James Harding is the Washington bureau chief for London's Financial Times, which was considered "the most important media outlet" in Great Britain in a 2002 survey of 83 financial PR managers from around the world.  --  Harding casts a very moderately skeptical eye on George W. Bush's upcoming four-day trip to Europe next week.  --  In Harding's view "U.S. policy on a range of highly sensitive issues is in flux." ...

Comment & Analysis


By James Harding

Financial Times (UK)
February 17, 2005

http://news.ft.com/cms/s/405301fc-8121-11d9-adb4-00000e2511c8.html (subscribers only)

In the first month of its second term, the Bush administration has found a new watchword for U.S. foreign policy: "transformational diplomacy."

To sceptical ears, the phrase may sound like an Orwellian repackaging of the White House agenda -- a combination of the seemingly incompatible, much like the "compassionate conservatism" long prized by President George W. Bush. But as he heads to Europe this weekend, the catchphrase bandied about in recent weeks by Condoleezza Rice, the new secretary of state, will present a very real test for the president.

Can Mr. Bush pursue his transformational goal of spreading liberty, but by using a diplomatic arsenal, not a military one? Can neoconservative ends be achieved with realist means? Can the U.S. and Europe once again forge a transatlantic alliance to meet, in commentator Robert Kagan's terminology, the priorities of Mars by employing the methods of Venus?

"Transformational times require transformational diplomacy. The term is a fancy term, but it captures a real truth," says Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard and a prominent voice of neoconservative Washington. "The US is not now a status-quo power. That is unusual for a superpower. But the U.S. does not want to go around using military force everywhere."

Since his re-election, Mr. Bush's foreign policy has been marked by two things: an unrepentant idealism and a re-engagement with the opponents of the Iraq war.. At his inaugural address a month ago, Mr. Bush committed the U.S. to "the expansion of freedom in all the world." At the same time, he despatched Ms. Rice on a seven-day, eight-country charm offensive and resumed the telephone diplomacy interrupted by the Iraq war, calling the leaders of Germany, France, Russia, Mexico and other critics of the U.S.-led invasion.

On his trip to Europe, Mr. Bush will have to marry the same twin impulses -- the transformational and the diplomatic -- as he addresses a long list of fraught issues: nuclear proliferation in Iran, the future of Iraq, Syria's presence in Lebanon, peacemaking in the Middle East, the deterioration of Russian democracy and the lingering transatlantic arguments over climate change, the China arms embargo and the International Criminal Court.

First, though, Mr. Bush will set out to "transform" the tone of the U.S. relationship with Europe. After his dinner with French President Jacques Chirac on Monday and a visit to Nato headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday, Mr. Bush will make the most thorough visit by any U.S. president to institutions of the European Union: he will meet the European Council -- the heads of government -- and then cross the street to call on the European Commission.

"When Bush actually walks into the Berlaymont [the Commission headquarters], the symbolic meaning of that will be very important," says Wolfgang Ischinger, German ambassador in Washington. "It will clearly answer those who have a lingering suspicion that maybe America does not really want a more integrated Europe."

In 2002-03, the divisions within Europe cleaved by the Iraq war were, many Europeans suspected, widened by a Bush administration nervous about the rival power of a united Europe. Donald Rumsfeld, the defense secretary, sought to distinguish between obstructive "old Europe" and the "new Europe," lovers of freedom sprung from the Soviet bloc. Conservatives in Washington, some with close ties to the Bush administration, were seen to have had a hand in the drafting of joint letters by groups of pro-Iraq, pro-American leaders in Europe that created an alignment to isolate the Franco-German opposition.

The hesitancy within the Bush administration over the challenge posed by a more united, independent and assertive Europe (see below) has not altogether abated. A call last week by Gerhard Schröder, German chancellor, for a revamp of NATO has received a cool reception in Mr Bush's Washington, which has no appetite for enhancing Europe's military power under the guise of an institutional reordering of the Atlantic alliance.

But as Philip Gordon, director of the Center on the U.S. and Europe at the Brookings Institution, points out: "There is no question that they [the Bush administration] appreciate diplomacy more than they did in the first term . . . We have come to realize that allies and legitimacy are very useful."

For their part, the Europeans are coming to terms with the reality of the Bush presidency: "I think there is a recognition this president has got his mandate and speaks for a lot of Americans," says John Bruton, EU ambassador to the U.S.

The expectations of the atmospherics, therefore, are high. Mr Bush's meeting with Mr Schröder on Wednesday, for example, will be in Mainz, the city where his father, President George H. W. Bush warmed German hearts in 1989 with a speech that described Germany and the US as "partners in leadership". (While in Mainz, Mr. Bush is also expected to inspect the first Gutenberg bible.)

The enduring measure of success will, inevitably, be substance not style -- and, on the question of how far Mr. Bush can enlist the Europeans in the pursuit of his "transformational diplomacy," the outlook is decidedly mixed.

The positives -- and for the first time in two years, there really are positives -- include the democratic developments in Ukraine and hopes of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. In his speech in Brussels on Monday, Mr. Bush is expected to herald the work the EU did in advancing democracy in Ukraine at the end of last year. When he addresses a crowd of Slovak people in Bratislava on Thursday, Mr. Bush will remind his audience of how the U.S. and Europe worked together to defeat Communism.

Syria represents a front on which Mr. Bush and Mr. Chirac already have a history of co-operation. Washington's eagerness to ratchet up the diplomatic pressure on Damascus after the Beirut bomb attack that this week killed Rafiq Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister, may jar with the more measured approach preferred by Paris, but the U.S. and French leaders share a determination to see the end of Syria's meddlesome presence in Lebanon.

Having just pledged $350m to help build up the Palestinian government and left open the White House door to Mahmoud Abbas, the newly elected Palestinian president, Mr. Bush comes with tangible evidence that the U.S. shares European hopes for an equitable Middle East settlement.

"People want to 'make nice' and the Middle East is moving, that's good for everyone," says Tony Blinken, the former Bill Clinton aide who is now the senior Democratic staffer on the Senate foreign relations committee. But, he continues, there are "fundamental differences on the way forward" on a range of other foreign policy priorities.

The most profound and, arguably, most important disagreement between Mr. Bush and Europe looms on Iran. While Germany, France and Britain have, though diplomacy, been seeking a commitment from Tehran to stop its uranium enrichment program, the U.S. policy has been to stand by. The Bush administration will not offer incentives to the mullahs of the Iranian revolution to disarm. The Europeans say that means their troika faces disappointment. "The likelihood of success is not great -- probably 30 per cent. If the U.S. joins in in some way, maybe it could increase to 55-60 per cent," says one diplomat.

White House officials are at pains to point out that Mr. Bush is not making preparations for war in Iran. For one thing, his own Republican party balks at the prospect. The Pentagon, for another, has made plain it is already overstretched given the long-term commitment in Iraq. Still, conservatives in Washington have no appetite for rapprochement with the current regime in Iran. One former senior Bush administration official points out that Mr. Bush has made clear the U.S. will not tolerate a nuclear Iran: "This is a president who should be taken at his word."

On Iran, as one European official drily puts it: ."The differences are more than nuances." In making the case for applying a mixture of economic enticement and diplomatic pressure, Europeans are eager to remind Mr. Bush of the power of the West's "transformational diplomacy" in ending the Cold War and liberating central and eastern Europe. But Mr. Kristol wonders whether Iran will test the limits of diplomacy's powers: "If transformational diplomacy gets to the point of regime change, there is a question over whether that can be done peacefully."

The divergence over Iraq could not have been more clear, but, both sides agree, it is closing. Mr. Bush and his European counterparts will strike a forward-looking note next week, acknowledging their differences over the invasion but emphasizing the shared enthusiasm for last month's Iraqi elections and a common determination to realize a secure and democratic Iraq.

Europe's support promises to be more political than practical. White House officials say they expect constructive statements but not a large increase in on-the-ground assistance. Mr. Gordon at Brookings describes a "minimalist deal" at the heart of the Bush trip: "American engagement in the Middle East, more European support for Iraq . . . It falls well short of the support we want, but Europeans will start politically supporting the process more."

The most obvious test for the "transformational diplomacy" touted by the Bush administration, though, will come on the final day of Mr Bush's trip, when he meets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Bratislava.

"That's where the rubber hits the road," says Michael McFaul, a Russia specialist at the Hoover Institution. "This is the first real test of Bush's liberty doctrine. It is one thing to talk about freedom and liberty before a group of supporters in Washington DC; it is another thing to talk about it in a serious way with Vladimir Putin."

The agenda for the Bush-Putin meeting is counter-terrorism and combating nuclear proliferation, with particular consideration paid to the stalled six-party talks on North Korea. But Mr. Bush is under pressure to show he is not blinded to the damage many believe the Russian leader is inflicting on his fledgling democracy.

The U.S.-EU agenda is, inevitably, filled with a slew of other vexing issues. There is disdain on Capitol Hill for Europe's plans to lift the arms embargo on China. As Mr. Bush seeks to mend fences, he is expected to raise the issue but, one Congressional aide says, he will not "stick it in the eye" of his European counterparts. The Europeans -- and certainly Tony Blair, British prime minister -- hold out faint hope of a signal from Mr. Bush that the U.S. takes concerns about climate change seriously.

But the fact that Mr. Bush is making the first overseas trip of his second term not simply to Europe but to engage there with his most vehement critics is welcomed by admirers and detractors alike. Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser under President Jimmy Carter, says Mr. Bush's trip is an "excellent" starting point for transatlantic renewal. But "lectures and gestures," he says, will not deal with the problem: "He has to strategize, seriously and jointly."

The drift in U.S.-EU relations "is serious, it is long-lasting, but it can be redressed," Mr. Brzezinski adds. "It will take a very sustained effort on both sides. Let's hope Bush's trip is the beginning of it, but slogans about transformational diplomacy have to make you wonder: 'Who is being transformed?'"

The under-appreciated opportunity for Europe, perhaps, is that Mr. Bush, not by dint of personality but as a result of policy instability in Washington, comes with a greater capacity to listen. Senior Bush administration officials acknowledge that there have not only been sweeping personnel changes in the second-term administration but also that opportunities have been thrown open in the Middle East and new thinking forced by behavior from Moscow to Damascus, Tehran to Pyongyang. U.S. policy on a range of highly sensitive issues is in flux.

In that sense, diplomacy has already been transformed: Europe has an opportunity to sway the argument in Washington.


George W. Bush's first encounter with the massed ranks of European Union leaders was a testing experience for both sides, writes Daniel Dombey. The summit, in Sweden in June 2001, was characterised by anti-U.S. demonstrations, an uncomfortably minor role for Mr. Bush and a U.S.-EU dispute on the Kyoto protocol on climate change. And that was before war in Iraq brought transatlantic relations to a new low.

Mr. Bush's stay in Brussels next week promises to be very different. First of all, European leaders are pleased that it is such an extended trip, taking in both NATO and the EU.

"This is not the typical visit you expect," says Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy representative. "This is a gesture of reaching out towards Europe. There's no doubt about that."

Mr. Bush's path has been cleared by this month's well-received tour by Condoleezza Rice, his new secretary of state, across Europe and Middle East. While sticking to the administration's message of supporting the spread of freedom through regime change, Ms. Rice took pains to use conciliatory language and praise European integration at almost every turn.

U.S. and EU officials insist the challenges of today's world are so great that the two sides have no option but to work closely together. European officials have also reconciled themselves to working with Mr. Bush for four more years. "This is the president we've got," says one.

But the risk is that while the mood of next week's meetings will be warm the results will disappoint.

Both Republicans and Democrats are pushing Europe to do more in Iraq, particularly after the January 30 elections. Mr. Bush has just requested $5.7bn from Congress to train and equip Iraqi security forces.

The fruits of next week's summits should include incremental progress on Nato's own 20m euros ($26m) army training mission, a still smaller EU plan to train between 500 and 800 judges, police officers and administrators and confirmation of 200m euros of EU aid already announced. But this is less than Washington would like.

By contrast, while the Europeans want Mr. Bush's backing for their negotiations over Iran's nuclear program, U.S. participation in the talks remains deeply unlikely.

Mr. Bush will find that the differences between European countries that were evident in the rift over the war in Iraq have largely been healed. On dealing with Iran, and on the intention to lift the EU embargo on selling arms to China, there is barely any daylight between the U.K. -- Washington's chief ally in Iraq -- and France and Germany, the war's main opponents.

Diplomats such as Mr. Solana and Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO secretary-general, urge governments on both sides of the Atlantic to take a non-ideological, pragmatic approach that focuses on the tasks in hand. "We should do transatlantic relations rather than talk transatlantic relations," Mr. de Hoop Scheffer says.

Transatlantic partnership could depend less on a shared grand vision than on regular consultation to identify common ground and minimise disputes.

One example is the Chinese arms embargo, where informal EU-U.S. contacts could give the U.S. an effective veto over the transfer of sensitive technologies to Beijing.

But tensions between the Europeans' instinctive belief in "engagement" and the U.S.'s more muscular approach have not been resolved. And the push towards a more coherent EU foreign policy could still sow tensions in NATO, since the U.S. has warned that the appearance of an EU bloc in the institution would spell NATO's demise.

This month Mr. Schröder has already challenged NATO's traditional primacy in U.S.-European relations. Other leaders' reactions next week will do much to reveal the true state of the transatlantic relationship.


• Monday, February 21: Courtesy call on the King and Queen of Belgium; visit Guy Verhofstadt, Belgian prime minister; meet Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO secretary general; deliver a speech; host dinner for Jacques Chirac, French president

• Tuesday, February 22: Breakfast with Tony Blair, British prime minister; meeting with Silvio Berlusconi, Italian prime minister; visits to offices of NATO, the European Union and the European Commission

• Wednesday, February 23: Departure for Mainz, Germany; lunch and round-table meeting with Gerhard Schröder, chancellor; meet U.S. troops before leaving Germany. Arrive in Bratislava, Slovakia, for ceremony with Mikulas Dzurinda, Slovak prime minister

• Thursday, February 24: Meet Slovak leaders; speech to public; meet Vladimir Putin, Russian president, in Bratislava; depart for U.S.