Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Alice in Wonderland

Or Bush in Europe. It amounts to pretty much the same story in many ways. We learn that Bush wants to mend the frayed relationship to the countries of Old Europe:

Bush's speech, during his five-day trip to Belgium, Germany and Slovakia, was aimed at both U.S. and European audiences. "In a new century, the alliance of America and Europe is the main pillar of our security," he said.

He uses the word "alliance" 12 times in the speech to underscore his aim to repair relations with Europe that were frayed over the war in Iraq. But not all his speech was conciliatory.

The president has been pushing Russian President Vladimir Putin -- some say not strongly enough -- to work toward, not away from, democratic reforms and transparency in government.

"We recognize that reform will not happen overnight," Bush said, just three days before he meets with Putin in Slovakia. "We must always remind Russia that our alliance stands for a free press, a vital opposition, the sharing of power and the rule of law. The United States should place democratic reform at the heart of their dialogue with Russia."

Fun, isn't it? "Our alliance stands for a free press, a vital opposition, the sharing of power and the rule of law". Has Bush looked at his own country recently? The United States is rapidly turning into a one-party state more like the old Soviet Union than anything else, the press is scared of the government and the wingnuts' screams about the liberal media so that an open government control is not necessary to get the news the government wants, and there is no sharing of power with anybody who is not an extremist member of the Republican party. The rule of law is being rapidly changed to mean something Orwell would have understood. Now granted, the U.S. is not as bad as Russia in human rights but we are getting there, my dear readers, we are getting there. So if I was Bush (a dreadful thought) I'd clean my own backyard first.

Ok, so Bush pissed off Putin. Putin deserves to be pissed off, and in itself this is not a bad thing, especially if Bush also said a few nice things about the Old Europeans. Did he? I'm not sure. Here is a different view of the same speech:

"Mr. President, the floor is all yours," Verhofstadt said. Bush looked more relaxed. He told jokes. Ben Franklin came to Europe and was greeted as "a friend to humankind. I was hoping for the same reaction. Secretary Rice said I had to be realistic."
He was wearing a blue tie, white shirt and dark suit. He stared out over the audience. He read from his script, turning the pages, tapping the podium when he was emphasizing a point.
"No power on earth will ever divide us," got some claps. But the biggest applause was for the Middle East. It was what the Europeans wanted to hear. Egypt and Saudi Arabia must develop democracy. But from then on it was a tour of standard American foreign policy. "Syria must end its occupation of Lebanon." "Iran must not build nuclear weapons," he said. The U.S. and Europe have a "moral duty to heal the sick, feed the hungry, comfort the afflicted."
Suddenly the words "freedom" and "liberty" began to pepper the speech. Freedom. Freedom. Freedom. "May God bless you all."
There was a short standing ovation for two or three seconds. Bush jumped from the stage and into the crowd. Beethoven's Sixth started again, as Bush moved along the front row, shaking hands. Onto the stage again, a wave, and "Thank you all," and he was gone.
"I missed a page about the European Union," said Timothy Garton Ash, the British academic, as he filed from the room. "About why it is important for the EU and America to work together. I am not convinced he will convince many Europeans talking like that."

The audience was carefully selected to be friendly towards Bush, of course. Outside the Europeans who felt differently held their vigil. I'm sure that they would have a lot more to say about Bush and his speech than I do. I'm used to seeing all sorts of emotional balloons appear from Bush's lips; Europeans tend to want to hear facts. It is indeed unlikely that talking about freedom and God and alliances will make much of a dent in the great European unhappiness about our current administration. Because this unhappiness is based on facts, only changing the facts would work. And Bush will not go there.