In a recent posting, I lamented that the transatlantic rift we’ve been navigating for the past three years was characterized by a lot of hot air, that disagreements were patched over when it was domestically convenient, when all the major players could declare reconciliation without conceding defeat.

The first test of the post-State-of-the-Union rhetoric comes now, as Bush arrives in Brussels and begins his short tour of the Continent, an apparent extending of the olive branch to obstinate Old Europe. There are many reasons to be hopeful about this visit. Europeans say Bush has finally learned that it is better to work with – rather than against – his allies. Americans, too, are declaring this a pivotal foreign policy moment in Bush’s presidency.

But before we jump for joy, there are also reasons for doubt. Part of this whole "hot air" thing I’ve been going on about has to do with the rather disheartening (but not unusual) fact that many of the major players in this transatlantic squabble – Chirac, Schröder and others – have been allowing domestic politics to govern their foreign policy rhetoric. In other words, what they are publicly saying about foreign policy is often just a bunch of hooey, neither reflecting their national interests nor improving their posture in global politics. Rather, it’s a way of shoring up general domestic support in times when many European governments are disliked for domestic policy reasons. Jim Hoagland, of the Washington Post, puts it better than I do:

"Official U.S. thinking still underestimates how thoroughly foreign
policy has become the leading instrument of domestic politics in a
number of European countries that no longer face the threat of a Soviet
invasion. Large Muslim minorities in their midst also complicate
European calculations on Atlanticism. If Schroeder and Chirac join on
"multipolarity," it is because they face the same domestic imperatives."

It also remains to be seen, of course, if Bush himself is serious about cooperation. His and Rice’s visits with European leaders would suggest that he is. And Rice, being close as she is to her boss, may prove to be a more effective negotiator than her predecessor, striking hard bargains with our allies, but bargains that would be honored more faithfully by the Administration. I hope. I hope. I hope.

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In a recent posting, I lamented that the transatlantic rift we’ve been navigating for the past three years was characterized by a lot of hot air, that disagreements were patched over when it was domestically convenient, when all the major players could declare reconciliation without conceding defeat.

The first test of the post-State-of-the-Union rhetoric comes now, as Bush arrives in Brussels and begins his short tour of the Continent, an apparent extending of the olive branch to obstinate Old Europe. There are many reasons to be hopeful about this visit. Europeans say Bush has finally learned that it is better to work with – rather than against – his allies. Americans, too, are declaring this a pivotal foreign policy moment in Bush’s presidency.

But before we jump for joy, there are also reasons for doubt. Part of this whole "hot air" thing I’ve been going on about has to do with the rather disheartening (but not unusual) fact that many of the major players in this transatlantic squabble – Chirac, Schröder and others – have been allowing domestic politics to govern their foreign policy rhetoric. In other words, what they are publicly saying about foreign policy is often just a bunch of hooey, neither reflecting their national interests nor improving their posture in global politics. Rather, it’s a way of shoring up general domestic support in times when many European governments are disliked for domestic policy reasons. Jim Hoagland, of the Washington Post, puts it better than I do:

"Official U.S. thinking still underestimates how thoroughly foreign
policy has become the leading instrument of domestic politics in a
number of European countries that no longer face the threat of a Soviet
invasion. Large Muslim minorities in their midst also complicate
European calculations on Atlanticism. If Schroeder and Chirac join on
"multipolarity," it is because they face the same domestic imperatives."

It also remains to be seen, of course, if Bush himself is serious about cooperation. His and Rice’s visits with European leaders would suggest that he is. And Rice, being close as she is to her boss, may prove to be a more effective negotiator than her predecessor, striking hard bargains with our allies, but bargains that would be honored more faithfully by the Administration. I hope. I hope. I hope.

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Maybe Bush and Rice’s visit show their possible interest in cooperating with Europe and the rest of the world, as there are indeed many Muslims in Europe, nomination of John R. Bolton as the ambassador to the United Nations, in my eyes, proves otherwise.


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