A Year with George W. Bush | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 21.01.2002
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A Year with George W. Bush

In the beginning it was anything but a warm embrace. When George W. Bush won the US elections, Europe had a "let’s wait and see" attitude. Since then the skepticism has disappeared and Europeans are extending their arms.


On January 20, 2001 George W. Bush became the 43rd US president.

With the exception of the Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who believed he finally had a conservative colleague on the world stage, only Tony Blair, the non-partisan British Social Democrat, jumped at the opportunity to visit the newly elected American president and secure British-American ties.

Feared isolationism

Other European leaders remained rather distanced. In their eyes Bush junior was nothing more than a provincial, internationally inexperienced politician from one of the most conservative US states, Texas. They were certain that Bush would introduce a new era of isolationism. In terms of trade they expected to go head to head with him on issues of protectionism.

In foreign affairs they saw Bush as a vehement proponent of the national missile defense initiative, and equated him with his hardliner predecessor Ronald Reagan. Beyond the diplomatic "business as usual" mentality, the majority of European statesmen considered the Texan an unpolished, ignorant bore compared to the charming and personable Bill Clinton. And even worse, Bush didn’t seem to care about Europe.

Controversial defense program

Then Junior came to Europe. It wasn’t his first official visit, but at least it was within the first few months of office. He started his tour in Spain – an unusual place to start, but then again he had strong ties to the Hispanic community in the US – and moved on to Brussels for a NATO summit.

At every step of the way Bush energetically presented his view of the world. He repeatedly described the dangers confronting the West from so-called rogue states and stressed that the days of conventional conflict were long gone. And because of these threats, he was in favor of the national missile defense system (NMD), which by the way, he explained, could be expanded to include Europe.

The Europeans were resistant to such talks. They listened, but they remained opposed to the NMD. Of all the leaders, French resident Jacques Chirac was the most adamant anti-Bush spokesperson. Only Aznar and the newly elected Silvio Berlusconi from Italy were on Bush’s side. The NATO summit ended on a bitter note. The participants new that they would no longer agree on the issue. They criticized the American snobbery, the presumptuous stance of the superpower that risked bring the world into new and dangerous confrontations, especially with regard to Russia.

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