This week, the US president will make a farewell tour through Europe, even though the Bush presidency is already in the rearview mirrors for European.
The anti-Bush sentiment, running high on the streets, is being mollified by excitement among Europeans, about the race to replace George W. Bush. And as leaders have moved beyond their anger over the US-led invasion of Iraq, Trans-Atlantic relations are on the upswing.
Like Americans, Europeans are showing signs of Bush fatigue. On issues important to Europe, many believe that Barack Obama and John McCain will have different positions, perhaps more favorable.
Despite the decline of his influence, the US president keeps on promoting his agenda on issues such as climate change, peace in the Middle East and world trade.
“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 Goldgeier, a specialist 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.
Mr Bush’s trip will take him to Slovenia, Germany, Italy, France and Britain. But it is not his final goodbye to his European counterparts, as he will see them again next month, at a summit meeting in Japan.
Not expected to yield any new agreements, this trip is one of Bush’s last chance to lay the groundwork for US-European relations for his successor, as he completes the final leg of his presidency.
‘Powers of reinvention’
President Bush will ask for Europe’s help in Afghanistan and push for stronger penalties against Iran, in order to discourage Tehran from developing its nuclear program. And European leaders will nudge Bush forward on a blueprint for global warming.
Humanitarian aid, the world food crisis, Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, Lebanon and economic integration of both sides of the Atlantic will also be part of the talks.
As for next US president, Europeans know more about the Republican John McCain (photo), a longtime senator who frequently has traveled abroad, than they do about Barack Obama, a newcomer to the world stage.
After clinching enough delegates for the Democratic presidential nomination, Mr Obama has stirred curiosity. In an editorial, The Times of London said that his campaign “has rekindled America’s faith in its prodigious powers of reinvention – and the world’s admiration for America.”
Under president Bush’s watch, America’s image around the world has taken a bruising. But as there will be a new president in January, some of the country’s chief concerns will probably resurface.
“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.
Europeans may not be comfortable with the stances of the candidates concerning Iran.
John McCain already said he favors tougher penalties against Iran and opposes direct high-level talks with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
More European troops to Afghanistan
Barack Obama (photo) started by saying that he would meet Mr Ahmadinejad without preconditions. But now, the Illinois senator says he is not sure that Iran’s president is the “right person to meet with right now”.
Direct diplomacy with Iranian leaders would give more credibility to Washington to press for additional international penalties, said Mr Obama, if that approach is in the national security interests of the U.S. and its allies.
But recently in Washington, in front of the Aipac, a pro-Israel lobby group, the Illinois senator said : “I will always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend our security and our ally, Israel.”
Both Obama and McCain have said they want European countries to send more troops to Afghanistan and have hinted they want to see Europe spend a larger share of its money on defense.
On global warming, Europe expects it will have more common ground with Bush’s successor.
But according to Dan Price, deputy national security adviser for international affairs, that was not necessarily true. He said Bush administration officials have argued that any future US administration would probably not sign a new climate treaty that did not include binding commitments from the major emerging economies to address their own emissions.
Fast-growing countries like China and India must be involved in a negotiated solution, insisted president Bush.