Friday, June 18, 2004

Europeans are NOT easily fooled...

Fully aware that Bush's new conciliatory approach is directly tied to the upcoming U.S. election, Europeans react cooly to the guy, fully aware that IF (Heaven forbid) he is reelected, it will be business as usual as he drags the world into a war of...civilizations.

Obviously, policies implemented by Bush and his "neoconservative" cohorts have transformed the world into a MUCH more dangerous place than it was before 9/11.

What had been a relatively small group of terrorists, has grown into a full fledged uprising throughout the Middle East, with Iraq, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia figuring prominently in the picture and thousands of young people joining the call for Jihad.

Bush-Cheney continue making noises about the Saddam-Osama connection totally ignoring the fact that al Qaeda connections can be found in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Yemen, Sudan, Syria and Iran, to mention just a few, but...were NOT present in Iraq before U.S. war mongers decided to drag our nation into an UNprovoked war.

Der Spiegel (Germany) - June 14, 2004

New York Times - June 18, 2004

Summit Meeting

Bush's New Conciliatory Approach by Ralf Beste and Stefan Simons -

Diplomacy in an election year: At the G8 conference on Sea Island, the beleaguered US president uses the once-shunned representatives of "Old Europe" as political props. But this staged harmony does a poor job of concealing continuing differences.

George W. Bush has selected politically correct terrain for his next trip. At next week's summit meeting in Dublin, the US president plans to meet with Bertie Ahern, the Irish prime minister and current president of the European Council. His principal objective is to improve relations between the United States and the European Union. Despite the summit's mundane agenda, Bush' excursion to the Green Isle, which will include spending a night at picturesque Dromoland Castle, is more than just diplomatic routine. It's been more than a year since the US president jeopardized traditional alliances and alienated America's long-time friends by invading Iraq, and since Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ridiculed opponents of the bloody adventure as representatives of an "Old Europe." And now Bush has suddenly rediscovered politicians, chided until recently, as valuable negotiating partners.

The US president, beleaguered at home more than ever since the beginning of his term in office three and a half years ago, is now looking for support wherever he can find it. Visits to friendly nations are intended to distract the public from the bloody conflict in Iraq and from bothersome problems on the political home front. A photo op with the frail Pope John Paul II, a handshake with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi – at this point, Bush welcomes any opportunity to portray himself as a dynamic, world-class politician.

Just as the campaign begins to heat up, the president's image and popularity have reached a dramatic low point. Neither the installation of the new transitional government in Baghdad nor local cease-fires have reduced the intensity of the bloody conflict in Iraq. Attacks are also on the rise in the supposedly pacified Afghanistan, where Chinese workers were massacred just last week near Kunduz. It gets even worse: Last Thursday, the successes Bush has proclaimed in the global fight against terrorism ("The world has become a safer place") proved to be nothing but an embarrassing error in government statistics. In reality, the number of attacks and deaths in 2003 increased in comparison to the previous year. In light of such failures and Bush' declining standing in public opinion polls, his political supporters are now being forced into the role of cheerleaders, their sole objective being to improve the image of the US president. It is for this reason that Bush, at the recent celebration commemorating the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landing in Normandy, portrayed himself as the conciliatory leader of a superpower. Disagreements over Iraq? Forgotten and forgiven. Instead, historic friendships were celebrated at old battlefields and military cemeteries.

And when the world's political elite came together in Washington last Friday to attend the state funeral for Ronald Reagan, the Republican descendant of the 40th US president attempted to portray himself as the worthy heir of a man who has been elevated to the status of national hero, a man who, in Bush's words, was a "defender of freedom." The G8 meeting on summery, chic Sea Island, where father George and mother Barbara spent their honeymoon in 1945, was also intended to present George W. Bush as a leisurely, though perhaps not legendary, communicator. Instead of arriving in armor-plated limousines, guests were treated to cheerful rides on golf carts. Instead of a rigid dress code, the attire was leisurely. And, instead of difficult round-table debates, there were relaxed strolls on the beach.

The three-day excursion conveyed the impression of collective harmony and portrayed candidate George W. as a casual buddy, someone who could solve the most complex political problems in the twinkling of an eye while engaging in small talk with "Tony," "Gerhard," "Vladimir" and his remaining G8 guests. At the end of the day, however, the conclusion was simple: "Mission not accomplished." In spite of pleasant temperatures, Bush's summer guests turned out to be not nearly as sunny as the President would have liked. Public expressions of empathy notwithstanding, the US president was forced to accept a series of disappointments.

There was general agreement on the matter of Israel's plans for withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, and the summit attendees were unanimous in calling upon the parties to the civil war in Sudan to accept a cease-fire. However, aside from a few other, relatively non-controversial items, such as efforts to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the joint training of peacekeeping troops for Africa, host Bush was given a rather undiplomatic brush-off. His grandiose vision of democratic reform and a new economic order in the Arab world, announced months ago? Reduced to a modest call for reform. NATO deployment in Iraq? Off the table, at least for now. A generous debt cancellation plan for the new government in Baghdad? Generally rejected. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and French President Jacques Chirac, who, consistently wearing a suit and tie, also distanced himself from the group in terms of attire, formed a well-functioning tandem of "nein" or "non"-sayers. With a straightforwardness bordering on rudeness, Chirac criticized the Middle East initiative championed by Bush. In commenting on the plan, perceived by many Arab states as nothing but crass meddling on the part of the US, the Frenchman sarcastically said that the countries in the region "have no need for missionaries of democracy." Instead, Chirac called for a partnership based on "pragmatism, respect, trust and dialogue," and was seconded by Chancellor Schröder, who said that "changes should not come from the outside."

In explaining his concessions to the public after the meeting, Bush clumsily said that "there were certainly concerns that we want the world to look like America. This will not happen." The US president was also forced to admit defeat in his cause of achieving the cancellation of Iraq's debt, which has grown to 120 billion dollars in monetary claims among other countries (Germany: 5.3 billion). The attendees agreed that instead of relieving Iraq's burdens, the debts of the world's poorest countries should be reduced or cancelled entirely. However, the US president met with his most embarrassing rebuff when he proposed sending NATO combat troops to Iraq. Just as Bush had praised the recent UN resolution on the future of Iraq as a "great victory," and British Prime Minister Blair, Bush' closest European ally, had claimed that the rebels now face a "unified world," cracks began to form again in the much-lauded international solidarity. Because NATO troops are already deployed in Iraq, Bush hedged, "NATO should be involved there. We will work with our NATO friends so that they can at least continue to play the role they have assumed until now or, hopefully, expand it a little further."

"Not opportune," was Chirac's prompt and direct response, "I have the greatest reservations in this regard." Chancellor Schröder's reaction was also not particularly encouraging to Bush. During a meeting between the two leaders, the US president showered his visitor with compliments, chatted about his dog Barney, and even praised Foreign Minister "Jokscha" Fischer's Middle East policies. But when it came to the subject of Iraq, the American found little support in the beguiled chancellor. In a vaguely worded statement after the meeting, a Bush aide commented that "no attempt was made to come to an agreement over details." Schröder was more straightforward, saying that, in the past, the Americans had wanted NATO to "replace the coalition" in Iraq. This, according to Schröder, is no longer on the table. Schröder laconically referred to the US' change in position as "remarkable."

In an interview with Der Spiegel the next day, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer expressed a somewhat different view: If the Iraqis ask for NATO deployment, one cannot "slam the door in Baghdad's face." However, even Chancellor Schröder was surprised by Bush' flexibility. Late in the evening, sitting in front of the fireplace at an elite golf club, he reflected on German-American relations: "Six months ago, I would have said that the US' willingness to be flexible is a complete impossibility." The diplomatic truce is not likely to last. Disagreement over "substantial debt forgiveness" for Iraq, which, in diplomatic jargon, amounts to about 80 percent of the country's debts, has simply been postponed. And when the Middle East quartet (United States, UN, EU and Russia) meets in mid-June, transatlantic unity is likely to fall apart again over differing interpretations of the so-called roadmap. Although Gerhard Schröder also has few illusions about the recent reconciliation, he was reluctant to issue a prognosis: "not too optimistic," said the Chancellor.

Of course, even these words could not deter the US president from his untiring attempt to play the role of the host: "Freedom is underway in the Middle East," he loudly proclaimed at the closing press conference in the Savannah convention center. Fully assuming the stance of the victor, Bush said: "This summit came at a decisive moment." The clueless Bush even tried to put a positive face on his meeting with his toughest opponent, President Chirac. When the Frenchman praised the local American cuisine, Bush maliciously gloated over his feared opponent's culinary discovery: "And he was especially fond of our cheeseburgers." "Excellent," Chirac agreed, and concluded with an epicurean assessment of the feel-good atmosphere during the G-8 summit meeting on Sea Island: airy shell, artificial aroma, little substance. <<


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