Reading between the lines in Bush’s little phrase-book

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Series Details Vol.7, No.24, 14.6.01, p2
Publication Date 14/06/2001
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Date: 14/06/01

By Craig Winneker

TO BORROW from the strange new political lexicon currently in favour in Washington, George W. Bush's visit to Europe this week could perhaps best be described as 'phrase-based'.

Such emerging terms of art as "rogue states", "sound science" and "active trade" have been deployed at every whistle-stop on the President's five-day itinerary to explain the US's controversial actions on defence, the environment and commerce, with decidedly mixed results.

But the real measure of Bush's success on his first official visit to the continent will not come from grip-and-grin photo-ops or flowery joint statements promising cooperation and everlasting friendship.

And it won't be found by analysing Bush's malapropisms (he turned the Spanish prime minister's last name into the word for "goose" and has had trouble pronouncing "nook-yoo-lur") or his tongue-tied platitudes (pity the translators at Saturday's meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, to whom Bush has promised to articulate his view that "the whole doctrine of blowing each other an ancient doctrine").

Rather it will be determined by whether he can lay the ground work for dealing with a range of key foreign policy challenges, including defence, trade and the environment.

On these matters Bush will rely heavily on his impressive roster of advisors - many of whom, including US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and Secretary of State Colin Powell, have already shown they can work successfully with European leaders.

There are, however, still signs that some on the Bush team consider Europe's leaders to be little more than a collection of socialist do-goodniks.

One US official was quoted in the New York Times yesterday (13 June) belittling EU leaders for being unrealistically principled over environmental issues. "I wish I were that pure again," he said. "I really wish I could be Swedish."

Rhetorical darts like that don't help on the public-relations front, especially since Bush's trip was meant from the start to be a kind of sales call - or, as one US diplomat put it, a 'get-to-know-me' mission.

In some ways it was cleverly planned as such. By making his first stop in Spain, where conservatives are in power, Bush took advantage of the soft landing and scored a mildly enthusiastic endorsement of his missile-defence plan, which has often been derided as 'faith-based'.

He also got to flash his (admittedly underwhelming) Spanish-language skills, thus scoring cheap political points with Hispanic voters in the US.

The middle portion of the trip, with stops in Brussels and Göteborg, disposed of the politically sensitive NATO and EU policy stuff quickly, though not without the expected public demonstrations and ever-so-polite disagreements.

The dramatic finale comes in Poland and Slovenia, where the world can be expected to hold its breath as the leaders of the world's two biggest "nook-yoo-lur" powers talk about how not to "blow each other up".

The media have dubbed Bush's trip a 'charm offensive' and, without a doubt, he's achieved half of his goal.

The question that policy-makers will have to wrestle with in the near future is whether it's the 'charm' half or perhaps the other bit.

  • Craig Winneker was formerly an editor with Roll Call newspaper and Capital Style magazine in Washington.

Article considers the impact of President Bush's five-day visit to Europe in June 2001.

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