declared themselves effectively in being uninterested in the great project of taking freedom to countries that do not have it. Their interest lies in challenging America’s leadership even if they do not quite know what to do when they have challenged it.

At least President Chirac pretended to be pleased with the way things are going.

But, of course, with all the rejoicing, bridge-building and friendly meal-sharing, the problems remain. On Iran, Bush did not move much beyond what Secretary of State Rice had said.

“In Iran, the free world shares a common goal: For the sake of peace, the Iranian regime must end its support for terrorism, and must not develop nuclear weapons. In safeguarding the security of free nations, no option can be taken permanently off the table. Iran, however, is different from Iraq. We're in the early stages of diplomacy.

The United States is a member of the IAEA Board of Governors, which has taken the lead on this issue. We're working closely with Britain, France and Germany as they oppose Iran's nuclear ambitions, and as they insist that Tehran comply with international law. The results of this approach now depend largely on Iran. We also look for Iran to finally deliver on promised reform. The time has arrived for the Iranian regime to listen to the Iranian people, and respect their rights, and join in the movement toward liberty that is taking place all around them.”

China and the problem of the arms embargo that is to be lifted, the biggest problem from the American point of view (not to mention Japan, Taiwan and South Korea) was not mentioned.

Interestingly, though, as President Bush was on his way to Europe, senior Americand and Japanese officials issued a joint statement, that dealt mostly with the problem of North Korea but added that a peaceful Taiwan Strait was one of “the common strategic objectives”.

This was immediately criticized by the Chinese government as meddling in internal Chinese matters but welcomed by the Taiwanese government.

According to the Wall Street Journal Europe, EU officials will go to the United States soon after Bush’s return to try to sell the Americans the idea that lifting the arms embargo will not make a great deal of difference to the situation as the changes that are being made “to the EU’s general code of conduct on arms exports will restrict weapons sales to Beijing at least as much as the embargo”.

Not surprisingly, the newspaper thinks that American officials will remain unconvinced. Presumably, one question they will ask is what precisely is the point of lifting the embargo if the act will make no difference.

Well, where does that leave the so-called transatlantic rift and the more genuine rift within the European Union? Has anything changed with the two American visits?

Not a whole lot, would be the immediate answer. Of course, everybody is incredibly friendly at the moment (give or take the odd grouch from Javier Solana) but the future remains much the same.

America still insists that NATO should remain central to the western alliance while the EU is making noises about wanting to build up separate structures.

America wants a strong Europe as partner in the fight for freedom but that is hardly a revolutionary idea. And America is not saying anything about the new political structure, the European Union. On the contrary, the American President remains convinced that he can deal with many different European leaders and politicians. There was no talk of a single number to call.

What of the member states that have stood on America’s side? They do not seem to have been forgotten. Britain was mentioned separately, despite the fact that at least one reason was to mollify the French.

Tomorrow Blair and Bush will be having a private breakfast and, given the invidious position Britain is beginning to find herself, caught between greater security integration pushed forward by France and Germany and the need and desire to remain a firm American ally, the conversation should be interesting. Will the arms embargo be mentioned that time?

It is also notable that Bush is showing a soft spot for the East Europeans. While Condoleezza Rice travelled round western Europe, Bush was meeting Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski.

The President’s own journey will take him to Slovakia, where there is likely to be some trouble with President Putin, if the paragraph in today’s speech is anything to go by. But East Europeans do not mind if the Russian President is criticized. They feel more powerful, being allied to the West.

President Bush’s most obvious achievement is on the domestic front. He can now say firmly that he has done everything he could to strengthen transatlantic ties, even with countries like France and Germany. And if they show in the near future, as they almost certainly will, that they do not want to do the same, then he can say with some justification that it really is not his fault.

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